Students can now earn a master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis, a scientific approach to studying and improving behavior, through a new online program from the College of Education.
the Applied Behavior Analysis Program is currently headed by an interim director Wendy Machalicekassociate professor at Department of Special Education and a board-certified behavior analyst at the doctoral level.
“I think one of the most exciting things about this program is that it allows the student to individualize their area of specialization,” Machalicek said. “This is a master of science in human learning and behavior, applicable to all of us in all settings.”
Behavior analysts work with their clients to assess skills, develop goals, and then apply interventions. For example, goals may involve increasing a client’s social communication skills, academic engagement, exercise, or positive self-talk. Intervention to increase aerobic exercise may include client setting of weekly goals, behavior analyst text prompts, graphical feedback on minutes spent exercising at target heart rate and self-directed positive reinforcement.
When teaching complex skills, such as teaching an adult with an intellectual disability to prepare a meal, behavior analysts model steps, accelerate step completion, and break down a teaching session into smaller actions to make it more manageable.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach, so behavior analysts also ask clients for feedback on the intervention’s goals, procedures, and outcomes to ensure that each element is feasible, acceptable, and effective. .
“That means people have to agree that we’re working on socially important goals, our procedures are acceptable, and the results are acceptable,” Machalicek said. “We want to incorporate their voices into how we train future behavior analysts and how we assess progress.”
Behavior analysts often work with clients in a variety of settings to support people with autism or those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. This includes students with and without disabilities in early childhood and K-12, in health care settings to address addiction and mental health, and in businesses to improve employee performance and safety. .
To address such a range of applications, the Applied Behavior Analysis program will offer courses in principles of behavior, experimental analysis, research methods, and ethics. Graduates will learn to design and conduct their own research that guides practice.
“We want graduates to leave this program with a lifelong love of learning,” Machalicek said.
Consistent use of research results and client feedback guides analysts’ decision-making throughout their careers.
In addition to awarding a master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis in the first year, the online program also helps students gain hours of experience in an optional second year.
The hours of experience, when combined with a master’s degree, can qualify graduates to take the board-certified behavior analyst exam.
A board-certified behavior analyst certification can be combined with other certifications like psychology, education, special education, speech pathology, social work, occupational therapy and more. Additional training and licensing can improve employment opportunities.
“There is a national shortage of behavior analysts, special educators, school psychologists and speech therapists,” Machalicek said. “There is therefore a growing need for individuals to support children in their behavior and learning in school.”
The program is unique because, unlike institutions offering fast-paced certificate programs, the UO Applied Behavior Analysis program will give faculty members the valuable time needed to help students become compassionate providers.
“For us, it was really important that we produced behavior analysts who could engage in compassionate care, who were culturally sensitive and could work across cultures with people from different backgrounds than their own,” said said Machalicek.
This means that it is especially important for graduates to understand diverse perspectives. The program develops a to-do list for students that focuses on diversity, equity, social justice, and inclusion, where students recognize biases and learn to work across cultures.
Kimberly Marshall, a certified behavior analyst at the doctoral level, will join UO as a lecturer and new coordinator of the Applied Behavior Analysis program in the fall. She will teach many of the courses in the program.
Marshall specializes in verbal behavior and effective teaching research. She says students need to be trained in neurodiversity affirmation practices, which are practices that acknowledge that there are a range of differences in behavior and brain function.
“It is imperative that behavior analysts come to interventions with an open mind about intervention priorities,” Marshall said, “and be able to focus on what is important to the client and the client’s community. “
The Applied Behavior Analysis program is currently seeking members of the community, including individuals with autism and their family members, to serve on an advisory board that will help determine how to train and assess students.
The priority deadline to apply for the program is June 1 and the final deadline is August 1. An informational webinar will take place on May 6; information is available on the program website.
“If we train 15 students who understand the science of human behavior very well and learn very well, they can impact the lives of thousands of people over the course of their careers,” Machalicek said. “This amplification of our efforts at the College of Education is truly something magnificent.”
By Madeline Ryan, College of Education