Master of Science
Faculty of Life and Health Sciences
School of Psychology
The MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis is a Behavior Analyst Certification Board (www.bacb.com) Verified Course Sequence.
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.
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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.
Three members of the teaching staff on the MSc in ABA are Board Certified Behaviour Analysts (Doctoral). All staff have a strong record of research and/or teaching in both experimental and applied behaviour analysis. This quality of teaching has been recognised through numerous international awards for the dissemination of the science.
In Semesters 1 and 2 students will attend the campus on Fridays during the teaching period of 12 weeks. In semester 4 students will attend the campus on Thursdays for the teaching period of 12 weeks. In Semester 1, they will take Module 1 (3 hours class time) and Module 2 (3 hours). In Semester 2 they will take Module 3 (2 hours), Module 4 (3 hours) and Module 5 (3 hours). In Semester 3, they will commence work on the placement, which will continue through Semester 4 (the first semester in their second year of enrolment). In Semester 4, they will also take Module 6 (4 hours). The dissertation based on a research project in ABA will begin in Semester 5 of enrolment (i.e. the second semester of the second academic year) and continue through Semester 6, the summer period.
Behavior Analysis Cerification Board (www.bacb.com) stipulate that students must attend at least 80% of Verified Course Sequence classes in order to eligible to apply for the Certification Exam.
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.
The content for each course is summarised on the relevant course page, along with an overview of the modules that make up the course.
Each course is approved by the University and meets the expectations of:
As part of your course induction, you will be provided with details of the organisation and management of the course, including attendance and assessment requirements - usually in the form of a timetable. For full-time courses, the precise timetable for each semester is not confirmed until close to the start date and may be subject to some change in the early weeks as all courses settle into their planned patterns. For part-time courses which require attendance on particular days and times, an expectation of the days and periods of attendance will be included in the letter of offer. A course handbook is also made available.
Courses comprise modules for which the notional effort involved is indicated by its credit rating. Each credit point represents 10 hours of student effort. Undergraduate courses typically contain 10- or 20-credit modules (more usually 20) and postgraduate course typically 15- or 30-credit modules.
The normal study load expectation for an undergraduate full-time course of study in the standard academic year is 120 credit points. This amounts to around 36-42 hours of expected teaching and learning per week, inclusive of attendance requirements for lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, fieldwork or other scheduled classes, private study, and assessment. Part-time study load is the same as full-time pro-rata, with each credit point representing 10 hours of student effort.
Postgraduate Master’s courses typically comprise 180 credits, taken in three semesters when studied full-time. A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) comprises 60 credits and can usually be completed on a part-time basis in one year. A 120-credit Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) can usually be completed on a part-time basis in two years.
Class contact times vary by course and type of module. Typically, for a module predominantly delivered through lectures you can expect at least 3 contact hours per week (lectures/seminars/tutorials). Laboratory classes often require a greater intensity of attendance in blocks. Some modules may combine lecture and laboratory. The precise model will depend on the course you apply for and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. Prospective students will be consulted about any significant changes.
Assessment methods vary and are defined explicitly in each module. Assessment can be a combination of examination and coursework but may also be only one of these methods. Assessment is designed to assess your achievement of the module’s stated learning outcomes. You can expect to receive timely feedback on all coursework assessment. The precise assessment will depend on the module and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Coursework can take many forms, for example: essay, report, seminar paper, test, presentation, dissertation, design, artefacts, portfolio, journal, group work. The precise form and combination of assessment will depend on the course you apply for and the module. Details will be made available in advance through induction, the course handbook, the module specification and the assessment timetable. The details are subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Normally, a module will have 4 learning outcomes, and no more than 2 items of assessment. An item of assessment can comprise more than one task. The notional workload and the equivalence across types of assessment is standardised.
Calculation of the Final Award
The class of Honours awarded in Bachelor’s degrees is usually determined by calculation of an aggregate mark based on performance across the modules at Levels 5 and 6, (which correspond to the second and third year of full-time attendance).
Level 6 modules contribute 70% of the aggregate mark and Level 5 contributes 30% to the calculation of the class of the award. Classification of integrated Master’s degrees with Honours include a Level 7 component. The calculation in this case is: 50% Level 7, 30% Level 6, 20% Level 5. At least half the Level 5 modules must be studied at the University for Level 5 to be included in the calculation of the class.
