Research Ethics FAQs & Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the application process change if it is either Multi-Jurisdiction/Multiple Site Research research or multi-investigator or both?

When multi-jurisdictional research or multi-investigator research is minimal risk research and has already been approved by another TCPS-bound institution, it may be eligible for a modified review process.  Please refer to the Multi-Jurisdiction / Multiple Site Research section on the Research Ethics Board page

Do I need to have RDP REB approval if I'm an external researcher who already has approval from another institution?

If you are recruiting from the RDP community (students, faculty, staff), your research is minimal risk only, and your research has been approved by another TCPS-bound institution, a modified review process may apply. Please refer to the Multi-Jurisdiction / Multiple Site Research section on the Research Ethics Board page

Can I start collecting data before I receive Research Ethics Approval?

No. Research involving human participants must not start until REB Ethical Approval has been received.

Pilot studies require research ethics approval. If approval is received for a pilot study, researchers may not have to submit a new application for the “full” study so long as there have not been significant alterations to the research protocol because of the pilot study. If the modifications informed by the pilot study are not significant in nature, providing the REB with any updated forms, instruments, and plans may be sufficient.

Please consult with REB Chair to determine what is most appropriate in any given case.

What if I forget to submit the Annual Status Report?

The Annual Status Report is due no later than June 30 of the academic year in which your project was approved. You will be sent the first reminder near the end of April; second reminder end of May; third and final reminder near the end of June.  If an Annual Status Report is not submitted, the REB is mandated to report cases of failure to comply with the provisions of the RDP ethics policy to the President (or designate) at RDP.  Disciplinary action may be requested: e.g., a cease order on any data collection, holds placed on any new ethics application, etc.  In the case of external researchers, a letter will be sent to the researcher’s institution’s research office alerting them of the non-compliance with RDP policy.

If you indicate that your project is still ongoing and will continue into the next academic year, you will receive a request to submit a new Annual Status Report the following year. 

What is the relationship between Research Ethics Policy and FOIPP?

When any recorded information about an identifiable individual is collected and/or maintained by a member of RDP, certain guidelines must be adhered to above those specified by the REB Policy. This FOIPP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy) legislation governs all provincial departments, agencies and public bodies.

When should I submit my application? Does the REB have a submission deadline?

Ideally, you should submit it at least two weeks before the start date of your research project. Ethics application reviews typically take 15 business days to complete; however, a review may take longer if modifications or clarifications are requested.  

The REB cannot accommodate “rush” or “last minute” reviews.  Many REB reviewers are faculty members; with the same press on their time as other faculty, making some times during the year a bit more difficult to accommodate expedited review requests.    

The REB reviews applications from September through June.  We can still accept applications in July and August though, due to vacation schedules of the reviewers, the ten-day turnaround time is not always guaranteed.  If received by August 20, Course-Based Student Research application reviews for the Fall term will be completed by the start of classes. 

Does spelling count (on the application form)?

A resounding YES.  One or two errors are inevitable and thus forgivable.  Errors throughout one’s application form, however, will detract from the professionalism expected of researchers. 

Can I provide Incentives for participation in my study?

An Incentive is “anything offered to [research] participants, monetary or otherwise, to encourage participation in research” (TCPS 2). For example, gift cards, cash, prizes, coupons, goods and services, etc., may all be used by researchers to incentivize potential research participants to participate in research related activities.  

To ensure that consent is given voluntarily, it is imperative that (a) all incentives, reimbursements, and compensation are conducted transparently, and (b) that steps be taken to ensure that the use of incentives, reimbursements, and compensation does not create an undue influence on potential research participants to participate in research related activities.  To ensure that incentives do not create an undue influence, the type of incentive must be proportional, contextual, and not so large as to provide a compelling reason for individuals to partake in research-related activities. 

What do I do when my research is complete?

You must complete a brief Annual Status Report about your study. This Annual Status Report may be submitted any time after your research is complete and is due June 30 of the academic year in which your project was approved.  Ethical Approval is active for three years after the approval date, so if your project is a multi-year endeavor you will be responsible for submitting an Annual Status Report for every year your project is active.  If your project goes on longer than three years, you must submit a new ethics application and submit to a new ethics review.

What if my research plan changes?

Consult with the Chair of the REB as soon as possible regarding any changes to your research protocol.  If the changes affect ethical standards, you will have to reapply for ethical approval.

If the changes are not so significant as to impact on the ethical protocol, you may only need to submit documentation of the changes made; if the changes are significant enough to require not previously outlined ethical protocols, you will be required to submit a new ethics application.  It is best to consult with the REB prior to any changes.  

