University Series 048 | University of Cincinnati Distance Learning
Today we are joined by Dr. James Hawkins and Dr. Neil Deochand from the University of Cincinnati Distance Learning Program. There are a plethora of distance learning programs and it can be very hard to decipher between them, but after speaking with Dr. Hawkins and Dr. Deochand you can hear the passion that they put into their program. They strive to provide the best learning opportunities for their students and offer constant support.
Dr. James Hawkins - firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Neil Deochand - email@example.com
Shauna Costello (00:00:01):
You're listening to Operant Innovations, a podcast brought to you by ABA Technologies. This month, on the University series, we are speaking with the University of Cincinnati in their Distance Learning Program. We are speaking with Dr. James Hawkins and Dr. Neil Deochand. Without further ado, University of Cincinnati. Today we are here talking to the University of Cincinnati and their Behavior Analysis Distance Learning programs. I'm going to let both of you introduce yourselves. Thank you and welcome.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:00:37):
Thank you very much. My name is James Hawkins. This is my ninth year as the program coordinator.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:00:44):
My name is Neil Deochand and I'm going into my fifth year as an assistant professor in the behavior analysis program.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:00:50):
We have one other faculty member too, Dr. Dacia Mccoy, who's been with us for seven years.
Shauna Costello (00:00:57):
Awesome. I'm really excited to learn about the programs. Neil and I have been talking for a while now, getting this set up, so I'm going to pass it over to you to talk about a general overview.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:01:11):
Sounds great, thank you. We have two programs. The first is our certificate program and that consists of seven courses, uh, that would make you eligible to sit for the BCBA exam in terms of the coursework. Typically, there are three semesters where you take two classes in each of your first two semesters and then three in your final semester. Years worth of courses there. Financial aid is available for students as long as they're taking a minimum of two courses in our masters track, five semesters long. You take two courses per semester built in a particular order and the same thing there. As long as you're taking two courses a semester, you're eligible for financial aid and just regular rules and regulations our students have to follow. You just have to take at least one academic credit per year and you have to finish the masters program within five years. The practicum experience, and the supervision hours that you need, are actually outside of our program, so it's not a requirement in order to graduate. We will certainly help people search for those supervisors if they should need such help with that. Anything you'd like to add?
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:02:39):
Yeah, and one of our cool things about our program, we don't have a GRE requirement. We also have a very diverse student body. The students who usually come to us, some of them are older, some of them are parents with kids with intellectual developmental disabilities. We also have a lot of RBTs, a lot of individuals from the school system and some of the data seems that is going to be a real popping point for behavior analysis, because we've got only 12% of those in the field in the education setting, but 25% of job postings are there. You can see there's a huge demand and both James and Dacia have a good, deep understanding of school consulting. Now, I don't have that. I'm very lucky to be in this area and learn from them. A lot of our students are learning how to be in school systems, which is kind of a very kind of a different flavor of our program compared to others that might be just focusing on Autism and discrete trials or in just a center based treatment or in home settings. Obviously you're coming in with a masters already and then you make sure you still have to meet the supervision requirements the BACB has laid out. Again, those things are all changing 2022 and we keep our student body updated about what they need to do to meet those. The cool thing about going out there and finding your supervision is I ended up doing that for my BCBA. I was at UF and I found a center that served individuals with Prader-Willi Syndrome and it was very rewarding because it was something I was interested in, exercise and food management. I found that experience and it was unique to my own interest. Sometimes when you go to University, you end up just picking and choosing what your mentor would be doing and the other thing is it fits your schedule and your needs and where you are located. We have international students, so it does fit a lot of people's lifestyles when they already have one job already. If you're a parent, you've got other demands going on at a specific time each day. It can be unyielding. I think that's one of the reasons why we have such a diverse student body.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:05:05):
I think the main, overarching goal we want our students to get is the ability to practice in as many different settings as you can. As Neil said, we probably have about 45% of our students from a traditional clinical setting, maybe another 40% in education, which I know is probably a little more unique than a lot of other programs out there. We actually have a number of parents of children with disabilities who did not have the opportunity to go to school. They were working with their child, obviously doing academic and behavioral interventions in order to help them. They saw the power of ABA in helping assist their children and really wanted to give back. We see that in a lot of the applications and it's really a great thing for people to be able to do that. Again, they can finish a lot of times, their programming certainly within less than two years, which is advantageous for them. We also have a number of people from residential settings, the criminal justice system. As far as people who are applying to the program, a lot of them will ask about not having a background in ABA or education or psychology, those more closely related fields, and that's not a problem for us at all. Certainly in the application process, we look at your grades. We aim for a GPA of 3.0, but certainly if it's below that, we'll very carefully look at the courses you've taken and your progress through undergrad. If we can see, a lot of times, people have a bad semester or two and we'll look at that and we understand. We'll look at your grade point average holistically, and then we ask for two letters of recommendation and at least one from someone who has familiarity with your academic experience and potential for grad school. The big part for us, I think a lot of people overlook, and really the only other requirement since we don't have a GRE exam, is a letter of purpose as to not only how you think we can benefit you, but what your goals are in the future. We can tailor experiences better to meet your needs. It's what we really see in terms of people coming in with very diverse backgrounds. We do have a large program, which is one of the reasons why we don't have that particular practicum sequence with us. I think, as Neil said, it's been advantageous, because it's certainly easier for a lot of people, with having students from 40 states and internationally, to be able to focus on those experiences. Those face to face experiences are more convenient for them. Our program is totally asynchronous. It doesn't mean you never speak with other classmates, because we purposely design assignments where you're communicating with them and really sharing your experiences. It's one of the really nice things about having a larger program with people from all over the country who are working in such different experiences. They can share some of those and discuss it with other students. It's a lot of the way you can learn outside of your comfort bubble and develop some of those skills and the understanding of, "Hey, this is what it's like to go in a school system." I know in my experience in the schools, we would often have challenges of getting a bunch of different people with a bunch of different perspectives and from different fields, all focused on really that main goal of helping the client out. Sometimes we would witness people coming in... if you want to say poor bedside manner of just steam rolling in saying, "You have to do this and this.". We're really trying to develop those skills where you could go into a home or a clinic or residential setting or a school or wherever. Not only from a perspective of working with diversity, but also working across settings. It's one of the big benefits there. Again, one of those main goals we're focused on really developing you to be a great practitioner all around. Anything you'd like to add to that?