All other qualifications have an overall grade determined by results in modules from the final level of study. In Master’s degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.
The University employs over 1,000 suitably qualified and experienced academic staff - 59% have PhDs in their subject field and many have professional body recognition.
Courses are taught by staff who are Professors (25%), Readers, Senior Lecturers (18%) or Lecturers (57%).
We require most academic staff to be qualified to teach in higher education: 82% hold either Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Practice or higher. Most academic staff (81%) are accredited fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) - the university sector professional body for teaching and learning. Many academic and technical staff hold other professional body designations related to their subject or scholarly practice.
The profiles of many academic staff can be found on the University’s departmental websites and give a detailed insight into the range of staffing and expertise. The precise staffing for a course will depend on the department(s) involved and the availability and management of staff. This is subject to change annually and is confirmed in the timetable issued at the start of the course.
Occasionally, teaching may be supplemented by suitably qualified part-time staff (usually qualified researchers) and specialist guest lecturers. In these cases, all staff are inducted, mostly through our staff development programme ‘First Steps to Teaching’. In some cases, usually for provision in one of our out-centres, Recognised University Teachers are involved, supported by the University in suitable professional development for teaching.
Figures correct for academic year 2019-2020.
Here is a guide to the subjects studied on this course.
Courses are continually reviewed to take advantage of new teaching approaches and developments in research, industry and the professions. Please be aware that modules may change for your year of entry. The exact modules available and their order may vary depending on course updates, staff availability, timetabling and student demand. Please contact the course team for the most up to date module list.
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This module is a first introduction to Applied Behaviour Analysis for postgraduate students; no prior knowledge is assumed. Students will gain an understanding of basic issues in the analysis of behaviour. The seminar-based design of the course means that students develop an understanding of some basic issues and some of the research literature, improve their presentation skills and further their skills in debating in an academic forum.
This module is part of a course of study on Applied Behaviour Analysis ABA for postgrad students; no prior knowledge is assumed. In this module students will gain an understanding of the experimental analysis of behaviour, a scientific approach to human psychology which underpins ABA. Focus is on explaining the fundamentals of this approach, including its experimental techniques and the principles of behaviour that have been discovered using those techniques. In Coleraine practical activities will demonstrate how behavioural processes can change behaviour, whilst in Abu Dhabi online practical activities will be used.
This module is concerned with professional practice in Applied Behaviour Analysis. Students will learn of the legal and ethical obligations they must follow in order to ensure the well being of their clients and to practice as behaviour analysts. Students will also gain a knowledge of how to relate ethical concerns to the basic tenets of behaviour analysis and how these relate to its philosophical underpinnings.
In this module, postgraduate students will gain an understanding of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and knowledge of the practice of Applied Behaviour Analysis with ASD. They will be introduced to the debates around the most effective treatment for children with ASD. They will learn basic intervention techniques developed within ABA and should acquire a beginning knowledge of how to design an effective ABA programme for children with ASD within an ethical and reflective framework.
This module is for postgraduate students of Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA). Behavioural assessment and intervention techniques are core elements of ABA. This module trains the student to use these elements in the applied domain to develop effective intervention plans for individuals suffering from behavioural deficits or excesses. This module will prepare students for placement (Coleraine only) in ABA as well as lay the foundations for the research dissertation for Masters students.
This module builds upon earlier elements of the postgraduate course in Applied Behaviour Analysis Society. The module facilitates the development of the skills and knowledge necessary to become an effective applied scientist and the critical viewpoint required to remain one. It reflects the scientist-practitioner module in emphasising both the responsibility of the behaviour analyst to their client and the need to use of sophisticated behavioural strategies.
This module is for students on MSc Applied Behaviour Analysis and draws on prior training research methods. It provides experience of conducting a research study and producing a dissertation at postgraduate level that contains data presented in a manner typical of that used in international journals in this field. Students must have completed all taught elements of the MSc in Applied Behaviour Analysis prior to submitting a dissertation.
This module is optional
This module is intended to bring the critical thinking and academic writing skills of postgraduate students in Behaviour Analysis up to the level required for writing theses and academic papers in their discipline. Objectives will include: competence in critical thinking skills, and developing the ability to revise and edit drafts of documents of all types relating to research in their discipline.
