The increase of remote and online research tools has increased the need for methods of collecting consent that extend beyond pen and paper. This guide will introduce and detail the following:
When engaging in the consenting process, researchers will present participants with consent, permission, or assent forms. If appropriate, researchers and participants will discuss the study activities, and throughout the study and between activities, the researcher will ask the participant if they are willing to continue. The researcher can remind the participant that the study is voluntary, that they can skip any questions, and that they are free to stop participating at any time.
Teachers College Institutional Review Board (TC IRB) has provided the following templates to aid researchers in developing consent materials:
Researchers should use TC IRB-approved consent, parent permission, and assent form templates for all studies involving human subjects. Where appropriate, researchers can adapt TC IRB templates for online data collection. When preparing consent (permission or assent) documents for online studies, the consent process must be:
Authenticated: Researchers must be sure that the person receiving the consent, parent permission, or assent form is the intended individual. Authentication can occur by linking Qualtrics surveys to specific email addresses, verbally over the phone, or face-to-face through Teachers College Information Technologies (TC IT) approved video (teleconference) platforms (e.g., Zoom). If a face-to-face interaction is not possible, the researcher must take additional steps to ensure confirmation that the person signing (or acknowledging) the consent form is the intended individual. Qualtrics has a guide for linking surveys to specific email addresses. Researchers may also use voice (Zoom or telephone) confirmation or identity verification methods (e.g., TC UNI) to confirm the identity of the individual wishing to engage in the study.
Documented: Researchers must have confirmation that the intended individual provided their consent, permission, or assent on a specific date. Documentation can occur through an automated date stamp record, an electronic tracking system that verifies that the event occurred, or a manual entry from the participant. For verbal consenting (or assenting) processes, the researcher can sign and date the “researcher verification” section to confirm that they described the study in a clear and understandable way to the individual being recruited. Researchers must provide subjects with a version of the consent (permission or assent) form that they can retain for their records, whether it is a hard copy or an electronic version. In an online survey, the researcher can provide a PDF downloadable version of the consent form for the participant to access (review our for a sample).
Retrievable: The researcher must be able to retrieve the consent, permission, or assent form when asked by the research participants, an IRB official, or a fellow research staff member. Retrieval can occur digitally or through a physical, signed document. An example of a digitally retrieved consent form may include a scanned copy of the consent form or an electronic tracking system (like an acknowledgment online through Qualtrics). Consent (assent or permission) documents must be stored in readily accessible locations that are secure, monitored, and well-managed.
In some online contexts, researchers may elect to use a survey platform to gain consent. TC Information Technologies (IT) has a guide on how to create a consent form using Qualtrics' survey platform. Depending on the nature of the study, researchers may replace signature lines with clickable “I agree” options, such as checkboxes. Researchers can adapt the standard TC IRB template and replace the signature line at the end of the document with text explaining the online consent process (review the section below for sample language). If researchers choose to use a survey platform to obtain consent, they must provide participants with the option to download a copy of the TC IRB stamped informed consent. Researchers can provide this option at the bottom of the consent page.
If researchers choose to use a survey platform to obtain consent, they must provide participants with the option to download a copy of the TC IRB stamped informed consent.
Researchers engaged in low-risk exempt studies may consider using verbal consent forms or verbal assent processes when engaging in online settings (e.g., Exempt Verbal Consent template). For example, a researcher may email the parent or guardian of a child and ask them to review the parent permission form via email. The researcher may ask the parent or guardian to have a discussion with their child about their interest in participating in a study. Then, if the parent and child are interested in proceeding, the researcher can schedule a Zoom meeting. At this point, the researcher can summarize the content of the verbal consent form and gain verbal permission (from the parent/guardian) and verbal assent (from the child).
TC IRB will review each study submission on a case-by-case basis and work with researchers to determine the best course of action for protecting participants and engaging in the consenting process. The IRB will consider:
Below are samples of language that could be used for obtaining consent online, based on the medium of consent:
Using Qualtrics to Obtain Adult Consent (18+) for an Online Survey (No Identifiers):
Using Qualtrics to Obtain Adult Consent (18+) for an Online Survey (With Identifiers):
Using Telephone, Email, or United States Postal Service (USPS):
When research involves minors, research teams will have to take the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) into account. The IRB application should describe how the research team will ensure compliance with COPPA. For example, the research team could first obtain parental permission via Qualtrics, Zoom, mail, or in a telephone call. Each option must ensure that the parent or guardian can be authenticated.
Using Qualtrics to Obtain Parent/Guardian Permission for Child Participation in an Online Study:
Using Qualtrics to Obtain Child Participation Assent (In Age-Appropriate Language):
Researchers should note the following items when using online means to collect consent (permission and assent):
Researchers should always remember that consent, permission, and assent are not just forms but also processes.
Researchers are responsible for ensuring that any individual interested in participating in a study is informed and provided with study-related information in a clear and understandable way.
Consenting online provides an opportunity for researchers to engage in study activities when in-person data collection is not possible. Researchers should design the consent process with considerations for the best protection of participants in online environments. This may mean ensuring that participants are fully informed about the research activities, can easily obtain answers to questions, and know that participation is voluntary.