University Series 042 | Clemson University Online

Today we are joined by Dr. Cathrine Griffith from Clemson University. Their online Masters of Education in Special Education focuses on increasing collaboration between education and behavior analysis. This program is packed with professors from diverse backgrounds providing a multi-tiered system of support for their students. Gain knowledge, not only in the science of behavior but also in special education.


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Shauna Costello (00:01):

You're listening to Operant Innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA Technologies. This week on the University series, we're speaking with Clemson University and Dr. Catherine Griffith. Dr. Griffith is a clinical assistant professor of special education in the department of education and human development. She coordinates the masters of art and teaching program in learning and disabilities at Clemson, supervises student teachers, and practicum students, and teaches coursework on individuals with learning disabilities and intensive academic interventions. Previously, she served as a researcher for the national dropout prevention center investigating the effects of a computerized reading program for struggling adolescent readers in five school districts across the country. She is a former middle school, special education teacher who instructed students with learning disabilities and self-contained resource and inclusion classes. Her research interest includes supporting pre-service and in-service teachers with improving the academic performance of students with disabilities and evidence-based reading practices for individuals with disabilities. Without further ado, Dr. Catherine Griffith. Today we are talking with Dr. Catherine Griffith from Clemson. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (01:27):

Thank you for having me.

Shauna Costello (01:29):

I'm really excited to learn some more. We talked briefly before this, but I didn't get into any of the nitty gritty. I am ready to hand it over to you for just a general overview of the program.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (01:43):

Great. At Clemson University, we have a graduate program in special ed that is online. It's a masters in education and special ed, and we actually have built into the program, the ABA verified course sequence. For individuals that are interested in also meeting the coursework requirements to sit for the BCBA exam, we have that built into the program as well.

Shauna Costello (02:13):

Wonderful. Let's get diving in. Who are the faculty and what does the research look like that some of the faculty are interested in?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (02:28):

We have several full-time faculty that will be teaching in this program. The program is currently structured where only our full-time faculty will be teaching in it. I'll probably just start in alphabetical order because that would be the easiest to go in. Abby Allen is one of our faculty members. She's actually a former speech and language pathologist, and has her doctorate in special ed as well. She has that unique perspective from a speech and language pathologist, and then as a researcher in special ed. Her research interests are in early writing interventions, learning disabilities and assessment for students with learning disabilities. She actually received a really exciting grant in the past year through IES, Institute of education sciences, an early career research grant to investigate early writing interventions for students with learning disabilities. That was a pretty exciting milestone for her, and we appreciate her expertise in the program.

Shauna Costello (03:41):

That's really exciting. I know we'll get into some more of the faculty, but just to hear tthere are different faculty with different types of backgrounds coming in for potential students to learn from.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (03:57):

Yeah. Another faculty member is Dr. Shanna Hirsch and she is actually our ABA verified course sequence coordinator. She's a BCBA-D. She's a doctor level BCBA and she has research interest in professional development for teachers and in the area of positive behavior intervention support for students with emotional behavioral disorders. She actually has two pretty exciting grants as well. She's a co-principal investigator for a grant with University of Virginia, a multimedia teacher prep opportunity. She has another one through the national science foundation that she's a co-principal investigator of, and they're researching some research to practitioner for STEM. She has it with a couple of faculty members at Clemson where they are researching the science side, but then she's bringing in the students with the disability side. Another exciting opportunity that Shanna Hirsch has is she received some funds through the provost at Clemson to use the simulator through Kennesaw State, where we actually have some opportunities for our undergrad students, participating in these live simulator experiences through Zoom, which really worked out because they were able to do this during the pandemic. These funds were provided before the pandemic. When our students were not able to get into field placements, they were actually able to practice direct instruction. They were able to practice least to most prompting. Some other students were practicing ear correction using these simulation experiences with the students who were in a simulation, but they had various disabilities, various ages, and they were able to practice these different teaching experiences, even though they weren't able to get into the field experiences for some of those early ones. We've also used it for some of our senior level students while they're in their student teaching experience. They've been able to practice IEP meetings, providing information on progress the students are making. Just trying to facilitate an IEP meeting and what they would look like. They were given those opportunities as well. We continue to use it. Even though our students will be in field placements, they'll continue to use the simulator experience as part of their training, which is pretty exciting as well.