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:09:51):
I don't know. I think I really liked it. There's a lot of students and then I think as a resource it's helpful in terms of your alumni system and support. I know lDacia Mccoy has done a lot of work with our students and created a network so people can say, "There are job postings in my state." Even online you develop friends and peers who support you in your journey and you have this huge network of people from your program who will be telling you, "Hey, there's a job here," or "There's a resource here." We alert people when we've got CEUs from our program or training or research we're putting out. I've really enjoyed my time here and I hear the students. I didn't choose online, but I really see the need for that as a growing field to meet the needs of a very large, growing, demanded area.
Shauna Costello (00:10:56):
I think that speaks also to what's happened the last 18 months in the world. [Laughing] You bring up a really good point that even though this is an online program, you have faculty interested in research and doing research. Can you go into each one of you and then also Dacia... Who the faculty are and what their research interests include?
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:11:31):
Dr. James Hawkins (00:11:32):
I know, starting off, one of the things we just discussed is online learning. I know a lot of my work as well as Dacia is presenting at conferences focusing on online learning and how to be a more effective instructor of online learning. We both sit on committees here at UC working on doing such things as even evaluating the learning platforms we use, to look at how we divide up into weekly modules, and the arranging of content. Really everything is going into coursework to make sure, for that online setting, you're able to reach students more effectively. It is just more of a challenge. If we have a student falling behind in a face to face environment, it's easy to bring them in, make sure to talk, everything's going well, what's going on, how we can help you. What we do is, we have graduate assistants in all of our courses. Between the graduate assistants and the faculty, if we notice a student hasn't handed something in, we want to follow up with that. We're always trying to make sure we know what's going on with our students and they feel open, and communicating. We always try to be flexible because, especially in these challenging times, we've run into many issues and we need to make sure that we are facilitating everything for students to complete the program and to have those successes beyond just the academic portion of it.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:13:17):
Building on what James just said, we try to choose topics that are going to be useful for our students in terms of taking into the workplace and actually having something that is a workable product. It's not just research for researchers, we're doing a researcher to practitioner interaction. A lot of my research is focused on graphing practices and then James and I are doing a CEU workshop for training graphing together with ABA. I don't know if we mentioned that we have a standalone diversity equity inclusion course and it's from the inception of the program. I know this is a big discussion right now in the field of ABA, especially on discussion groups of where this falls in terms of adding more jargon. Is there a need for social justice? I know there are, especially from the content of those discussions, and I know that this has helped me. I have an English accent and I'm Indian and I love the way I sound, but I've benefited from the richness of my voice. This is a kind of privilege, right? To identify that, gives me a new perspective. Put me with an American accent or maybe an Indian accent. What is the outcome? Is it different? Does it change? I think there is some evidence that might influence how you think about yourself, right? There might be some factors. If people praise you for how you speak, you're like, "Oh, there's something neat about me." There's a lot of reinforcement for just saying... I remember I was in Penny Packers, one of the last courses and I wasn't very clear. I find myself in staccato when I'm on a podcast. I'm very critical of that. It's a work in progress, but I was much less clear as an undergraduate and I'm pretty sure no one understood me, but it sounded good and I got good marks.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:15:16):
That diversity piece has actually been the main focus of most of our presentations at the state, local, and national level and will continue to be going forward. It's really something we've been proud of having as a core focus ever since the program got started, which was 12 years ago. It's always been one of our required courses in our masters program. We just really think it's essential for people to have those skills going out, again into those multiple settings. It's a little different from my graduate focus where we focused on individual groups, learning about them, and how to interact successfully. Obviously that's critical, but in our program, it's more on what those key features are you would need in order to be able to apply working with diverse parents, educators, children, other professionals you're going to interact with, across those multiple settings. I think certainly, in the field, we've seen a lot more attention to these needs in order to have better rounded practitioners. In addition to that, I would say Dacia and I focus on a lot of academic and behavioral interventions in the schools. When we speak in schools, we always have to remember it goes beyond that. I think the program is pretty unique in the amount of focus on education and it was really done for a specific reason. I think we forget most kids, obviously all kids need a free and appropriate education. It's something every kid is getting that educational piece and a lot of times they're doing that for eight hours or more a day, especially if they're in programs prior to school, beginning after school. Of course we're not just talking about public school systems, but a lot of times those children are with educators more than anyone else during the day, including their own parents. We also know, if you look at a lot of the research, when interventions are attempted to be put into place in schools, if they're not followed through at home, if people are not on the same page, if people are not understanding the goal of the intervention, they often fail. It's trying to bring all those people together and we know a lot of the students we work with, they might have speech language pathologists, they might have occupational therapists, they might have many other people helping them out during the day. It can be hard to coordinate with those professionals because we all come from different fields and there are things we go to, others might look at and wonder why we do that. Obviously in the field of ABA, we are strictly adherent to evidence based practices. We might run into communication with other professionals around the needs of that student we might not see as evidence based. Those are other challenges we have to come into, which is a big part of our ethics course as well. It's not only learning the ethical requirements you need, but how to have discussions around those pieces and interact more successfully with other people in the field. The education piece has really just been the core of what everything is built around. We touch on a lot of things that are maybe more traditionally clinical. We just want to emphasize again, the piece that those students are getting. They're in that education setting for more hours than they're usually at home. We want to make sure we are hitting interventions that help, not only the students, but also the teachers. What happens, a lot of teachers in our program, are for students with behavioral concerns, however you want to phrase that. They just have more difficulty with behavior at school and teachers report not getting it often, as part of their teacher training and it's what they struggle with the most. Of course we focus a lot on individualized interventions being at the heart of ABA, but also classwide interventions as well. Certainly, I think if you were coming from a background where you were working in clinics or residential settings or the home or criminal justice, you might hear there are more of an education piece and say maybe it doesn't fit me. It's been actually the opposite in terms of the feedback we've received from people because again, we're looking at those broad skills you are using and applying no matter what setting you're in. Schools are looking at observable and measurable behaviors using that data to improve. It's a natural fit there.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:20:42):
If you think about it, group interventions are where you're going to pretty much get to social skills. It's going to be pretty much the finality of the behavior analyst job. You're not going to just leave it at, "Oh, I can see you doing this with me, I need to see you doing this with your peers and see you doing it at school. I need to see us generalized." When you have group contingencies and they work well, that's how everything in the world works. Your own feedback is faded at the individual level and you have the social skills of working in a group following roles and playing a game together, taking control. The other thing we should note is we're all educators. Our role is actually not focused on research first. Our primary goal and emphasis is on teaching the student body, which I could consider can be a very big benefit to our attention to our students, because we don't have the same requirements for some of the tenure track folks who have to make a certain number of publications. We can pretty much devote our time to how to reconceptualize this to teach this core philosophy or principle so that the students understand it. Everyone knows people have issues with negative and positive reinforcement, mixing up what's good or bad. We spend a lot of time talking about reinforcement and punishment, neither good nor bad, it's what you do with these tools. We try to find elements in the field at large that have caused students difficulty in learning and when we address them in our classes, and I consider that a research analytical skill, but it just may not get published.
