New Partnership Will Help Advance Research on College Teaching and Learning

USM Kirwan Center, UM College Park, Establish Streamlined Review Process to Reduce Barriers to Faculty Research Related to Postsecondary Student Success

Baltimore, MD (Oct. 31, 2022) – A new partnership between the University System of Maryland (USM) William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation and the flagship University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) Human Research Protection Program has led to the creation of a valuable new tool for researchers seeking to better understand the ways in which teaching and learning innovations can improve college students’ academic performance. The partners have established a systemwide Institutional Review Board protocol for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), which is designed to reduce barriers for faculty at 12 system institutions engaging in SoTL studies involving human participants.

An Institutional Review Board, or IRB, is a committee that performs ethical review of proposed research to help assure protection of the rights and welfare of human participants. A systemwide IRB protocol will help USM institutions by relieving their individual IRBs of the review burden for SoTL studies. This single IRB process, based at UMCP, is especially timely as the USM encourages more faculty to undertake SoTL projects.

SoTL focuses on systematic investigation of student learning, instruction, and teaching innovations. Findings from SoTL research studies can help inform educators as they decide which instructional methods to use with students and as they design courses, ultimately helping to improve student performance and contributing to the knowledge base related to effective educational practices.

This focus on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning fits the mission of the Kirwan Center, which seeks to engage faculty across the USM in better understanding the impact of innovations in student learning and instruction, toward a goal of improving student success on the collegiate level.

“The benefits of this umbrella protocol extend to individual USM faculty, our institutions, and our system as a whole,” said Joann Boughman, USM Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs. “We view this protocol as a groundbreaking project originating out of a state higher education system office, where we can leverage a partnership with our flagship campus for the benefit of faculty and students at 12 institutions system-wide.”

A single, uniform IRB protocol will offer numerous benefits that advance research in teaching and learning:
  • Streamlining the process and response time for individual faculty who submit their IRB request under the systemwide protocol.
  • Encouraging faculty researchers to collaborate on studies across institutional boundaries.
  • Raising awareness throughout the USM of the important and creative SoTL research conducted by faculty.
  • Spurring the Kirwan Center and the USM Council for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning (CATL) to determine the support investigators need to conduct this research and share these assets across the system.
“Our working assumption is that individual faculty members will more readily embark on SoTL research because an existing and consistent IRB protocol—managed entirely by UMCP staff, regardless of the faculty member’s home institution—will help ensure a timely review,” said Joseph Smith, Director-Human Research Protection Program in the UMCP Division of Research.  

The UMCP Division of Research will offer the substantial resource of having dedicated staff in place to process IRB submissions, eliminating an administrative burden for faculty members at other USM universities who serve on their campus IRBs.

“As the system’s flagship campus, the University of Maryland is pleased to offer resources that will streamline protocols and advance research throughout our system of institutions so that we can work collectively to better serve our state, nation and the world,” said UMCP Vice President for Research Gregory F. Ball.

The presence of the shared protocol also helps highlight how a system office can support research endeavors. “What really impresses me about this effort is the way it reduces burden on individual institutions and the faculty who want to pilot new work under the arrangement,” said Michele Masucci, USM Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development.

This fall, a pilot with 1-to-2 institutions will be launched to test the process, before institutions across the USM are invited to complete agreements stating that the institutions will rely on the IRB at UMCP to approve specific SoTL projects.

The Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation is the first system-level center to conceptualize, promote, and disseminate groundbreaking innovations aimed broadly at transforming higher education. Acting Director Nancy O’Neill is pleased to have the Kirwan Center drive this movement toward IRB simplification.
“I can envision how this initiative could grow, including an annual research symposium that would bring together cohorts of faculty who submit studies under the protocol,” O’Neill said. “My hope is to raise the visibility of this kind of research across our institutions and help share the story of the innovative work being done in teaching and learning by outstanding faculty across the USM.”

Additional information about the USM William E. Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation can be found here. Additional information about the UMCP Division of Research can be found here.


The USM comprises 12 institutions: Bowie State University; Coppin State University; Frostburg State University; Salisbury University; Towson University; the University of Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science; the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Maryland Eastern Shore; and the University of Maryland Global Campus. The USM also includes three regional centers—the Universities at Shady Grove, the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown, and the University System of Maryland at Southern Maryland—at which USM universities offer upper-division undergraduate and graduate courses.

USM institutions and programs are among the nation's best in quality and value according to several national rankings. To learn more about the University System of Maryland, visit To learn about the new USM Strategic Plan, “Vision 2030: From Excellence to Preeminence,” visit

Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719