I recently met a visiting scholar who planned to study student-teacher interactions within 1st through 5th grade music classes. She wanted to understand how music teachers convey music literacy to novice musicians and what motivational techniques they used. She had studied a similar topic in her home country and she wanted to compare the differences between music teachers in her country and in the United States. When she described her research work to her U.S. colleagues, they referred her to the campus IRB office.

When we met, she expressed confusion and apprehension about the role of IRB. She stated that she did not have to undergo this type of review at her home university. In our conversation, I described the history of IRB in the U.S. and our responsibility in human subject research. I explained, according to federal regulations:

A human subject is a living individual about whom an investigator conducting research obtains data through intervention or interaction with the individual or identifiable private information.

I referred to her own work and explained that because she was observing, interviewing, and surveying human subjects (i.e., adults and children), the local IRB needed to be consulted. I further explained the three main responsibilities of the IRB:

  1. Protecting the rights and welfare of human subjects
  2. Assuring that all applicable institutional policies and federal regulations related to research with human subjects are followed
  3. Reviewing subject recruitment materials and strategies

As our meeting came to an end, the visiting scholar expressed her gratitude for my explanation of IRB and stated she felt more comfortable with submitting a new IRB protocol for review. She also expressed her understanding about why IRB exists in the first place.

Click here for more information about international human research standards from the Office for Human Research Protections. Or review the National Institutes of Health, which offers additional definitions for research involving human subjects.