Shauna Costello (00:22:22):
I think it's so important that the team at UC is really taking this into account, and luckily the University has been on that same wavelength, to really individualize this program and potentially others. This is what your focus is going to be, so the work you do outside of your teaching, is also related to that. We all have our interests and we all want to do these other things. Don't get me started with what Neil was doing in grad school regarding his research, but it's really taking what you're doing in your program and figuring out more appropriate ways to, either teach your students how to do that or, like you said, you're presenting at ABAI on a training in graphing. It is so important and that is something that I see such a lack of.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:23:26):
This is my frustration with that topic. Many people present task analysis, but no one's actually giving templates. Now, I'm just doing training. I'm giving out templates that save time and everything I've recommended, and every time I do a training, just recently I was like, "Oh, we should have goal lines as well that could be automated in addition to face change lines or labels. I'll do that for you." I just update the template from their training and then now you have it for free and then hopefully it saves some time. We also do the cultural diversity component. It's hard to do some research on stuff and some of the stuff we're writing about is just, "Hey, look. This is our best practice, this is what we're finding." We're in a school system where we've got an education gap. When someone comes in and they look at 50 years and you have differences in schools, across groups, it makes you wonder about conspiracy theories. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I would be empathetic to someone's point of view that there's inequity in education. I don't think it's a harsh statement to make. We ask people to explain the education gap and talk about meta contingencies, talk about institutional, individual and cultural racism and talk about it in behavioral terms. I think, in behavior analysis, people get really stuck up about operational definitions which haven't been well operationalized, but it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Hidden data or hidden populations... I'm working on something about the growth of the field and talking about asymmetric distributions of growth. You can look at a state and it has excellent growth. That doesn't mean there aren't census places or little pockets that aren't fed or supported by ABA. It's really how you look at the data and if you've got an inkling even what we call the hair on your back stand up or intuition, right? What is that? I can find out more by digging deeper. Is there something to be afraid of? Like anxiety, people say, "Hey, this is detrimental." When there's a line behind you, that anxiety's going to pump you full of adrenaline and get you that speed you need. What's good and bad is based on the outcomes and values you hold dear and believe in. What's cool is I would never have had exposure to a diversity course if I hadn't come here. I didn't come in with a diversity course training, I just assumed I'm probably great at it. The research shows, everyone thinks that. It was a survey, I can't remember the author, I think it's Belu... I may not be pronouncing their last name correctly. 2019 Behavior Analysis and Practice paper. He did a survey on behavior analysts and he asked them, "Have you had training on cultural adversity?" And they said, "No." And he asked, "Have you had any CEUS at your workshop?" Most of them, 80%, said no. He's like, "Did you get any coursework at school?" They're like, "No. None of that." He asked, "Do you think you're great at this?" And they're like, "Hands down, I am the best." [Laughing] It's like, "Oh dear, this could be a deficit," and it might not be. Maybe the assumption is, and I think this is a dangerous assumption, but I can see a lot of behavior analysts thinking this. I can operationally define lots of behaviors, right? I'm going to come in neutral, I'm going to come in unbiased, because I'm a scientist. Scientists come in with feelings, values and subjective thoughts and it's going to put blocks on what they discover. Not everyone's a Skinner, right? A lot of Skinner's discoveries were serendipity, but serendipity actually would be missed on people who have tunnel vision. A lot of people, when you look at, "Well, they're just not doing it," and that causes frustration. Emotions take place, burnout takes place, and tunnel vision stops us from seeing the peripheral effects of that person's life factors. I actually don't want to see everyone else's problems. It's actually strenuous and hard and it's painful. I work really hard to try to not think about painful things, but when it comes to the context of therapeutic care, that's my job. I have to be ready to do it and I actually feel teaching the course, and learning more about it, has actually helped me in my own life.
Shauna Costello (00:27:58):
That really makes me even more interested in the next thing I was going to ask. What are some of these classes you're teaching and what is that student experience? What should your students expect when coming into the coursework and the teaching from all of you?