Shauna Costello (06:48):

That's very exciting. I've seen some simulations for some other things with behavior based safety and some other training, but I never thought about it for something like this. That's really neat and interesting to think about.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (07:06):

For example, juniors one year, were working with a student with Autism and they were working on least to most prompting with that particular student. Another set of junior level students were also working with three different students with different disabilities, trying to simulate a small group experience and then providing direct vocabulary instruction to those students. We had the IEP with more advanced students and tried to provide data. In that simulation, it was adults. We had a teacher, we had a principal, and we also had a parent in that simulation. We would provide information for that simulation experience to give the students some different opportunities when they would go in and practice.

Shauna Costello (08:00):

I know from personal experience that getting that IEP experience early could be very helpful instead of just going in, not quite sure how it's going to go because not all programs are like yours, where it's built in to have this really close collaboration between education and behavior analysis. Sometimes students don't always get that early on.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (08:31):

Right, and that's one of the unique features about the program. We do have obviously the behavior intervention focus with the ABA coursework, but then we have the other side, which is our academic intervention focus. When I mentioned Dr. Allen having the database intervention experience and working in early writing, we also have some other faculty members that I'll talk about working in reading and math. We have a unique perspective where we talk about that academic side as well as the behavior side. We have a strong school based focus on this masters program that has those ABA coursework.

Shauna Costello (09:17):

Yeah. I can't wait to learn some more about it. How about the other faculty members?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (09:25):

We have Dr. Antonis Katsiyannis and he's a distinguished alumni professor in the program. He's actually the former president of the council for exceptional children. For anyone who's listening and you're familiar with the CEC council for exceptional children, working with those special ed practitioners. He is a well respected faculty member and well respected researcher in special ed. We're excited that he had that opportunity. Some of his focus is on legal and policy in special ed, applied behavior analysis. Behavior disorders is another area of focus. He would be one of the faculty members that is teaching some of those ABA coursework in the program, along with Dr. Hirsch. We have Dr. Kent Parker, a clinical faculty member in our program, and he has a wide range of experience in the schools. He was actually in the school district working in one of the school districts down here near Clemson, South Carolina, and Oconee county working with students with emotional behavioral disorders. Providing support for teachers in that aspect as well, and then move back into the faculty position. He is training a lot of our student teachers and working in the field with them and, on top of his work with our Clemson students, he also does some extensive consulting across the state of South Carolina for students with pretty intensive behavior needs, from young students to secondary students. Another one of our faculty members, Dr. Joe Ryan, he's a professor in special ed at Clemson, and he is also the founder and executive director for the Clemson life program. I'm not sure if some of our listeners are familiar with the Clemson life program. It's a very valuable program that is housed at Clemson. It's a two year post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities to come to Clemson. They get some functional academic, independent living skills, and Clemson students can work actually as a volunteer. There are some different pay positions, but there's a lot of different volunteer opportunities for Clemson students to be mentors for these Clemson life students, which is really exciting. Dr. Ryan also will be an instructor in our verified course sequence for the ABA courses. He has extensive background in single subject research, also behavioral disorders, intellectual disabilities. It's pretty exciting to have him as one of our faculty members as well, teaching in the program.

