Rhetorical Strategies for Working with Institutional Review Boards

Elizabeth L. Angeli and Z. Koppelmann

Computers and Composition Online


Challenges RC Research Poses to the IRB Review Process: Multimodal Composing

Because writing, writing research, and publication venues take many forms, including print-based and multimodal forms, RC researchers may face challenges when conveying research methods and uses of research to members of an IRB outside of the RC field. RC scholars debate what writing means to the RC field. For example, Johndan Johnson-Eilola and Stuart Selber explore how composition pedagogy is changing by examining what “originality” means in light of concerns of plagiarism and intellectual property (375). In their article, “Plagiarism, Originality, Assemblage,” the authors state that teachers should think of writing as an assemblage of students’ words and ideas and borrowed ideas (381), thereby questioning the idea of authorship. If we understand writing as an assemblage and re-examine our understanding of “original,” scholars researching writing might encounter difficulties when grounding research proposals in theory and discussing a research project’s purpose and methods to an IRB review board, an audience potentially unfamiliar with theoretical discussions in the RC field.

The rise of multimodal composing and publishing adds another layer of potential misunderstanding when working with an IRB. Multimodal composing refers to both students writing in these forms and to researchers composing and researching using multimodal forms. The rapid development and refinement of multimodal composing spaces creates a fluid environment that may prove difficult for IRB members to fully understand if they are not familiar with these forms, thus potentially making the IRB review process more challenging.

In her article “Ethical and Legal Issues for Writing Researchers in an Age of Media Convergence,” Heidi McKee discusses the challenges researchers encounter when working with multimodal forms of research. She explores issues of researcher and participant representation in remixed, audio-visual formats, such as Second Life and in online publications. These issues include varied options of representation, identity creation, and users that intentionally represent themselves in ambiguous or misleading ways. Further, McKee takes into account the challenge of conveying the nature of publication venues to an IRB review board and to research participants (114). She states that relating the very public nature of web publications is problematic to an IRB because a web publication does not always fit into more static and scientific research frames, frames in which an IRB might be accustomed to understanding a research proposal (114). Compounding this challenge, McKee argues, is the need to develop adequate informed consent forms that disclose publication venues so that research participants are aware of the research project’s eventual readership (119). This disclosure is of particular importance when research results are published in a public venue such as the Internet, accessible to millions of people, because these venues could harm a participant’s reputation. And because an IRB is concerned with protecting participants, IRBs review both how research is conducted and presented so as to care for the participant during and after the research project’s duration.