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:28:20):
We start off with ethics.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:28:21):
Yeah. Our first semester, the first two courses, are ethics and ABA I. Ethics, again, you're reviewing the ethical code, but as you progress through that course, some of the examples and things you are really required to think about as to how you would handle this situation, are built upon where we're really trying to get students to not only be able to spout out the code that applies to this particular situation, but then how to address this. Just knowing what you're supposed to do in ethics is the easy part. The hard part, and we try to emphasize this, how to take the next step. What if your supervisor is exerting influence on you not to do something? How do you handle that situation? Or dealing with a parent outside who wants this to be done.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:29:24):
We actually do ABC mapping, we have them commit an unethical thing in the scenario. A lot of things I found is that everyone just says, "I'm perfect," but just the same issue. I would never over bill, whatever. We put in a scenario where they actually have to consider themselves having done the wrong thing, how to mitigate it, how to resolve it with the code, and then private thoughts as well as the ABC. Antecedent behavior consequence, and then a private thought that contributes that to the value of doing the wrong thing and then a private thought that maybe helps steer the trajectory, with a new behavior, to do the right thing. I think the neat thing about that was everyone says they're great, but then they're not thinking, how you dig yourself out of the hole. Don't use a shovel to dig yourself out of a hole, right? Call for help, or change how you think about this problem.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:30:24):
Yeah. The ABA I course is the first of a three course sequence, and that's really going over those basic foundations and learning that very distinct ABA language. It can certainly be a challenge for, not only people with very little experience in the field, but sometimes people who have just started in the field. You almost have to rewind and undo some things a little bit as to what you've learned. ABA II and ABA III really circle back to a lot of the main ideas and discuss them in a lot more detail. Neil, if you want to add anything to ABA II and III beyond that, since you've really taught those courses.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:31:10):
Yeah. ABA II, I have a lot of interest in animal research as well as relating that to the human experience. It's one of the things I've always found redemptive about ABA. My mom told me I was special, but we're on a tiny spec in the cosmos and there are a lot more things going on. When evolution came around people looked at it as, "Oh, this is a threat to the arts." This is a threat to human creativity. ABA II has a lot more experimental examples, clean examples where we focus on the philosophical principles of how ABA came to be errorless learning, looking at some of the seminal studies. ABA II has a different kind of spin to ABA I and III. ABA III brings it all back again to the school system. ABA I is to get your basic principles, your operational definitions for the terms, know some good examples, and know parts about FBAs. ABA II is going to be some really neat studies that have shaped the field. I tell students, "Hey, look. Don't use these in your job interviews when you're working with humans, because humans don't appreciate being compared to animals." It is a state where we might find ourselves. I think I've lost a job doing just that, but it is important in your philosophies and your values, do not see speaking as belonging to a special place. We understand and we believe from the outset that verbal behavior is an upfront behavior and is influenced by many of the same principles as non-verbal behavior. We've got a huge amount of training and advantages over other fields that look at this genetic shaping or this genetic structure for generative grammar. The Chomsky people, the structuralists who don't want a functional account, they want a special box for human speaking. That's ABA II, it's going to be a bit more experimental, but it brings it all back in ABA III to what you need to do.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:33:42):
Yep. Then we have our supervision class, in alignment with the fifth edition, increasing the number of hours dedicated to supervision. From a very basic standpoint at the beginning, it's what goes into being a good supervisee and a good supervisor. At the end of the course, we really try to focus on those skills of what it's like to be a good supervisor. Obviously the goal for many people in the program, not all, is to take that exam and become a BCBA. We know from prior experience that unfortunately, in the field, obviously we know that despite its massive growth, there's still a massive shortage. A lot of people are rushed into supervisory positions when they're really not ready. I think passing that exam, we know the pass rate compared to most examinations in most fields is very low. It is a significant accomplishment, but I think at some point, unfortunately it's become that as soon as we've got those four letters after our name, it automatically means we're ready to supervise. I think the field has done a good job in recognizing it's not necessarily the case and why we've added this extra and changed some of the task list requirements there. With supervision, we also really embed a massive consultation piece in there as well. What are those consultation skills you need to have? We've been talking about it before, those consultation skills you might have in an educational setting, they still apply to any other setting you're going to be in as well. It's that focus on being a very well rounded clinician and we have our behavior research methods course, which is obviously a critical one for the exam. Even though we have a whole separate course on that, obviously a lot of the components, with behavior research methods, we embed through all our other courses because we have a lot of readings. Learning the concepts is great, but when you see those articles about how everything is implemented and you talk to your supervisor about those things, that's where the real learning occurs. You have to obviously have those skills in basic behavior research method and single subject design in order to, not only understand the studies you are reading about, but also in your work to be able to effectively apply those. Make sure you are selecting the proper design, you are effectively evaluating data and writing results on top of that. As Neil would say, "The graphing." I've had so much experience in research and graphing and data analysis, but I look at the stuff he does and learn new stuff every day about how data is presented and things to look out for a lot of people would miss. It's a big focus in that class. Finally, we have our functional behavioral assessment class in the main VCS core, and that's looking at all the types of functional analysis we can do. Anything else you want to add to that course?
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:37:18):
Yeah. Back to the ways we contribute, like functional analysis, are very scary for students. A lot of students don't want to do them. The data says, I think 20% or less, are actually doing them. There is actually a good amount of exposure to this protocol in school, but as soon as they graduate, they're finding descriptive methods or just quick ABCs. I don't know if it's sufficing, but this is what is being relied on. I think as the field grows, quality assurance has to upkeep and recognize those cases that have gone through multiple rounds of different BCBAs who have not solved an issue and they will crop up and FA might be the best course of action, and we don't need to have practitioners who are scared of doing them.
Speaker 4 (00:38:08):
Stephanie Peterson, Becky Aldridge and I have created a tool for assessing risks of conducting a function analysis. This is part of the risk assessment, which is one of the risk benefit analysis required before you do any procedural change. Procedural change being in assessment or in treatment, procedural change being anything that could cause any change in welfare, quality of life for the individual. Getting hurt, restrictiveness, all those things will require some form of risk assessment. This risk assessment isn't a formal document, it's the clinical decision making, because the web of what that could entail is very vast. We created one specifically for functional analysis and we offer reasons not to do it, alternatives to it, issues in validity. There is a harm if someone conducts an FA and it doesn't work. I call it a horcrux of Stephanie Peterson's knowledge and just putting it there, so that if anything would happen to her, we have her soul slightly, so we can benefit from her FA knowledge. To mention, there were a lot of expert behavior analysts who contributed to evaluating our tool and giving us feedback like, "Is this tick mark on risk, extremely risky? Is that right? Do you agree with it?" They're in the works of doing an assessment of, "Does this actually change people's decisions if they have it versus not having it?" We've done what is an expert review, but we haven't done a, "Does this alter behavior for the clinician?" Right now, we talk about it as an educational tool, because we saw a need out there and say, "Hey look. This is going to help people as they work on deciding when to do FBA, when to do what part of the FBA they're going to pick. We like to include elements that are educational and then I just throw into my classes, "Here's this article we wrote. Check this out, give me your feedback and then tell me what we could do to improve for you and for future students." I'm using the students as consumers. They're consumers of our products and they're procedural reviewers, essentially. We get a lot of benefits from the mass number of students. We're roughly about 400 or so, or more.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:40:27):