Examples of changes that typically do not warrant a new application could include: 

  • revising the wording of questions in a survey
  • adding questions of generally the same focus to an interview guide
  • expanding the number of participants to recruit
  • or deleting questions from the research instrument

Examples of changes that might not warrant a new application, but which might require an addendum to your original application to account for some new procedures, could include:  

  • adding an online delivery component
  • expanding participant recruitment to include people/groups not previously described
  • or adding questions of a very different focus to an interview guide

Examples of changes that will necessitate a new application could include:

  • introducing a new research instrument
  • or expanding participant recruitment to include people or groups who were not in the original research design and for which specific protocols exist for inclusion in research (e.g. Indigenous Persons, children, people who cannot voluntarily consent)
  • people with whom the researcher has a relationship (e.g. teacher-student). 
What happens if I lose some or all of my data?

The REB considers this an Adverse Event as it could potentially cause harm or increase the level of risk to your participants. You must notify the REB Chair immediately and fill out the Adverse Events Report.  The more detailed process for reporting an Adverse Event can be found on the Application Process & Reporting page.

What do I do if my participants experience unexpected harm or distress during the study?

Adverse Events are defined as occurrences with an undesirable outcome for the participant. As a researcher, you have the responsibility to report to the REB any unanticipated issues or events that may increase the level of risk to participants or have other ethical implications that may affect participants' welfare. Refer to the Adverse Events section on the Application Process & Reporting page for procedures.  

How long must I safeguard / store/ retain research data before I can destroy it?

This depends on the data, its format, and discipline-specific guidelines. You should follow disciplinary standards and practices for the collection, protection, retention or destruction of data.

The secure safeguarding of your research participants’ data is crucial to respecting their privacy and it helps you fulfill your confidentiality obligations. 

What do I do if I am unsure if an ethics review is required for my project?

It is the REB’s mandate to determine if an ethics review is required. While researchers are responsible for ethical conduct in their research endeavors, they always have the support of the REB. If in doubt, please present any project to the REB for determination on whether an ethics review is required. This consultation may be done via email, phone or in person, and typically with the REB Chair, although all REB members can consult too.

If my students are conducting research in a course, does each student have to submit an ethics application?

No – as the instructor, you would be responsible for completing a Course-Based Student Project application form for the entire class.  The REB strongly recommends that you then serve as a de facto REB – at the very least, this should involve students submitting proposals for their projects to you for approval; the REB can provide you with a sample Ethics Checklist that you can use.  

While these are course-based projects, students should still be conducting research according to the accepted standards for ethical research. This should include ensuring that all their participants give voluntary consent before participation. You may provide templates for students to adapt, or you can refer them to the Research Ethics Board page.

If your students encounter any problems while conducting this research, you should be their first contact and you should notify the REB at the earliest opportunity.  Examples of problems that students might encounter could include losing data, causing a participant to become distressed, or breaching the anonymity or confidentiality of a participant. 

Do I need an ethics review if I will only be doing an observation study (e.g. naturalistic observation, social media or online studies, etc.)?

If you plan to do naturalistic observation in a public place that does not allow for the identification of the participants, where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, nothing is staged by the researcher and the observation is non-intrusive, ethics review is not normally required.  If you plan to do data collection that involves information posted by people on the internet, an ethics review is not normally required if all of the following criteria are met: the site is publicly accessible (e.g. it’s not password protected and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy), presentation of the data will not allow for the identification of any particular individuals, the research is not staged by the researcher and is non-intrusive.

Consulting with the REB is the best way to work out the details of your study. 

What happens if I don’t submit my research project to the REB for ethics review?

Some of the repercussions of not obtaining ethical approval for academic research include, but are not limited to: 

  • Many peer reviewed journals will not publish research that has not been approved by a research ethics board 

  • If something happens during a study that affects participant welfare, the researcher will not have the protection of their institution* 

  • The researcher’s eligibility for access to participant pools, funding, promotion may be negatively limited or denied 

  • Participants may file a complaint against the researcher with the institution; and depending on the severity of the situation, with local authorities 

  • Damage to the reputation of one’s institution and of one’s colleagues 

*For a fascinating example, refer to the case of Dr. Collette Parent and Dr. Christine Bruckert, University of Ottawa. 

Still can't find the answer you're looking for? Contact the Research Ethics Board to have your question answered. 


External Resources
RDP-Specific Resources
Guidance for Internet Research and Online Surveys

Important: If the tool is owned by an American company (e.g. Survey Monkey, Google Docs), you must advise your survey participants appropriately the risks to confidentiality or anonymity of. 

Online survey tools owned by American companies are subject to U.S. laws, particularly the US Patriot Act, which allows authorities access to the records of internet service providers. This also applies in situations when the servers are hosted in or located in Canada, but the company is American owned. 

Unless you indicate otherwise, when constructing your survey, a U.S.-owned company's servers will record incoming IP addresses including those of the computers that participants use to access the survey. You are advised to set up your survey to collect anonymous responses. The procedure for this depends on the type of collector/s you use: 

  1. If you use a Web Link collector (or any other collector), you must configure it to not collect IP addresses. 

  2. If you use the Email Invitation collector, you must configure it to not save the email addresses (in the Analyze section) and not to collect IP addresses. 