Shauna Costello (12:31):

That's awesome. I can't wait to hear. I'll probably ask some more about that program once we get a little bit further into this. I'm excited to hear about it.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (12:40):

We also have Dr. Pamela Stecker. Another one of our professors in special ed and has an extensive background and has been at Clemson for a great number of years. She has a background in math interventions, reading interventions for students with learning disabilities. She also serves as a national consultant for the national center on intensive interventions. We're so pleased to have her as another faculty member that will be teaching on the academic side. Possibly some of the coursework on teaching math to students with disabilities or teaching language arts. We're fortunate to have her as well. I am the other faculty member in the program. I am also a political assistant professor, like Dr. Ken Parker. In my role, I'm also a board certified BCBA. Shanna Hirsch and I are the two individuals that will be teaching in the program as the BCBAs, or she's a BCBA-D. We also have Dr. Katsiyannis and Dr. Ryan. The four of us will be teaching the verified core sequence. All of the other ones would be teaching some of the academic courses. My background is also in learning disabilities, as one of my interests and intensive interventions for students with disabilities, and also have experiences working with young children with Autism and providing behavior support in those school based settings for students with Autism. I have a great deal of interest working in those school settings. Often supervised student teachers and I just enjoy teaching and learning new things when I'm in the schools and supporting teachers through professional development. That's all our faculty members we have at this time.

Shauna Costello (14:45):

It sounds like you have a stacked line-up for faculty. Just the wide array of topics and research that they cover, their ability, and that they've shown to get these grants. I can only imagine what that could mean for students down the line as well, with potentially getting involved. Some potential students may be interested in this being the mixture between the education behavior, the science of behavior. What are some of those classes and experiences students can expect?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (15:33):

I don't think I mentioned this in that overview, but our courses are all online and at this time they're all asynchronous. What that means is, depending on where you are, time zone wise, you don't have to be in a certain class at a certain time, but we do schedule our courses. You can't do everything at once. What I mean by that is you have modules and you need to complete that module by that week's time, and then move on to the next week's module once that opens up. The good thing about that also is our courses are one at a time. You're not taking more than one class at a time. You have one course for about seven and a half weeks in the fall or the spring semester and start your second course, the next seven and a half weeks. Summers are about five weeks, just because that's the way the summer schedule is. The summer courses are about five week long courses and students do take courses in the summer. Some of the courses that are offered are, again, those academic courses and those behavior courses. The way we structure the program is that each semester, other than summer, you typically have one academic course and one behavior course. What I mean by that is one of the ABA verified course sequence courses, and one other course that would have a school based special ed focus. For example, in fall we have the supporting students with heightened disabilities course, which is kind of the introduction to students with learning disabilities, emotional behavioral disorders, Autism, talking about those different characteristics, identification through IDEA and then also introducing the students to database intervention and support for those students. The next seven and a half weeks would be your introduction to the applied behavior analysis course, the first course in ABA. The spring semester of that first year, we have an assessment course in special ed, focusing on what would be some of those traditional assessments that are used in special ed, not just the field of ABA. Obviously talking about things like the VB map, but also talking about curriculum based assessments in that assessment course, and then there would be your first single subject course as well in that spring semester. In that first summer, two ABA verified course sequence courses would be offered. We'd have our experimental analysis of behavior, talking about FBAs. We also have our legal and policy and ethics course in ABA that would have a focus on legal and policy in ABA, but then also have a focus in special ed, which is in a unique combination. In the fall of the second year, we have a language arts course, teaching language arts to students with disabilities covering that reading math, and we have an advanced classroom management course. Again, getting that school based focus on how you can support students who have more intensive and academic needs in a school based setting. Then in the spring of that next year, we have a teaching math to students with disabilities course, and we have another one of our ABA courses and that advanced single subject. The final course in the summer is our behavior analytics supervision course to make sure we cover how to handle supervision.

