A colleague of mine would like to compare 25+ different Java implementations of the same homework. Is it OK (ethically/legally in the US) to share my students' class homework solutions with him for his research purposes?


You need to run this by your Institutional Review Board (IRB), as you would any time you use data from human subjects for research.

From what you describe, it has a good chance of qualifying for an IRB exemption under one of these categories (if identifying information is removed before giving the data to the researcher):

  • It is using existing data
  • the data comes from normal educational practices

but even then, the IRB needs to be the one to make that determination.

  • 3
    What is an IRB? – gerrit Mar 29 '14 at 12:50
  • @gerrit US academic institutions often (always?) has an Institutional Review Board (IRB) (or some committees that act as such, e.g. here at MIT the Committee on the Use of Humans as Experimental Subjects (COUHES) was established to act as the Institutional Review Board (IRB)), which is a committee that has been formally designated to approve, monitor, and review biomedical and behavioral research involving humans. I actually went through it recently for some research on MOOC data. – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 29 '14 at 15:38
  • Assuming you had signed consent letters from the students, would you still require such approval? – Raphael Mar 29 '14 at 21:21
  • 1
    @Raphael you still have to get everything approved by the IRB. The investigator has a conflict of interest here, the IRB is necessary as a third party oversight body. – ff524 Mar 30 '14 at 0:47
  • note that many IRBs have IRB exception applications that are often very short 1-2 pgs. A full IRB request is usually in excess of 20 pgs of forms and essays. The two most important factors that are relevant in your case is (1) do you have the student's consent and (2) is there anyway that the data as stored could even possibly be traced back to the student's identity. If your answers are 1-yes and 2-no you will most certainly get an exemption. – WetlabStudent Mar 31 '14 at 8:08

Franck doesn't say where he is. What ff524 says is true in the US. Any research with human subjects must be approved by an appropriate review process beforehand.

One horror story (allegedly true) goes like this. A graduate student in music history spent her summer touring through Appalachia, convincing people to let her record them singing traditional songs. But that research had to be thrown out, because of the advance approval process she hadn't known was required.

  • 1
    Thanks, interesting. I'm in the US. What advance approval process did she need? IRB approval? – Franck Dernoncourt Mar 29 '14 at 15:12
  • What the approval process is called may depend on your institution. I believe ours was called something about "Human Subjects". There was another committee to deal with "Research using live animals". – GEdgar Mar 30 '14 at 13:46
  • Its more than just the US, many, if not all, large academic institutes have IRB in order to comply to ethical issues and requirements of international journals regarding human subjects – user-2147482637 Oct 1 '14 at 14:59
  • 1
    -1 This seems to be an anecdote rather than an answer to the question – Jack Aidley Mar 2 '17 at 15:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.