If you are using a U.S.-owned survey tool, the following statement should be included in the Informed Consent statement of your survey:   

You need to know that "[name of survey tool]" is a web-survey company that is owned by an American company. American-owned companies are subject to U.S. laws, particularly the Patriot Act, which allows the U.S. government to access the records of internet service providers. No personal identifiers will be collected in this survey but the views and opinions you expressed may be accessed and linked to you without your knowledge or consent. To maintain anonymity, during the design of this survey the option to collect your computer IP address has been disabled. The security and privacy policy for [name of survey tool] can be found at the following link: [insert appropriate link]. 

The Research Ethics Board endorses no online survey tool. Red Deer Polytechnic's Research Common maintains helpful information about online survey providers.

Scholarship of Teaching & Learning

The REB actively encourages and supports Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research as an important part of scholarly work. All research activities involving human subjects or participants, including SoTL research where information of any type is gathered from students in your classes for research purposes, must undergo REB review using the usual processes and forms.

When in doubt about whether or not a potential research activity requires REB review, please consult with the REB.

SoTL often starts with the identification of a particular issue in the classroom, when completing year-end reports or self-reflection (e.g. dealing with a problem or difficulty). It may also come when 

  • one is faced with a new aspect to a teaching circumstance (e.g., teaching a class for the first time),
  • attending a professional development session or workshop (e.g. deciding to introduce a new teaching strategy), or
  • an unexpected epiphany (e.g. a new assignment was surprisingly successful or a ‘thinking-in-your-feet’ moment lead to a great idea for redesign of an assessment instrument). 

Knowing the difference between research and professional development?

Research typically involves:

  • More systematic documentation and data gathering – adequate preparation – utilizing accepted methods for data collection
  • More self-reflection in writing – clear goals – reflective critique
  • More audience – analysis becomes public – work is critically reviewed and evaluated by one’s peers  - one’s community begins to use, build upon and develop the scholarship.

SoTL research means the same professional standards of conduct that are used in research must be applied to your teaching.

When planning an activity that will assess some aspect of teaching and learning, and you need to determine if this activity would fit the definition of research, it is helpful to ask the question: “What is the purpose of the activity?”

  • if the purpose is to use the results for personal use, the activity would be more Quality Assurance – e.g., instructor surveys their students about their opinions of the course materials for the purpose of improving the course
  • if the project addresses a research question, the activity would be research, and an ethics review is required – e.g., instructor surveys students about their opinions of the course materials because they want to know if students’ opinions vary as a function of teaching approach

Informed consent and the dual role of researcher–instructor

The TCPS2 (2022) does not rule out secondary use of research data (e.g. using student work from past terms), but the general requirement is that informed consent of participants be secured; it also acknowledges that “it may be impossible, difficult, or economically unfeasible to contact all participants to obtain informed consent.”

Recommended Action: researcher should propose an appropriate strategy for informing the relevant parties or for consulting with representative members of the affected group (e.g. a student advisory group, current students who could be proxies to identify what makes students feel more or less vulnerable).

Secondary data that has been collected legitimately through the normal educational process (e.g end of term course evaluations), does not necessarily require Informed Consent.  Researchers should, however, demonstrate to the REB that analysis of such data will not make the data individually identifiable.

The above discussion pertains more to anonymous or anonymized data from students. The use of tests, assignments or other work produced by students involves risks to the privacy and confidentiality of the students associated with these materials, and as such, will require an REB review. Researchers will need to demonstrate to the REB that they are aware of the risks associated with this type of data (see risks below), and how they will mitigate these concerns. 

Recommended Action: Instructors who plan on conducting research using their students’ work as data could create a General Permission Statement, which would in effect be the Informed Consent. Instructors could also involve students more actively in the research process (from design to dissemination or any component thereof).

Types of Coercion in SoTL

  • through a direct benefit to participating (e.g. bonus mark, assignment grade, participation marks, given for participant in a SoTL project)
  • to gain instructor’s approval (e.g. student feels that declining to participate might negatively affect their grade in the class).

Recommended Actions To Minimize Coercion and The Perception Of Coercion:

  • when offering course credit, offer an equivalent alternative to participation in research project. To be equivalent, the option should take approximately the same amount of time and offer the same potential learning value to the student.
  • develop a system by which you do not know who chooses to participate and who does not – e.g. have a colleague do the data collection and keep data & consent forms until term over or use online software.
  • especially in the case of learning activities where there is a possible benefit for all students participating, allow students to give their consent for their results/work/etc to be included in the research or not.
  • conducting interviews only after final grades submitted
  • code numbers on student work
  • use a stratified random sample
  • typically no more than 5 minutes of class time should be devoted to recruitment or aspects of the study which are not a normal part of the course work
  • consent forms (and data) placed in envelopes, opened when grades submitted