Shauna Costello (19:35):

That's really exciting, especially some of the course offerings that I was hearing. Just the course where you were talking about offering with the behavior analysis side of the legal policy. That's not something I think is very prevalent or at least not that I've heard of. It could be much more prevalent than I think, but it's so neat hearing that. I love hearing that, pretty much each semester, students are going to be getting half and half when it comes to their education. They're really getting immersed into each one of these fields and the faculty are showing them how these two fields can work hand in hand, and how they do go well together. Having that academic background as well is just going to be so beneficial. I know you were talking about taking one class every seven weeks. How does that play into the courses? Do the students have the opportunity to do some research or sub-capstone projects or some applied projects? What does that look like for the students?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (21:01):

Yeah, great question. Like I said, we have this school based focus, obviously we want students to know the content and understand the content. We have assessments built in there, some more traditional assessments to gauge whether or not they understand the content that they're being taught. There are also some applied projects within the courses. For example, they may have functional behavioral assessment in one of those behavioral classes. One of the academic classes, they may have a database intervention project where they need to demonstrate how well a student is making progress and showing that data and then providing some type of intervention. We have it built in there and we've communicated to students that we want them to be in some type of setting working where they can implement different projects, because we will have projects built in there. It's not only taking tests. They also need to implement what they're doing in the field, whether it's a teaching lesson teaching a direct instruction lesson, or it is some other type of project.

Shauna Costello (22:25):

That leads me right into the next subject that I was going to ask about, because this is one thing that potential students, and I always see this question on social media as well, with online programs. What does the practicum site placement or the experience placement look like?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (22:47):

Yeah, good question. Currently, at the Clemson program, we do not have a practicum built into the program. That is something that is communicated to students, that it would be something that's on their own to do that. Obviously they're not able to begin any practicums until they begin that first ABA verified course sequence, which in our case, applied behavior analysis. That intro course that they would take in the first fall semester, but we structured it this way, because again it's a school based program. A lot of those individuals who apply are possibly already special ed teachers teaching in the field and they're hoping to keep their jobs. They are hoping to do their placements through where they are and maybe doing some outside work, but it's not that we have it structured that we have a certain practicum site that they need to go to. The benefit of not having a structured practicum internship is so they can branch off to wherever they are. We do have some that are clinic based and that's okay. I'm not saying that we're not accepting students that are clinic based, we do have some that are clinic based, but we do give that academic side for them through the program. They have that, in case they want to use it in their clinic setting as well. The benefit is they can stay where they are in their current positions and hopefully get their field experiences that way. The other side is, we sometimes have some who want their masters in special ed and want this coursework, but they don't actually want to pursue that BCBA. They want a masters degree in special ed and we have some former undergraduate students who are coming back to us because they want to gain additional experience because they may want to be a special ed director or a MTSS coordinator or a behavior specialist. They may not want to have to do those practicum placements for a BCBA, because it's not something that they're looking to do. The courses are built in. Either way, if you want to do it, you can pursue those internship opportunities and pursue supervisor, but it's not something that you have to do if let's say you're getting your masters in special ed, and you're interested in that ABA side, but maybe you don't want to pursue those 2000 field experience hours. It's quite a bit. [Laughing]

Shauna Costello (25:25):

It is. Definitely.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (25:27):

It is definitely worthwhile for those who want to do it. Obviously, I did it wanting to have that side and wanting to have those experiences. It's beneficial for those who want to, but it's set up to have some flexibility in the program.

Shauna Costello (25:42):

I think that also speaks to one thing that I realized when I got into my masters program. I thought I wanted to do one thing, I got it, and I started doing it. I was like, "Well, let me try this thing out too." [Laughing] That's one more positive of not having a Clemson practicum site. You have to go to this place and do this thing, that lends to that flexibility, which is really nice. We have talked about a general overview, the faculty and the amazing research that they're doing, the student experience and coursework, some of the practicum opportunities, where the students have come from in the past, and we've mentioned location. The location is online. That's something that has come up previously with programs that are online, but students who are living close enough to campus or to the faculty. Are there other opportunities for some of those students?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (26:59):

