Finding 50 ways for behavior analysis student trainees to get fieldwork experience during COVID-19

College of Education’s Brighid Fronapfel and MaryAnn Demchak create badly needed guidelines

Teacher wearing a mask while looking at a cell phone.

Finding 50 ways for behavior analysis student trainees to get fieldwork experience during COVID-19

College of Education’s Brighid Fronapfel and MaryAnn Demchak create badly needed guidelines

Teacher wearing a mask while looking at a cell phone.

With schools closed, many behavior analysis trainees completing their supervised independent fieldwork in educational settings lost the ability to accrue hours linked to restricted activities of a therapeutic and instructional nature with K-12 students.

Given the impact on trainees, two College of Education faculty members at the University of Nevada, Reno developed 50 suggestions for trainees in school settings to continue to accrue hours for both restricted and unrestricted activities during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brighid Fronapfel and MaryAnn Demchak published an article in the journal of Behavior Analysis in Practice on an extremely accelerated timeline that offers Board Certified Behavior Analyst trainees 50 ways to accrue hours during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Originally, we were looking to help our students because that was our immediate need, but then we found value in the fact that this probably would be applicable internationally, as our students are not the only ones that are in this situation,” assistant research professor at the Nevada Center for Excellence in Disabilities and co-author Brighid Fronapfel said.

Trainees require 1,500 hours and need to earn a minimum amount of those hours every month. Without direct access to students or centers, the journal article provides desperately needed ideas for many students, including those outside the University of Nevada, Reno.

“It's helping trainees get the hours that they need when they were struggling with ideas on how to get the hours,” said MaryAnn Demchak, co-author of the article and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Programs at the College of Education. “When you're a student, you may not be fully aware of all the types of things you could do to get hours. And as supervisors, we help our students get the hours they need, but it's different when you don't have access to the work setting.

Getting enough hours and finding new ways to meet those requirements is critical for BCBA trainees. Demchak said that even losing a few hours every month is a big deal when trying to amass 1,500 hours.

“When we're talking about students who are able to accrue, we'll say anywhere from 20 to 30 hours prior to school closures a week, they're probably now, you know, looking at like two to eight,” Fronapfel said. “So it was a big hit.”

Although the trainees had an initial panic regarding their hours and future, the guidelines created by Demchak and Fronapfel have provided the students with a resource to show they aren’t in a hopeless situation.

“[The list of activities] calmed them down quite a bit and they realized that they had access to more potential hours than they originally thought,” said Fronapfel. “A couple of other supervisors have reached out as well and said that they're grateful because now they’re not in that panicky state of trying to find things for their trainees to do.”

The 50 activities count for hours, but, crucially, they are equally effective in teaching trainees the valuable skills that they will need for their careers. Each activity has been reviewed to find one or more articles that support the activity being suggested. The activities were also linked to the Behavior Analyst Certification Board task lists used to guide trainee supervision.

 “They can get credit for doing research about how to do preference assessments,” Demchak said. “They can then get hours for specifically developing the protocol they intend to follow with their clients or children that they work with. They can role-play to be ready once they have access again. And so it gives them some of the key areas that they need to be able to do and gives them ideas of what they might do related to that key strategy.”

Examples of activities include:

  • Develop and write instructional plans to teach new skills to students
  • Research literature to support instructional plans
  • Demonstrate competence in implementing instructional procedures such as response prompting (e.g., using verbal directions, modeling, or physical assistance) through role play with the supervisor and other trainees
  • Teach instructional procedures such as response prompting procedures to parents and/or other instructional staff

According to Behavior Analysis in Practice’s website, it would normally take 79 days just to get a first decision on a submission. From a submission to an acceptance, it would take 252 days. Demchak’s and Fronapfel’s acceptance only took 5 days.

“We submitted it on a Tuesday, and it was accepted on Saturday, which is unheard of for peer reviewed journals,” said Demchak.

“The editor commented that it was ‘pure solid gold’ and so needed right now.”

At the time of writing, the manuscript has received over 2,500 downloads, less than a week after publication. “For a scholarly manuscript in this amount of time, to have that many downloads is pretty phenomenal,” Demchak said.

The rapid rate implies the usefulness of the information for BCBA trainees as a whole, not just those completing the Verified Course Sequence at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Special Education Program. The published article is in the journal of Behavior Analysis in Practice.