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Participant Pool Policies and Procedures

April 2014

Overview

The participant pool is a mutually beneficial arrangement between researchers and students in the Department of Communication Studies. The benefits to researchers are straightforward: they gain easy access to a large set of potential research volunteers in participating undergraduate courses.  The benefits to students are also significant, but researchers must ensure that they are realized. First, students may earn extra credit toward their grades in participating courses (the amount of which is determined by the instructor). It is up to researchers to ensure that students’ participation is accurately recorded via the Communication Studies Online Research Participation system (also known as SONA) and to award credit via the system in a timely manner. Second, the pool provides opportunities for students to acquire first-hand knowledge of the research methods in communication. This is the more important educational objective and its fulfillment depends on researchers’ willingness to abide by ethical practices before (securing informed consent), during (following IRB-approved procedures), and after (debriefing) their interactions with participants. Upon completion of the study, researchers must provide participants with an explanation of what the study has accomplished and its importance to communication scholarship.

Eligibility

All CMS faculty and graduate students are eligible to use the participant pool. Undergraduates who are sponsored by a CMS faculty member are also eligible.

Application Procedure

All CMS faculty and graduate students are eligible to use the participant pool. Undergraduates who are sponsored by a CMS faculty member are also eligible.  

Application Procedure

1) Obtain IRB Approval.  Researchers must obtain written approval from UT-Austin’s Institutional Review Board before using the participant pool.  Under no circumstances will researchers be allowed to use the pool before the IRB has approved the project proposal.  UT’s Office of Research Support and Compliance maintains a web site that provides step-by-step instructions for seeking IRB approval (www.utexas.edu/research/rsc/index.html). Research that is for course projects will use the course IRB approval.

2) Create a study page on SONA:  https://utexascomm.sona-systems.com/default.aspx. When your study page is complete, you will submit it for approval via the system.

4) Award participant their extra credit in a timely manner. Studies on SONA usually close the Friday before the last week of classes.  Researchers should award all extra credit via SONA by the following Monday morning.  Extra credit reports will be generated by the SONA administrator and delivered to all participating course instructors.  Researchers do not have to report out to instructors - they only have to make sure all credit is awarded in the system.

Recruiting Participants

No active recruitment is necessary.  All CMS course instructors who will be awarding extra credit for research participation have a section in their syllabus that outlines how to log into SONA and how many extra credits points they will award.  ALL extra credit opportunities are posted to SONA.  This means researchers don't have to actively recruit - their study will be found by default on the system because all potential participants are routed there.

Issues to Consider When Conducting Your Project

If you are conducting a face-to-face study, it is inevitable that a certain percentage of students who sign up to participate in research projects will miss their appointments. Many legitimate emergencies may arise to cause participants to miss their times; others may be unable to find the location or otherwise become confused. As discussed above, researchers may help themselves by providing a memorable name for the project on their recruiting advertisements and ensuring that the time and locations are clearly indicated on sign-up sheets. If for any reason researchers cannot appear at the scheduled time, they should notify participants (by e-mail or telephone) as soon as they are aware of the conflict. If participants are scheduled individually and no-shows are costly, it may be useful for experimenters to send additional reminders the evening before appointments. 

Research procedures vary so much that it is not possible to give any exhaustive or definitive rules for interacting with participants. However, all researchers must provide prospective participants with a written statement regarding their right to refuse to participate or to terminate their participation in the study without penalty. Participants have volunteered their time to assist the researcher.  They should be treated with respect and should not be put in a situation that might diminish their dignity. When in doubt about the consequences of a research procedure on a participant’s feelings, err on the side of the participant. Debriefing and discussion are significant parts of the educational experience for participants. A clear explanation of the research purposes and methods should be given and all questions answered.