Yeah. We have about 375 students at the current time and most of those students are in the masters program. The only three remaining courses, those are the ones the masters students would take. We already touched on our diversity course quite a bit. Just one other thing to add in there, is certainly we have course evaluations after all of our courses. Students can complete, they evaluate their learning, the quality of content, et cetera. Everyone's probably used to those already, but a lot of people will also email about courses on the side and just give feedback that way as well. I know any class with diversity usually makes people nervous and we make it clear this is not a class on politics. I think unfortunately, especially recently, the idea of politics and diversity have somehow become infused and hard to be separated. Clearly there's a lot of instances where they're not, but that's not the focus of our program. For our course in this program, the focus is on developing those skills to be able to effectively work with a diverse group of parents, students, children, other employees, et cetera. Our child development course is really a lifespan development, but the main focus is on the younger ages. I think because that's who most of our students will go on to work with or who we are currently working with. We recognize that certainly there has to be more focus on adults in the field and in our program. That's something we always strive to do, with a more educational background for those students who might be on individualized education plans that expire when they turn 22. What happens to those people at that age? It's something we look to focus on there, but also in terms of your more typical ABA experience. How do we effectively deal with those people who might not be able to link up with services for families as a result of age. When we get to a certain point, in a way, we lose some of those people. We need to make sure, not only within our program, but we are looking at how our services are provided throughout the lifespan. For that child development, lifespan development course, it's somewhat unique from ones maybe people have taken as part of their psych undergrad or just a requirement they had to do, in their undergraduate work. It's from a purely behavioral perspective. It's the main focus there. The last course, is another one students, just like the diversity class, where we get the feedback where a lot of them were like, "Oh, I'm not sure about this course." At the end, they really have said they enjoyed it, learned a bit, certainly saw how it has great value. The same with our frameworks for disabilities and disorders course and we are looking again, from a behavioral perspective, at what you might encounter with things like depression, anxiety, ADHD. I know it's been tricky sometimes. We've had some clinical sites in the program and they say, "I'm just not used to looking at things from a medical model, instead looking at it behaviorally. This is all new for us." We know certainly we work outside of that traditional medical model for them, but it's a really important class because obviously a lot of the individuals you're going to work with are going to have some diagnosis. We're not concerned about the label. We know, in a lot of instances, the label is a gateway to services. It's not who the person is, but it does take a little time for people without that experience to not say they do this because they're learning disabled, because they have ADHD, the circular reasoning in there. It's really helpful for a lot of students to learn about things they have less experience with, like anxiety, depression, ADHD. I think so much is focused on Autism and understandably so. It certainly makes a lot of sense to be tied to ABA, but they're learning about academic and behavioral interventions for individuals who have those diagnoses. What are some of the most common behaviors we see? We're not focused on that label, but we want to know. Obviously these are behaviors often exhibited. What are some interventions that are going to attack that? Obviously antecedent interventions. We can't always, especially with younger children, no matter how many antecedent interventions we try to put in, you can't always prevent things from happening. We want interventions that focus on, if we're targeting this behavior and it happens, how do we then react to that in terms of things that are reinforced? How do we change that behavior in order to allow the child to be more successful? It's not just academically, it's social components, everything else with that too. It's a course a lot of students, who especially don't come from a traditional psych background, are really interested in learning about. There are a lot of units in there talking about some pretty significant behaviors that might occur that maybe they've not seen before. They're more on the low incidents end, but have tremendous impacts. I know Neil, we edit each other's courses as we go along. We're always evaluating each other's courses, giving feedback, and he added a whole unit on Prader–Willi in there, which is something most people haven't heard of, but it is very, very challenging to work with and modify those behaviors. People are just fascinated by that unit. I think just giving that experience of being holistically good practitioners and having skills to think of it as if we had some generator as to different settings and people, and we could just pick it out of a random generator, drop you in that experience and you would have those skills to be able to really flourish.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:47:41):
We purposely chose frameworks at the end, because a lot of those skills James mentioned are right on creating a behavior plan, operational defining a behavior of interest, tracking that behavior. We give comments about whether they chose the right tracking method to capture the intensity or metric that is most impactful to the individual's quality of life. It's really going to be their last training before they end up writing their own behavior plans. We want to make sure they can do function match treatment, they can assess behaviors that might traditionally be challenging for someone without a behavioral repertoire from ABA to be able to know why someone does fail with something like anxiety. Why does someone fail with someone who we are going to call disrespectful behavior for disruptions? You have to really break that disrespectful down so that the counts between two people in an IOA interruptions of agreement can really be established. Otherwise, what is the big issue in psychology in general? If you've only got one person seeing it, is it madness or is this something happening in reality? The way to go past the veil is to make sure your beginning terminology doesn't have words like adjectives or adverses. James has been very strong about anything with "LY". It's really going to be putting in terms of universal constants like time, putting it in terms of some way of measuring intensity. Having the sit scale for looking at the size of a wound. It's a measure of intensity, but without it, you then have a way to miss bruises or if you don't have a way to have a decimal meter right next to you to declare what is too loud, then you have to have other means. You have to be inventive. Not everyone has those research tools ready there, like a decimal meter, but we can come up with innovative ways to measure loudness. Can you hear it from over here? From five meters away? You can use distance to try to assess that decibel, logarithmic 10 times a sound, each doubling.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:49:56):
I think it can be challenging. We live in a behavioral world and so a lot of the feedback, as Neil is mentioning, is that we always need to make sure we're looking at this behaviorally and no matter the amount of experience we have, it can be tough to always do that. Especially for students who are really at the beginning of their journey in the field and coming from different perspectives and experiences, it is a very good course. Before we let them set sail on those reminders of those things, because sometimes it just doesn't come as naturally as explaining it through the very regular, common language we use. Especially to people who don't have experience with it, it can be quite the challenge to explain things behaviorally to a person where everyday language just makes more sense to us. The constant reminder of living in that behavioral world, think that way. I think that does come obviously with time and practice and something we're always trying to emphasize to them. We start to live in that bubble where we think everyone is behavioral and we all think the same way. If you're trying to explain something to a parent who has no experience with it, you really have to take the time to plan out and map and be strategic and make sure you're not using jargon. It's really one of the big things we're always trying to get our students to do. Show me, explain to me, and demonstrate to me how you would be able to interact with another individual. As we talked about earlier, you can have all the knowledge, you can know every behavioral term, but if we're not able to successfully translate that, whether it be for reasons that are challenging to us. Maybe it's something we're less comfortable working with, diverse groups, well then again, that's something that we need to focus on and work on. How would you explain this to someone with these experiences? Just going back to that idea of really being fully functional practitioners in a wide range of experiences.
