PSFA's SONA Facilitates Human Subject Participation In Research Projects

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

PSFA Sona Team

San Diego State University's College of Professional Studies & Fine Arts (PSFA) continues to be a hub for research with the recent enhancements to its PSFA SONA system during the fall 2023 semester.

As one of the nation's premier urban research universities, SDSU fosters an educational research culture, and PSFA plays a pivotal role in this endeavor through the management of PSFA SONA. 

PSFA SONA is an online platform where researchers can post studies and recruit participants from enrolled courses, facilitating the seamless execution of research projects. The college adopted the human subject recruitment system in the fall of 2016 when Dr. Kaye Sweetser from the School of Journalism & Media Studies (JMS) and Dr. Rachael Record from the School of Communication proposed the program. 

“Even before SDSU had Research 1 aspirations, our college emphasized the importance of scholarship,” began Sweetser, a full professor who teaches public relations. “As teacher-scholars, we wanted to make it easier for instructors to provide research participation opportunities to their students. Bringing the system to PSFA as a college-wide tool allowed us to connect researchers with students. At the same time, PSFA SONA streamlined those research-for-credit opportunities for instructors and students.”

The latest update to the PSFA SONA system introduces a pre-screen feature designed to target specific diverse populations. This feature upholds ethical research practices by preventing oversampling of ineligible subjects and empowers PSFA’s scholars to conduct more diversity-focused research initiatives.

“My research partner and I leveraged the pre-screening feature in PFSA SONA to filter for our target demographic,” said Kailea Dupree, a JMS graduate student. “This feature allowed us to save time and collect data efficiently and ethically to meet the needs of our research project.” 

The PSFA SONA pre-screen questions allow students to use the system as research subjects to indicate their race, assigned sex at birth, and current gender identity. Students can skip any of the pre-screen questions if they prefer to not be included in a targeted pool. 

“​​The heart of my research lies in diversity, inclusivity, and equity,” said Arleen Jia Rasing in JMS, who researches with Dupree. “The new pre-screening feature in PFSA SONA allows me to directly reach out to underrepresented demographics for mass communications research and easily platform subjects’ experiences and identities through a scholarly lens.” 

PSFA SONA offers opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students to engage in the research process.  As researchers in the system, they can post Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved studies for their own graduate courses or thesis projects.

Similarly, undergraduate students primarily engage with PSFA SONA as research subjects, contributing to the generation of knowledge across various fields. More than 3,000 students from across the college enroll in the PSFA SONA system each semester, the platform creates diverse participants, enriching research endeavors with varied perspectives and experiences.

"Being introduced to academic research exposed me to new questions that I never thought to ask," said JMS undergraduate student Amy Nguyen. “It allowed me to confront associations that I never realized existed and where I stand on certain matters. The more I participate in these studies, the more I learn about myself and the world I'm living in. Through them, I adopted a more curious and critical approach to how I process things in the world."

These benefits to students make the PSFA SONA a winning tool for every role: students, instructors, and researchers. 

“Every semester we have more than a dozen studies listed in PSFA SONA,” said Sweetser. “This provides our researchers with an efficient way to collect data, and it gives our students in the college several choices for the research with which they want to engage.”

For faculty, staff, and student researchers within PSFA, PSFA SONA offers a wealth of resources and support. Researchers can leverage PSFA SONA to recruit participants from diverse backgrounds, with administrators assisting in the sampling process, including guidance on IRB approval and recruitment strategies.

“We typically start to work with researchers right before they submit their IRB packages,” said Sweetser. “That way we can help them explain their recruitment protocol and ensure that they are set up for success. Once a study is approved by the IRB, we confirm that and help the researcher post it on PSFA SONA. Most of our studies are web-based through Qualtrics, which means we use an automatic credit-granting system that connects to PSFA SONA.”

Sweetser added that PSFA SONA allows for in-person lab studies and qualitative research.    

For students, participation in PSFA SONA-affiliated research studies provides valuable insights into the research process and contributes to the advancement of knowledge within their respective areas of study.

For more information on PSFA SONA and how it can support research endeavors within the College of Professional Studies & Fine Arts, contact [email protected].

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