Informed Consent

The main idea of informed consent is that participants should be able to make a deliberate and informed decision about whether they participate in a research study. This concept has two facets which researchers must address, informed and consent.


Potential study participants must have enough information about what they are going to do and what information will be gathered to enable them to make a decision about whether to participate. This information can include the following items, where applicable:

  • Purpose, duration, and procedures of the study
  • Explanation of the right to withdraw from the study and the mechanism for withdrawing
  • Description of any consequences for withdrawing from the study
  • Description of any potential risks or adverse effects from participating in the study
  • Overview of the potential research benefits of the study
  • Explanation of the limits of confidentiality of information provided in the study
  • Description of any incentives participants receive for participation in the study
  • Whom to contact for questions regarding the study

Potential participants must give formal consent before a researcher can gather data from them as part of a study (note that in some cases consent can be implied and does not require a formal document). One important concept researchers have to consider is autonomy. Autonomy is the ability to make an informed decision to participate in the study without coercion.

Researcher have to take special care in situations where potential participants may lack autonomy. There are a number of situations that may result in the loss of autonomy. In a CS Education setting, the most common situations where participants lack autonomy are:

  • the participants are minors and are not legally able to consent
  • the participants are in a power relationship with the researcher (i.e. the participants are students in the researcher’s course)

In these cases, the researcher must take special care to ensure that the potential participants believe they are free to consent or not consent to the study without any repercussions from their decision. For example, if a researcher wants to conduct a study in their own course, they may need to have a colleague gather the consent from the students and keep that information confidential from the researcher until after the semester is complete.

The consent form is the formal document that potential participants sign agreeing to participate in the study. It should be clear and simple. It should explain the study at an appropriate level of detail and inform the potential participants about what they will be expected to do as part of the study. It should avoid any language that potential participants may not understand or that may be overly complex. Many Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) may have example consent forms that researchers can use as a model.

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