Shauna Costello (00:52:26):
Building on the courses and a lot of the stuff you're teaching in these courses, instead of talking about a location, because we've already mentioned it's an online distance learning program. What is the workload like when students come into this program? What is the schedule like? What should they expect from assignments and everything around being enrolled in the courses?
Dr. James Hawkins (00:53:00):
As mentioned earlier, the masters program consists of 10 courses. The certificate program is seven courses, but the seven in the certificate are the same seven core VCS courses you find in the masters program. All of the courses are offered every semester. In terms of flexibility, it's really advantageous for our students. It's not a program where, if you miss a semester, you have to wait two more semesters before you could take the course again. I think we've done a really good job over the years of making the program one where you're definitely going to have to put the effort in. You're going to learn a lot of material, but you're also going to have a life outside of school. It's important to people, because we have a very diverse age range of students all the way up into their mid sixties. We often have a 40 year span. We talked about earlier, where we have a number of parents of children and they were really helping that child through their schooling and into early adulthood, and understandably took up all of their time. They saw the great impact of ABA and they want to now be able to provide that experience. It's asynchronous, we divide everything up into weekly modules. All of our courses are 15 weeks long, except the summer. It's usually two weeks shorter. In that weekly module, it'll tell you all the things you need to do for the week. Most courses have a textbook. There are two that don't, but usually you'll have a textbook reading, you have a presentation each week from us. The important part is a lot of the articles that are showing everything that you've learned put into real practice. A three-pronged attack there, and then usually you have an assignment or two every week. These aren't ones that are super lengthy. In some classes you have more quizzes, like usually in ABA I, ABA II, ABA III where you're dealing with that terminology and content. You have more quiz work there, I guess. Courses where it's diversity, child development frameworks, a lot of those are case studies. The equivalent to the articles you're seeing in practice, you're practicing using those concepts. Some of the other courses like behavior research methods, FBA, is a mix of case scenarios and quizzes. There are maybe two papers you would have to do throughout your time in the course, if you're in the masters program, not in the certificate program. These are not 20 page papers, there's one for diversity and then one for child development. In terms of the amount of hours, certainly that first semester, ABA I, we discussed a lot of brand new terminology. That course might take 12 hours a week, whereas most of the other courses would take maybe five hours a week. Behavior research methods, FBA at times might take a little more, but in terms of the amount of work each week, I would say it's about 10 hours, if you're taking the two classes, which most students take. You can take one course a semester, you can skip semesters. You just have to finish your masters program within five years, but that's a lot longer than people think it is. It is really helpful for those students who, during the week, are working 40 plus hour weeks on top of, in many cases, taking care of their own children, taking care of their parents. I think we've hit really well on that balance of getting good content, but still have time outside of courses where you're able to spend time with your family. We know things are going to come up. Certainly, if the last 18 months or so with Covid has shown us, we always need to be flexible, definitely always willing to help students. We just always encourage them to reach out to us. In an online program, especially a larger one, the hardest part is reaching all of those students. It's just really challenging to do. We try to do check-ins if an assignment has been missed or we can see when the last time someone logged into a course was and then follow-up there. We're always encouraging students anytime you think you're going to need extra assistance with this or you're planning ahead for something, please let us know. I think we do a really good job of being flexible and accommodating to students.
Dr. Neil Deochand (00:58:41):
It's a lot easier to help students who email us before a deadline than after because it becomes challenging when someone is not really engaging in the time management skills required to be part of a graduate level course. We offer, a lot of times, grace periods for students almost automatically because we understand the nature of these issues that come up. Typically, our deadlines are on Sunday at midnight to have everything in, but we often extend it to Tuesday at midnight, understanding that we have to be flexible for a lot of students. We all ask that you email before the Sunday deadline, if you need more time and if you need accommodations besides what is in the classroom in terms of size of the text, annotated recordings, et cetera, our disability and student services office offers lots of support to our students who need additional learning material or additional time in text or an exam, double time or expanded view. All of that is very well orchestrated through our services at UC.
Dr. James Hawkins (00:59:52):
Yeah, and we also usually open up the next week, a week early to give people even more flexibility, because we know, especially during that summer semester, things are very different for a lot of people. It's when a lot of people take trips or big things are planned, so we're definitely aware of those things.
Dr. Neil Deochand (01:00:15):
People get married, they do that, [Laughing] they do all these things and I think that is the key. James has identified the top kind of things that need to be adjusted, so we accommodate the student body. We go through our tests occasionally and do the discrimination tests, like what test questions actually help someone learn material versus ones the top scorers and the bottom scorers get wrong. Those questions are usually ones that need to be adjusted. We go through metrics, we make sure people are watching videos. We ask students to click on the videos, look at them, make sure they're down with the material and they ask questions. Like today I have office hours even though the class is asynchronous and what happens is I record them, so if there are student questions, I record them so the whole student body knows what those questions were. That's how we try to increase equity and make sure everyone has access to material. Even if someone is working constantly and can't ask questions, they can email it to me and then I can just answer that question on the video and then record it and put it up for everyone to see.
Shauna Costello (01:01:24):
I'm hearing a lot of really great things. We've talked about the application process and so one thing I do want to ask... I say biased opinions because it's your program, but what is really your biggest selling point for this UC program, when you talk to students about potentially coming?
Dr. Neil Deochand (01:01:56):
They do like the University Cincinnati brand and our one University. We actually do get a lot of people in Ohio who are local. Students do come in to see us physically actually. I'll have footballers come into the office. If they need extra help, they're talking and meeting with me, "Hey, can you explain this over? I didn't get it from your lecture." It's one of the things, even though we're online, as much as you want to put into the program, you can get substantially more out. Even though we don't have research going on, students will ask about research and how to get involved. We give them tools to do that and obviously the funding and stuff from UC, for the student body, is quite competitive and we do very well internally, in state, across a lot of programs. We're quite cost effective. Besides that, we've mentioned the diversity course, we had it standalone. It's getting refined each year and it's something I hope the BACB will eventually put as some kind of prerequisite, some kind of mention because they got feedback that their ethics course, globally, didn't hit some of the cultural competency guidelines other countries believe were valuable for any psychological therapeutic practice. Having had that feedback, they've received it. I think they're aware if there isn't some kind of change, in terms of the BACB and I'm not asking them to do it. We're already, I think hopefully, ahead of the game. I think students will find that being asynchronous is very flexible. If you have a lot of obligations we're meeting that. We're trying to make sure we're growing the field while meeting all the quality assurance standards of the BACB. Online programs are growing the field substantially. We're trying to serve the need while making sure people are in class, making their time in hours. We've got the UC brand and I came to UC, like James and Dacia, but they also had UC stamped on them too, so it's a nice school.