Yes. I mentioned the program's online, so you wouldn't have to move. Let's say you were living in Texas or California, and you wanted to do this program. You could stay where you are, and you could very much do this program, but let's say you were interested in moving and wanted to try out a different location and maybe wanted to either meet with faculty at different times in person or you wanted to see what opportunities are available to you. Clemson University is in South Carolina. It is in a small town, but it has a really great atmosphere, really great school spirit. I'm sure listeners know about Clemson football and if you wanted that school team spirit, it is very much in Clemson. If you were interested in hiking, the mountains are close by. There's a really great small city: Greenville, South Carolina is about 45 minutes away, which is where I live. It's an amazing town that has a great downtown life. A lot of opportunities for different experiences. You could go up to Asheville, which is probably about two, maybe an hour and a half from Clemson. Atlanta is about an hour and a half south of Clemson. Charlotte is close by as well and if you were a beach lover and you wanted to come to this side of the state, the beach is about three hours from Greenville. I can't say how far it is from Clemson. Somewhere in that two and a half, three and a half hour range. Clemson faculty are on campus. They're also in Greenville, South Carolina. Let's say you wanted to have an office hour that was not on Zoom, you could meet with faculty in person. There are also volunteer opportunities. If you want to get involved in the Clemson life program and be a mentor to students, that's an option. We also oftentimes have graduate students that are interested in getting involved in some research. It's another opportunity that I've talked about, some of the different research happening in Clemson. It's a great place to live. If someone did want to come in person and live, even though it's an online program. Some people just want to try something new. I've lived in Greenville for 15 years and love it.

Shauna Costello (29:29):

From my own personal experience, I have never had a bad time in South Carolina. It is just my personal belief. I love the Carolinas just in general. It's so exciting to hear that even though it is an online program, if students are close enough, they still can take advantage of the campus. What's going on on the campus with the different programs, with the research, with meeting the faculty and getting involved in different ways. The one thing I love hearing with online programs is just the flexibility with them. You can really get what you put in. Another question to ask is what the admissions process looks like. Are there interviews? What does that process look like?

Shauna Costello (30:28):

Yeah, that's a great question. I'll answer the interview question first. We do not have interviews for students. If students have questions, they're more than welcome to email, set up a time to talk or to Zoom. I've done that before. We also have virtual information sessions about the program that we offer sometimes bimonthly, oftentimes monthly starting in September. You can find those out when they are on the website. They're not listed for fall 2021 yet, but they'll be listed in August for the fall semester. Feel free to come to one of our virtual information sessions. I can tell you about some of the admission requirements. We have two admission deadlines. We have a priority deadline of January 15th. If you definitely know that you're really interested in the program and you want to be assured that your application is getting reviewed before our final admission deadline, then I would apply by that January 15th deadline. We also have a final one of April 15th, and this is talking about the fall 2022 admission cycle. We only admit in the fall. These dates are for fall 2022. Priority January 15th, if you're really interested and you are hoping to get your application a really good look earlier. We'll review those starting in February and then April 15th, is our final deadline. Some of the things that we look for is obviously a bachelor's degree or higher, but we prefer for those individuals to have a bachelor's degree in some type of education or education related field. For example, the education field could be special ed, reading education, elementary education, early childhood education, secondary education. An education related field may be psychology, occupational therapy, speech and language, or behavior analysis. Any of those fields. Sometimes we have school psychologists who are interested in the program and so they have a school psych masters. If you already have a masters degree, that's okay. You're interested in pursuing additional degrees. We will take a look at that. GRE or Miller analogies, standardized tests are only required if you have not earned a 3.0 in your last degree. If, in your last bachelor's, you've only received a bachelor's degree and you earned a 3.1, you would need to worry about that GRE or Miller analogies. You wouldn't have to fill a waiver out, you just have to submit your transcripts and then that would be waived. Let's say in your bachelor's degree, you had a 2.87, but then you have a masters degree as well, and you have a 3.0 or higher, then again, it would be waived. It's only for those who have not achieved that 3.0, would need to take those standardized tests. It would be either GRE or Miller analogies. We ask for a current resume and on that resume, it's best to make sure that you provide information on any teaching experiences, any experiences you volunteered or got paid working with students with disabilities. That would also help your application. We also ask for three letters of recommendation. When you're thinking about who you might want to ask for your letters of recommendation, you may consider some work experiences, but consider which work experiences. If you have some related to teaching, like you're a current teacher, those would be some, or you're working in an ABA clinic. That would be another great one where you have a BCBA or another supervisor over you. You also may consider a former professor who can speak to your ability to complete coursework successfully. Some things I would avoid would be a personal friend or a family member. For the personal statement, we would like that to be about one page. In the personal statement, provide some information about your current experiences and how that relates to pursuing this degree and what goals you have. We really like for our applicants to be either working or intend to work in an informal or formal education setting. What I mean by that, a formal education setting could be like a public school where you're a public school teacher, and informal could be you're working in an ABA clinic, working with students with disabilities in some capacity. The reason for that is some of the projects that we have through the different courses will require you to be working with one or more different students or clients. If you're an international student, there's some additional testing that is required and that I would refer to on the Clemson website.

