4.3 Student Research Project Panel

The Student Research Project Panel gives approval to research which involves OU students or graduates. The reason for this is that there is a limit to the number of times students can be approached to take part in research in any one year.

SRPP has a website which contains useful information on meeting dates, guidance on completing the form, and links to other sites of information, such as data protection and ethics. It also has a sample consent form, which has had ethical clearance, and which can be adapted for your particular project.

Does all research involving students have to go through SRPP?

Basically, yes. Anything which requires a sample of students has to go through the panel. This includes purposive sampling, such as students satisfying certain criteria, and those who might be suggested by their tutors. The only exceptions are those students in your current tutor group if you are an Associate Lecturer as they are covered under the agreement with SRPP on action research.

The recruitment of students through course website or forums is a grey area as in theory they are not being directly approached to take part and have the option to not read or respond to the request for volunteers. However, recent experience suggests that SRPP is becoming increasingly strict about this. It is also the case, particularly in relation to the Userlab and the requirement to recruit volunteers from a specific geographic area, that there is little chance of recruiting sufficient numbers simply by putting out a general request for volunteers. Nevertheless, in some cases this can still be used as an additional means of recruitment, but should be indicated as such on the SRPP form, and you may need to check their names with the sampling office.

The exception to the rule - research involving the individual Associate Lecturer's tutor group

If, as an Associate Lecturer, you wish to involve your own current students in a small research project with the intention of understanding and/or improving your own practice this is considered to be part continuing professional development and so you are free to do so without seeking permission.

It is, however, a good idea to inform the Module Team Chair and your Staff Tutor of your intention, in case any issues arise as a result of your project.

Completing the SRPP form

SRPP has produced general guidance for applicants, but here are some more specific pointers of relevance to Open University practitioner research projects. They are indicated here by the relevant section of the form.

3. Other Research Personnel
This is where any people involved in the research should be indicated. It is also where ALs should indicate the name and affiliation of a sponsor.

4. Consultation with other OU staff over research
You will need to indicate on the form any unit or network which is funding or supporting your practitioner research. You should also provide details of the involvement of the module team and any discussions you may have had with SRPP.

7. Quality assurance (QA) work? 
This should only be ticked if there is a direct link between statutory QA requirements or formal OU processes to this research.

8. Help the University ‘plan and improve our services’.
When students register they agree to be contacted for research on the basis that it will help the University plan and improve services. As such, a brief explanantion of how the research will do this is required.

9. Overlap with current research
It is worth mentioning here any other research in the OU in general which relates to your research. Please indicate here any external research which is of particular relevance and might support your application.

11. Data collection methods
List here all the research methods you intend to use. You will also need to supply copies of interview questions, questionnaires, etc, with the application form, so it is important that you know what these are before submitting the application.

Observation of students in the Userlab needs to be indicated as an ‘other’ data collection methods. You need to list all methods used, including reference to any informal interviews you might do at the end of the Userlab observation, or alternative methods used, such as telephone interviews, should insufficient numbers be obtained through sampling.

Section 3: Sampling
You need to stipulate the number of students for the sample. It is worth considering the possible response rate before you do this,which could easily be as low as 25% for surveys. For a random sample of students it is therefore a good idea to stipulate three or four times the number of students you hope will respond.

If you require a purposive sample, so students who satisfy particular criteria such as age, gender or academic performance,then you will need to indicate this clearly and state why a purposive rather than random sample is more appropriate. Even if you already have the names of students who might be appropriate to approach for research, the rules on sampling still apply and you should indicate the names in the application form.

If the research requires students to come to an Open University centre, such as for a Userlab observation or an interview, it is worth requesting up to 5 times the required number in the sample, as even large modules can yield quite limited numbers of participants. For research at Milton Keynes, tradition has it that participants are drawn from MK and NN postcodes, for ease of travel. Experience has, however, shown that some keen students may be willing to travel from considerably further afield to take part. As such, it may be worth extending the postcode sample to include:
MK- Milton Keynes/Bedford
NN - Northampton
AL - St Albans
PE - St Neots/ Peterborough
LU - Luton
OX - Oxford/ Banbury
CB - Cambridge
CV - Coventry

If the module has particularly low student numbers, it may also be worth putting a request for volunteers on the course website or forum. However, as indicated above, you should state your intention to do this on your SRPP application form.

What other documents need to be included with the application form?

Copies of research instruments

Any research method used should be included with the application. This includes questionnaires interview questions, before and after tests, etc. The format of any questionnaire can be in draft form but the questions need to be the same as those which will go out in the final version. In relation to Userlab observations, any specific questions to be asked of students in interviews or at the end of observations should be included here. As yet, the short questionnaire which appears at the end of many iCMA questions does not need to be included.

Covering letter

The covering letter should give enough information to help the students make an informed decision about whether to take part or not, including an indication of dates, time commitment and any details of reimbursement or costs. It should also contain information about the use of personal data, such as names and PIs, and what will happen to that data. You should also clearly state that a decision not to participate in the project will not affect progression in their studies. Although direct payment of students is not allowed, it is appropriate to recompense students for the time they have spent. For example, a £20 book token can be offered as recompense for the time spent, as well as reimbursing travel expenses.

If recruitment is to take place through different means, such as letter, email or via a website, then the different forms of the covering letter need to be included.

For questionnaires, the front page(s) of the questionnaire needs to contain similar project information to a normal covering letter, as well as information on what will happen to the data and data protection information.

Consent form

There is a generic consent form for research with students outside your own tutor group (and there is also one for research with tutors). It has been updated in the light of advice from the ethical committee at the OU, and requires students to indicate that they have understood, and appreciate the implications of, the information you provide in the covering letter.

If doing an observation or interview, it is important that students see this in advance, although it can be completed on the day of the observation, after an oral explanation of the project has been given.

Data Protection Questionnaire

If you hold any personal data on individuals or if the data you collect contains information which is personal, such as an email address, or can be traced back to an individual, say through a PI, then you need to complete a data protection form. Data protection relates to all individuals on whom data is held, tutors as well as students.

The completed form should be sent to the OU Data Protection Coordinator, Data-Protection@open.ac.uk, and cc'd to your unit's Data Protection Liaison Officer. If you are doing a funded project you will be told who the liaison officer is for your project.

Associate Lecturers also also required to complete a data protection form.

How long does the process take?

SRPP guidelines suggest a turn around of decisions within three weeks of submission of a completed form. The panel itself meets every other Thursday, with submission required on the Friday before. Decisions are usually given within two working days. If a query is raised by SRPP following an application this can often be done directly with SRPP and does not generally mean that the application has to re-submitted. However, it is worth anticipating a final turn around of up to 6 weeks to ensure that any issues with the form can be resolved, particularly if ethics approval is required (see below). The calendar of SRPP working group meetings can be found on their website

Last modified: Tuesday, 4 Mar 2014, 16:32