Dr. James Hawkins (01:04:06):
I think what's harder to measure is the feedback from people who have completed the program, which has been overwhelmingly positive and also from supervisors who are working with our graduates. A lot of students and supervisors have said, when they are in group supervision with students from other institutions, a lot of times they'll use the content we've discussed in our courses for those group supervision purposes. I think that really speaks to, as Neil discussed earlier, we're always evaluating the content we are offering, making sure everything is as updated to current standards, making sure the research articles are new, while also of course covering those really seminal articles that have shaped the core of the field. It's a lot of the positive feedback we've received outside of the program when they're done. Again, we've addressed some unique offerings, I think from a little more focused on an educational setting, despite not having any technical education courses in the program, the real desire to focus on well rounded clinicians. Sometimes, as an online student anywhere, you feel like you are not as connected being face to face, but we always encourage students to speak with each other, speak to graduates and form groups with one another. I'd say those are the main points of feedback we receive. Just being a large research University, even though the focus more in our program is recognizing good research, being able to interpret it and being able to explain the research to others, there are a lot of opportunities for students, a lot of resources. Again, sometimes when people think this is online, those don't apply to me, but there certainly are ones that will help students, and that they can tap into, to make their experience more of an on campus one if that's where their familiarity is or they want to see more of.
Dr. Neil Deochand (01:06:36):
We do ABAI reunions. Dacia's being very good about making sure we meet the students at professional conferences. We do our own local OABA, Ohio's professional behavior analytic conference and we meet our students out there too and they come to our presentations. I don't know if we mentioned it, but a lot of the learning and cultural diversity actually comes from the student body in peer to peer responses. Each year, in each semester, we're learning a little bit more about what people have ongoing, their lived experiences and trying to hear from a broad community, which ends up being our student body. There are respectful disagreements, there are moments where I never knew that could even happen to a person. This is very unique. I can't imagine how I would react if this happened. This isn't the news, so there isn't a spin, these are people just talking to each other. We require, in that course, people have two peer responses as well as a response to a prompt regarding a theme for that module. Those peer responses, a lot of students say, "Hey, I actually benefited so much from my peers," not to say we didn't do anything, but each semester, the narrative, we get to hear it from a group of students. We're not going to put away that data and hide it each semester. I look back at it and say, "Well, what can I do if someone missed a point?" If someone's like, "Well, I don't see the point of this principle." Time has passed already, it's over. It's all equal now. How do I address that? I save my responses and I try to come up with new ways to address common themes that come from these classes.
Dr. James Hawkins (01:08:33):
Prior to Covid too, we always tried to have a guest speaker come to the University where we really invited anyone who would want to come to it. Most of the people obviously were from Indiana, Ohio or Kentucky. It's something that hopefully, as soon as things return more to how they were, if they do, it's something we always look at. Not only guest speakers, but despite not having a technical practicum through the program, each of us work with BCBAs in town clinics. We're always seeing the things our students are experiencing, especially with that transition to task lists, which I know we'll certainly have another one probably soon. Anything that comes up through the board, where there are things to focus on, whether it would be supervision, ethics, we're able to see those in live practice. It's something really important to us. Always being connected to that community and we're always trying to do outreach through presentations or other ways to build those skills and transfer things we're teaching to a greater number of people beyond just our students.
Shauna Costello (01:10:01):
We've covered a lot today and I think it's very obvious, at least to me, the knowledge and the effort and the care going into creating, not only the courses, but also into the students, and into their experience and their professional development as well. I do want to open up the floor, if there's anything else we haven't covered yet, to make sure that you both have the opportunity to do that.
Dr. James Hawkins (01:10:34):
Our program is currently in its 11th year and it actually started in our school psychology program. I believe school psychology really is the closest field to behavior analysis in many ways, in terms of what our goals were for our students, in terms of always making sure we're looking at data, examining that data, looking at evidence based interventions, making sure we're responding appropriately to those. It is one reason why our program has more of an educational background than most of the ABA programs you'll find. In the program, you won't take any education courses, but we know every child we work with obviously needs to be provided a free and appropriate education. They spend many hours in that setting and if we're going to intervene and try to help those children, we need to make sure both what we're seeing at home and at school match so that we're not losing any of those gains we make. It is a big focus on our field and we've seen, certainly in the last five years or so, a significantly increased demand for behavior analysts within school districts. Up until now, a lot of districts were contracting out. If a school was having difficulty providing those necessary services, in the wheelhouse of the BCBA in terms of behaviors and improving how the child is doing in any setting, they were contracting out and finding that obviously they were spending more money and resources doing that. I think a big part of it is behavior analysis is still a very new idea to many people. When it's brought up initially, in a purely educational setting, I think there's a lot of uncertainty or confusion as to what that is. Some people see the behavioral side of it as compared to traditional academics, even though academics are really behaviors within the domain of the school psychologists. It's almost odd to think about because you'd think the school psychologist and the behavior analysts might be working against each other in some way. What districts have found in hiring BCBAs on their own, is it's a perfect supplement to what the school psychologist is doing and it's another person who's gone through similar training. It might not look like similar training on the surface, but we're looking at directly observable and measurable behaviors, keeping data, always examining that data, using evidence based practices. They naturally flow very well together. I think having that background in education is really important. People may not know about it or they may not expect it, or may not want it even, but I think even some of the students who have worked more in traditional clinical settings have come back and really described how important it was to understand the saying, "I'm being sent into schools more and more." Schools are very challenging places to go into if you don't have the understanding of some of that culture, some of the rules we have as far as providing services. Schools are diverse places in most areas. Being able to hone those skills and go in there and work effectively, is really challenging because we often know we don't have a lot of time. Take a clinical setting with billing and insurance. A lot of times, we're getting down to lookin at identifying the problem. What intervention can we put in? How are we going to work there? How's the student doing? In a lot of ways a behavior analyst going into a school is probably feeling the same way. They're going in and feeling like they need to tell you to do this and this. It's difficult I think to speak without a knowledge of education setting and practices to a teacher with a lot of experience. You're going to do this, this and this, based on what we said. Learning to be more collegial, learning what speech pathologists do, occupational therapists, physical therapists, all those other professionals and being able to successfully translate how we look from a behavioral perspective into meshing with the services they're providing, is really an essential role. Probably a decade ago, right when I started, I really expected to see a significant increase in districts solely hiring BCBAs. I think that's starting to come to fruition from what I'm seeing, because we get a lot of job ads for BCBAs. Specifically, again, to be within a school district and a lot of them starting at a salary that's well above a teacher salary. I know sometimes when we hear that role of education, there's an expectation of going to be in the classroom. Am I going to be required to do this? It's not. It's using your skills and expertise as a behavior analyst to work with those children in that setting and of course being able to successfully translate that to parents and any other individual working with those students. I just expect the demand for BCBAs in school districts to really skyrocket. It's more, from what I've seen, an experience. It starts in a particular area or a particular district where they know more about it and then superintendents talk to each other. They're always looking at ways, especially monetarily to be more streamlined. How can we make sure we're providing the best services we can? Once they see a BCBA in action, what they can do and how it helps the district, of course primarily help the students first, but also from a financial perspective. You see it start to grow in areas and that's what I'm seeing around here. Again, if it's a field or a setting you've never necessarily thought of as a behavior analyst, I definitely would consider looking at it and understanding why we have a significant focus on education in our program, because it can definitely pay dividends for you down the line.
