IRB Approval of Program Evaluation: A SecondLife® Milestone

Our application for exemption was approved! We’ll be doing a program evaluation of the OT Center at Jefferson in Second Life. I expected questions from the IRB (ethics board) about the methods/aims and so on, but…nothing. I have to credit grad student Alana Scorbal for the literature review she wrote and which we used, in part, as the opening text justifying our application:

Virtual reality is emerging as a new venue in the educational arena through the use of a virtual world called Second Life® (Stott, 2007). Second Life® is an online three-dimensional world in which individuals assume online personas called avatars that interact with one another in simulated environments (Boulos, Hetherington, & Wheeler, 2007). Virtual worlds can be utilized in any number of contexts, such as public education and health care (Skiba, 2007). According to Woodford (2007), the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) utilize Second Life® in order to encourage health promotion and education to the public. A reported nine million users, or avatars, have ventured into this virtual world and dozens of colleges have leased space in Second Life® (Bugeja, 2007).

According to Babiss (2007), the therapeutic and educational benefits of Second Life® have only begun to be discovered. Occupational therapy needs to seize new opportunities beyond traditional boundaries (Pattison, 2006)and become entrepreneurs in this new field technology that is virtual reality. Current technology, such as Second Life, can assist occupational therapy in advancing the profession by reaching audiences that were inaccessible in the past to inform the public of the valuable information this profession holds (Babiss, 2007).

Thanks are also extended to Rachelle Munro for her helpful guidance. Rachelle conducted a study via Texas A&M in which I participated. I applied her ideas about recruitment and informed consent to our program evaluation. Additionally, Kathee Gibbs’s generous donation to our center will enable us to provide lindens as honoraria for participation in the evaluation.

We applied for exemption as follows:

Research activities in which the only involvement of human subjects will be in one or more of the following categories are exempt from IRB review. Please check those items that apply to your research.
_(2) Research involving the use of educational tests (cognitive, diagnostic, aptitude, achievement), survey procedures, interview procedures or observation of public behavior, unless: (i) information obtained is recorded in such a manner that human subjects can be identified, directly or through identifiers linked to the subjects; and (ii) any disclosure of the human subjects’ responses outside the research could reasonably place the subjects at risk of criminal or civil liability or be damaging to the subjects’ financial standing, employability, or reputation.

So, good to go! We’re looking forward to the process itself and of course, to finding out what people think of our exhibits. Let me know if you’d like more information about the application for your own IRB/Ethics board proposals.