Shauna Costello (35:42):

Awesome. Thank you. It's very exciting to learn more about this program because I really like hearing about these programs that are more than one thing. It's not just one or the other. I love hearing about these programs that are bridging gaps between these fields and making both fields better. We've talked about a lot so far. The overview, faculty, research, student experience, courses, practicum, admissions, location. Is there anything else you want to make sure to cover today?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (36:27):

Yes, I often get a lot of questions about the cost of the program. I can speak to what the cost are for the next academic year, which is fall 2021 to spring 2022. Oftentimes the tuition can change. It hasn't changed in the last two years. Clemon's has been really good about that and the pandemic and trying to freeze some of those tuition, but I don't know if that's going to be the case. This is an estimated cost. Currently, the estimated tuition and fees per credit hour is $545 and the program has 30 credit hours.

Shauna Costello (37:15):

Awesome. Thank you for sharing that because that's something that doesn't always pop into my head when I think about it. I know that you're probably talking to many more students than I am. Do you have anything else that you want to make sure to cover today about the program?

Dr. Catherine Griffith (37:38):

I may have addressed these, talking throughout this podcast series, that are often asked of me. One of the big ones is, "Can I work full-time while completing this program?" The answer to that is yes. That's why we have structured the program in the way that it is. You focus on one course at a time. You're talking with one faculty team member at a time, and then getting that support from that person, and then really immersing yourselves in the coursework and then moving on to the next course and it's also online and asynchronous. For example, if you were teaching full time in the schools and you can't get online at 12 o'clock, you can do your coursework at a different time. Another question often asked is, "What kind of benefit will I get out of this program?" Where do you see different potential jobs for later on? Some of those are anywhere from being a special ed coordinator to being a behavior specialist. Possibly an MTSS coordinator, or if you want to pursue those BCBA internship experiences, take that BCBA exam. The coursework is built in and then you would just have to complete those other parts and pass those other parts to then become a BCBA. If you are someone who is in South Carolina, BCBAs are in high demand.About two year old statistics really showed us how high demand BCBAs are, because there are not very many in the state of South Carolina. It would be great if that is your interest, and you want to do that, and you're interested in doing it at Clemson.

Shauna Costello (39:33):

Thank you so much for talking with me today and teaching me more about the program. It was great to learn about it and to hear how immersive it is. Even though it is online, there are all of these different opportunities with both the academic and the behavior side of everything. I'm really excited to get an update in the future about your students and how they've been doing and what they're doing. Thank you so much.

Dr. Catherine Griffith (40:07):

Well, thank you for having me.

Shauna Costello (40:09):

Thank you for listening to this episode of the University series. And as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback, or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at operant


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