Dr. Neil Deochand (01:17:47):
If you want to do it in person, you can apply to the school psychology program across the row from us. They also have a VCS, but it's in person and some of the students take our courses as well. A lot of our graduate systems are actually school psychology doctoral students. We have a nice mesh between the programs. We're often talking and learning from each other, so we learn from our counterparts. Some of them are experts in supervision, some experts in social justice, some of them are experts in the good behavior game, school consultation. James, Dacia and I get to pick their brains. We're in a horseshoe, where our offices are. We just walk across the horseshoe and we just say, "Hey, have you read this?" Or, "Tell me about this." We get to collaborate like that. If you want a doctoral program and school psychology across the row, you can look up who the program director is, and Tai Collins is the program director over there, so you can email for information from him. If you're just looking for a masters in school psychology, which also has a BCBA at the end of the road, you can also go over there. If you want online and you want to be with us, come to us.
Dr. James Hawkins (01:19:11):
A lot of times we have students who aren't necessarily looking at our program. They might be UC undergraduate and they hear about all the programs available on our campus. Behavior analysis is one, definitely I think, interesting just because of the name. As we talked about before, I think there's still not a great deal of understanding of really what our field is and what we try to do. I do talk to a lot of people about that and the many job opportunities out there. Trying to get students to think of if there was an area that maybe you think you have more interest in, some people say business, some people of course say my education, some people say coaching, things like that. Really emphasize that obviously humans exhibit tens of thousands of behaviors a day in every setting, in every job opportunity. You have that ability I think, coming to our program, again to develop those skills. Not just your content knowledge of behavioral analysis, but how do you work effectively with diversity? How do you consult? How do you supervise? How do you work with other professionals? We are always talking to even some of our behavior analysis graduates who may not want to go into that clinical setting. A lot of them obviously have been working for a clinic, they're going to continue there. They can say, "Well, what are some areas I can look at?" It's one of those things we discuss in terms of marketing yourself saying look at all these skills you have. Consulting, data analysis, problem identification, problem solving, using interventions effectively. What we try to emphasize to our graduates is you have a tremendous skill set you can apply to many different positions. You just have to be effective in explaining in those interviews and in your pursuit of those jobs, how you market all those skills you've really developed in there. There's a limitless amount of places you can work as long as you are describing those skills you have and demonstrating what you've done with those skills, to be able to, during an interview, make someone understand, "Oh yeah, I can have this person." We really try to develop that jack of all trades graduate where we can again, drop you in any setting, drop you with this group of people.
Dr. Neil Deochand (01:22:16):
They're paratroopers. [Laughing].
Dr. James Hawkins (01:22:19):
Yeah. We can drop you anywhere and you're going to succeed and excel, because you'll have those skills you've acquired through the program.
Dr. Neil Deochand (01:22:28):
Paratroopers dropping down like soldiers, infiltrating wherever we need to go, but in a nice way. The other thing I get questions about is exercise and how to become a coach. I'll throw out the paper I did on improving exercise performance for a punching bag repertoire. I'll be like, "Oh by the way, there aren't many people doing it." You really have to pay attention to what the people who are doing it are doing right now. I'll refer them to a Facebook group that talks about exercise or the health SIG that's out there for ABA. Special interest group is what SIG stands for there. There are people figuring out the inroads to doing that and have already tracked a little path. What certificates line with becoming a personal trainer, but also has a behavioral spin to it. Those are the questions you will get and we'll facilitate any of those people who have those interests, while also acknowledging you'll see a couple of examples on exercise with individual Prader-Willi syndrome or you'll see a couple of examples from some research that has been done while acknowledging 0.16% of the fields here. This might be a different trajectory, but as long as we give you these skills. I hope that you're a paratrooper drop, you're ready to go into action.
Shauna Costello (01:23:55):
I just want to thank you both for taking the time to sit down and talk with me about the program. I've learned a lot. I know I've talked with Neil before, about the program, and just catching up in general. Thank you both for talking with me and one thing I always like to ask is I typically put some contact information in the description of the podcast. Are you both okay with being contacted?
Dr. James Hawkins (01:24:23):
Shauna Costello (01:24:24):
Wonderful. The link for the program and the email addresses, for both James and Neil, will be in the description of the podcast. Thank you both again.
Dr. Neil Deochand (01:24:37):
Thanks for having us. Very happy to do this with you.
Shauna Costello (01:24:41):
Thank you for listening to this episode of Operant Innovations and as always, if you have questions, comments, feedback or suggestions, please feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.