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IRBs develop successful training on tight budgets
Internet has varied and useful resources
Nationwide, research institutions are cutting costs in response to the economic downturn. Funding for education and training has been one area hit fairly hard, and this made it a challenge for IRB offices to meet their educational demands.
But this doesn't mean they should give up on providing quality educational programs. Instead, they should view their educational budget cuts as an opportunity to be creative and develop a low-cost training program, experts suggest.
There are a variety of ways IRB directors can provide educational materials and programs even while staying within the smallest of budgets. Although, it does require time and effort to ensure that free educational materials are up-to-date and accurate, says Megan Kasimatis Singleton, JD, associate director of education and training at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA.
Two low-budget ways to develop training programs are finding and using free online research ethics training information and tapping into your own IRB members' expertise, Singleton suggests.
A chief benefit of using the Internet is that it can maximize an IRB's available resources, whether these are significant or nonexistent, says Brenda L. Ruotolo, CIP, associate director of the IRB office at Columbia University in New York, NY. Ruotolo and Singleton spoke about shoestring budget training programs at the 2009 PRIM&R Advancing Ethical Research Conference, held Nov. 14-16, 2009, in Nashville, TN.
"For some smaller institutions that are undergoing a hard time and really have no educational budgets, they could rely on Web sites that offer free educational materials," Ruotolo says.
Other research institutions could stretch their existing educational dollars by supplementing their own materials with free information, she adds.
"The point is to avoid re-inventing the wheel," Ruotolo says. "I think whether someone is relying entirely on using online materials or resources or is using it as a starting point to customize their program, the Internet is valuable."
Singleton and Ruotolo offer these additional suggestions for forming and maintaining an education and training program on a low budget:
• Find affordable or free online training programs: There are online tutorials available, including the widely-used CITI program, Singleton says.
"We use CITI to satisfy our core human subjects training requirements," she says. "Sometimes it's nice to have a core training program managed by an outside entity so when things change the program can be updated automatically without it being the responsibility of your institution."
CITI's fees are nominal and, for some institutions, might be more cost-effective than developing one in-house, she adds.
However, there are other options, including Web sites that provide education for free.
One of these is at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Web site, which has human subjects training curriculum available at no cost.
There also are Web sites that provide education on particular subjects, and these could be used to supplement a core program, Ruotolo suggests.
For example, here are a few Web sites that Ruotolo has found particularly interesting and useful:
- The University of Michigan's Informed Consent Workshop at http://www.med.umich.edu/bioethics/workshop;
- Dana Farber's Considerations for Clinical Trial Participation at http://www.dana-farber.org/res/clinical/default.html;
- The University of Minnesota's Informed Consent tutorial at http://www.research.umn.edu/consent;
- The McMaster Carr tutorial at http://www.mcmaster.ca/ors/ethics/faculty_tutorial.htm.
NIH also has supported a Web site available for researchers. It answers their questions about research conduct and ethics and is available at http://www.4researchers.org/.
This site is useful when the main IRB training program is designed to target research coordinators and might not have information principal investigators (PIs) often need to know about research design, Singleton says.
• Plan how free resources will be used within the greater training program: "You could get lost on the Internet, both in time and in gathering information," Ruotolo notes. "We suggest you consider whether your online training will be the entire program or only part of a program."
Also, IRB directors should decide whether they'll require staff and IRB members to take the training or just suggest these resources for review, she adds.
If the education is required then it might be best to use a tutorial that provides a completion certificate or that has a post-tutorial quiz that can be downloaded, Ruotolo says.
"You need to decide whether you want people to click through and review the materials or pass a test at the end," she says.
• Network to find good ideas: "We've looked for opportunities to get feedback from other people about Web sites they've used that are reliable and have helped their own institutions," Singleton says.
The IRB Forum, available at www.irbforum.org, is a good place for networking, she adds.
Joining the forum is free and users can ask questions that IRB peers will answer.
Through networking, an IRB director might discover that someone else has developed and is willing to share the very same type of educational tool that he or she had intended to create from scratch, Singleton notes.
"There are people who've spent a lot of time and effort into developing really valuable presentations," she says. "You should network and collaborate as much as possible."
• Share Webinars: "You could co-host a Webinar, inviting an audience to attend," Singleton says.
If the IRB office could share the costs of the Webinar with another department at the institution, then staff from both sites could benefit from the educational presentation at half the cost.
"When we did a Webinar, we used a conference room seating 25-30 people, showed them an interactive slide show with an instructor talking to the group," Singleton says. "For departments with limited budgets, you could split the costs across several departments."
• Thoroughly research online educational material: There are two areas of caution when using free material online, Ruotolo notes.
First, IRB directors need to make certain the information provided is accurate, institutionally-relevant, and up-to-date.
"You have to make sure you agree with the content," Ruotolo says. "Just because it's an informed consent tutorial doesn't mean that it reflects how those procedures are handled at your institution."
Secondly, IRB directors should check the site regularly to make certain it hasn't closed or changed.
"There's no guarantee a site that's here today will be here tomorrow," Ruotolo says. "You need periodic evaluation."
Also, some institutions provide free access to online educational materials, but they still have copyrights on the materials, so anyone using them might need to seek permission for adapting the materials to their own use, Singleton says.
Sometimes, it's best to be cautious and use the most direct sources in online information.
For example, if an IRB director chooses to educate people about federal regulations and statutes, then the best solution is to send them to the actual federal wording, which can be found at the agency's Web sites, Ruotolo suggests.