The broad aim of the MSc Applied Behaviour Analysis is to give students the opportunity to develop their theoretical and conceptual knowledge in behaviour analysis, develop skills in behavioural assessment, and acquire the ability to work in partnership with clients where they plan and implement programmes that are aimed at establishing, strengthening and/or weakening targeted behaviours.
The course is designed for professionals who work (or intend to work) in the caring professions, for example with people with autism and other learning disabilities, in the area of general behaviour management, parent training, community development, and adult mental health.
The programme aims to provide a foundation that contributes to the preparation of candidates interested in applying for the internationally recognised examination leading to Board Certification in Behaviour Analysis (BCBA). It will normally be completed over two calendar years to allow time for students to obtain relevant work experience, which is a requirement for certification in Behaviour Analysis.
The course has high internal coherence and allows for academic progression. Module 1, "Introduction: theory & application of behaviour analysis", sets the scene for both the conceptual issues surrounding ABA and the practical issues that confront the practitioner in this field. No prior knowledge of ABA (or degree-level psychology) is assumed. This module will usually be taken in parallel with Module 2, "Scientific principles of behaviour analysis". This module sets out the science of behaviour analysis, which underpins ABA. It is thus not primarily concerned with applied issues, but the links to ABA will be made clear throughout the module. Again, no prior knowledge of behaviour analysis or degree-level psychology is assumed. These first two modules cover both the science of behaviour and its application, with a strong emphasis on ensuring that students obtain a mastery of the conceptual issues at this early stage. It is the view of the course team that such mastery is crucial for progression of students or trainees in ABA.
In the second semester of enrolment, students complete three modules that relate to professional and applied issues. Module 3, "Ethical and legal issues in Applied Behaviour Analysis", deals with many of the professional and social-context issues that are encountered in the practice of ABA. This is taken with Module 4, "Autistic Spectrum Disorder and Applied Behaviour Analysis", which outlines the major features of ASD and introduces students to some of the techniques of assessment and intervention (e.g., discrete trial procedures, precision teaching) particularly associated with this area of application. Alongside these two modules, students will complete Module 5, "Behavioural assessment and intervention techniques in Applied Behaviour Analysis". This will cover measurement of behaviour in natural settings, the key role of functional analysis in assessment and the selection of treatment strategies, single-case designs, and the range of techniques available for increasing or decreasing target behaviour.
At this point, after one academic year of study, the student who has completed the five modules prescribed should have a grounding in ABA and be in a position to benefit from, and act responsibly in, a work environment where they can participate in the planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of behavioural programmes. An appropriately qualified person, however, should supervise all these activities.
Once the first academic year of study has been successfully completed, the student will be equipped to begin a Placement with work experience in Applied Behaviour Analysis. In fact, there are roughly 16 months available for placement and dissertation work (see below) within the 24-month timeframe, which should be plenty of time to complete both activities. Placement activities must be approved by the course team as providing involvement with the delivery of ABA services over a period of at least 20 weeks with appropriate supervision.
In the second year of study, students will complete Module 6: Research methods and advanced techniques in Applied Behaviour Analysis. This will cover evaluation of their own interventions and of published studies, and the design of behavioural treatment programmes that can effect lasting change in the natural environment. For the MSc, students will also complete the Dissertation based on a research project in Applied Behaviour Analysis.This will be carried out at a location and with a topic approved by the course, and in accordance with University and School ethical review requirements. The dissertation should reflect the skills and knowledge acquired through the whole course.
Teaching and learning assessment
A variety of teaching methods and learning environments are utilised to provide an optimal framework for study, the development of skills and expertise, the production of coursework, and preparation for examinations. Assessment strategies are closely related to the aims and objectives of individual modules, but similar types of assignment are assessed and given feedback by standard methods, to promote consistency across modules. The various methods of teaching include those listed below.
Lectures are considered to be the most cost-effective way of engaging the interests of students, creating enthusiasm for the subject, and communicating knowledge coherently to relatively large groups of students. They are therefore used extensively for the presentation of material. As such, a series of lectures accompanies each module and is designed to provide students with an overview of fundamental ideas and knowledge in the area and orient them toward the core learning resources.
Practical work will occur in several modules, and takes place in classrooms or laboratories which have been developed for this purpose. There will be training in a variety of types of research design and data analysis.
Seminars will be arranged in most modules. We anticipate that the group size of around 15 students, and high level of enthusiasm of the students that will be recruited will make them especially effective. Most will be student-led in the sense that they take the form of students making presentations on topics related to the syllabus. Each seminar usually allows substantial time for group discussion. Seminars are valuable in promoting students' presentational and group discussion skills and their ability to articulate arguments.
Students will be encouraged to set up peer study groups, and to support each other in particularly difficult areas of the course. A number of rooms are available in the laboratory area which students are permitted to book for periods of time. The rooms are equipped with video presenters if small groups of students wish to view a video from the collection.
The strategies from which students are expected to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills appropriate to the course are:
listening and note taking in lectures
private study, initially guided by recommended reading
preparation and presentation of assignments using a range of media
participation in seminars
design, execution and analysis of a range of methods of enquiry
exploration, acquisition and analysis of data
observation and monitoring of professional practice
taking responsibility for gaining appropriate advice and guidance from relevant sources
managing their learning both as individuals and team members articulating the relevance of their learning for their own personal and career development
Assessments will be used that are suited to the course objectives. Those employed include the following:
Unseen Written Examinations: These have high social validity through the public perception of integrity, which is a key feature where professional approval is involved. Written papers assess not only fundamental aspects of knowledge but the student's ability to write and articulate arguments, a key transferable skill.
Essays: They provide for the development of skills of writing and argument. This is a formative assessment in that students are given full feedback on their efforts.
Practical Reports: These are essential to test students' skills of succinct scientific writing. They will be formative in the sense that full, and timely, feedback is given.
Placement Reports: For students on placement, assessment will be based on an extensive placement report for which explicit guidance is given. This assesses key aspects of students ability to articulate their professional experiences, project work and case studies.
Dissertation: As with any Masters programme, completion of a dissertation based on a research project is a major part of the assessment. Extensive supervision will be given at all stages of the process of project selection, design, implementation, and report through the dissertation. Many skills that important to a professional (identification of issues, selection of techniques of investigation, adherence to ethical codes of practice, collection of data, presentation of data, critiques of findings etc.) will be honed in this undertaking.
The elements of assessed coursework are defined at the outset and are included in the module schedules given to students at the start of the semester. The marking criteria for assignments are also given when the assignments are set. Different types of coursework are rated according to key attributes, each graded on a categorical scale and the ratings are provided to students on structured feedback forms, along with other comments. Normally all assignments are returned within three weeks of submission but it is considered with good practice for work to be returned sooner if at all possible.