This module is optional
In this work-experience placement module, students on postgraduate courses in Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) will transfer their learning from previous modules into practice. Students may be able to access placement opportunities in local agencies where ABA is practiced, international agencies with whom links are established, or experimental settings. It is essential that appropriate supervision is available and that ethical guidelines are followed. This experience is an essential step towards achieving professional competence.
We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.
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You should possess a second class honours degree in psychology or equivalent subject (e.g., education, child development, social work) and have relevant experience. Candidates will be interviewed to assess motivation and experience.
The closing date for applications for entry is normally 31 May and interviews are held in June. Applications received after that date may be considered if all places are not filled. If all places are filled then late applications will be considered the following year.
Those with a 2:2 are welcome to apply, but preference will be given to those who have some additional relevant experience to add to their CV.
English language requirements for international applicants
The minimum requirement for this course is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5.
Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.
As the School of Psychology reviews and implements postgraduate courses, every opportunity will be taken to facilitate transfer between courses and the sharing of modules. Students who have completed other postgraduate courses with an ABA component (e.g. the MSc Applied Psychology offered recently at Magee, or the ABA course currently offered at Trinity College Dublin) will be considered for exemptions in this ABA course.
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Those students who have completed the course have gone on to have successful careers in a number of areas. For example numerous students have gone on to work for local health and education authorities, and charities as behaviour specialists in both Northern Irland and the Republic of Ireland. Numerous students have gone on to work privately by providing home- and school-based behavioural interventions for families. A number of students who completed their placement year with the New England Center for Children (NECC) in Boston went on to work for NECC in London and Abu Dhabi.
As the BCBA qualification is internationally recognised a number of graduates have gone on to work as behaviour analysts in countries such as the US, Australia, and Canada.
Those students who completed the course whilst in employment have gone on to bring their new skillset to such diverse backgrounds as education (Special Needs and mainstream), social work, and mental health nursing.
Students are responsible for sourcing their own suitable placement opportunities which will allow them to complete a minimum 250 hours of work based practice using the principles of behaviour analysis. We anticipate the use of a variety of types of placement. These will include those where the student is an employee of an organisation that regularly employs ABA, or is a full-time employee of an organisation that employs a range of approaches in working with clients (e.g. a learning disability service), or is a part-time employee involved in delivering a behavioural programme at the home of a child. Where none of these conditions are possible we will endeavour to help students identify a community-based activity which could form the basis of a suitable placement. In every case, there will be active negotiation with the agency to ensure that suitable opportunities for the placement student can be made available, that adequate health safety standards will be met, and that adequate supervision arrangements can be established.
Those students interested in carrying out a placement in the New England Center for Children (NECC) should be aware that the Ulster University cannot guarantee any student a placement position or the number of placements available. These decisions are at the discretion of NECC. Please also note that Ulster University cannot guarantee any student a work visa for the US, thus any student applying for a visa should not give up employment or book flights until the visa application has been successful.
Dr Stephen Gallagher
International Admissions Office
The MSc in ABA has provided me with invaluable knowledge and experience which I use in my practice today. I completed my placement module in America in the world renowned ‘New England Center for Children’. In this school for children with Autism, I was able to put the theory into practice. This course is fantastic and is essential for those who are interested in pursuing a career in Behaviour Analysis.
(Nicola McAuley, MSc. 2008 Graduate)
As an employer, I think this course is excellent. It is extremely well designed, covering all important areas of ABA from a theoretical and practical standpoint. In addition, students are provided with continuous supervision of their workplace practice. This has been invaluable to my employee.
(Dr. Katrina Duffy, Director, Sapling School for Children with Autism)
Being given the opportunity to attend the Msc in ABA has opened up so many learning opportunities. I already had years of experience in the applied field but not enough theoretical or conceptual knowledge. Now my skills have been consolidated and the course has made me a very competent Behaviour Analyst. The lecturers bring incredible knowledge to the course and are unbelievably motivated to ensure each student’s learning is maximised. What makes all the difference for me is that each student is assigned a supervisor. The guidance and support from my supervisor along with the other lecturers is what gives me the confidence and skills to complete the course. It is hard work but I am thoroughly enjoying learning
(Nicola Hardy, 2nd year student)