Complete guide to digital consent forms in education

Discover how to digitize education-related consent forms using Adobe Sign

Illustration of a hand signing a tablet.

Schools, colleges, and universities use consent forms for a wide range of activities. Field trips, sports participation, media coverage, health emergencies, and research studies or surveys are just a few of the more common scenarios where consent forms may be used.

Think about how many paper consent forms you send home every year. And how many (or few) come back, correctly filled in, signed, and returned in time for the relevant activity? Digitizing consent forms is a great way to reduce the effort required to distribute them, easily track status, and increase form completion.

You are probably accustomed to sending home physical consent and permission forms. You are surely familiar with how challenging it can be to get all forms completed and returned in a timely fashion, which can impact participation rates. Switching to digital consent forms reduces distributing, tracking, reminding, copying, and storing these critical documents.

Increase completion and participation

There are a few ways digital consent forms can help increase rates of completion and student participation:

Reduce workload

Digital documents provide a host of features that ease the burden of form management:

There are two key parts to enabling a paperless consent workflow: 1) building a digital form, and 2) enabling e-signing. We have broken down both parts.

Build your form

Identify required information

You will need to identify the required information for your consent form. Consent forms are specific to the activity, your organization, and the laws and rules of your state, province, or country. Start with basic info about the activity, such as the date and location. In many states you may also be required to clearly explain and list the risks involved. Then you will need fields for the student’s name and ID, parent or guardian’s name, signature, and date. In some areas you may also need the name and signature of a witness.

Create a digital form

You have some options here:

Set field validation rules

When creating or editing fields you have a range of options, including text entry, check boxes, radio buttons, drop down selections, initials, and signatures. Each type offers features that make completing the form easier and reduce errors, including default values, validation rules, and tips for the reader that can provide additional guidance.

Identify required fields

To further ensure that the forms are done properly the first time, you can specify which fields must be completed and which are optional. The form cannot be signed or submitted unless these required fields have been completed.

Save and publish

When you have finished creating the form you can distribute it via email or get it ready for digital workflows with built-in electronic signatures, which can save up to 1.5 hours per signature.

Enable e-signing

Pick your tool

To enable electronic signatures on your new digital forms, you need to select an e-signature tool like Adobe Sign. In addition to collecting and managing signatures, look for a tool that lets you easily build digital workflows to speed up and automate the process.

Distribute your form

Some e-signature solutions integrate with a wide range of applications, such as Microsoft 365, so you can request signatures directly from your existing tools. You can use a variety of different file formats and send files as email attachments, post them to your website, or use Adobe Document Cloud.

Set completion date, enable reminders, track status

When you send a digital form with Adobe Sign, you can specify additional information such as the desired completion date and enable automatic reminders to participants who have not yet submitted their signed consent form. You can also track the status of forms in real time or get notifications when they are viewed and signed.

Store and reference completed forms, or collect in database

Once forms have been completed and signed, they can be stored in a variety of ways. At the simplest, each form comes back as a complete PDF that you can file in your preferred document management system. You can also collect the responses in a spreadsheet or database for easy review and retrieval of the key information.

A few pro tips

There are a few additional things to keep in mind when creating online consent forms.

Visit Adobe to learn more about how their education-focused solutions can help you digitize consent forms — as well as other forms like acceptable use policies and liability waivers.