March 14, 2008

SIUC meets demand for behavior analysis courses

by K.C. Jaehnig

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Growing demand for certified professionals in behavior analysis has led Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Rehabilitation Institute to offer what Professor Mark R. Dixon calls "hybrid courses." Behavior analysis, formerly known as "behavior modification," studies the relationships between behavior and its consequences in trying to understand what people do and say.

Using today's communication technology, the Rehabilitation Institute can provide a range of educational options to those already working in the field, said Dixon, who oversees the program. Those who need just a few courses to become nationally certified can do their class work online. Those with bachelor's degrees who want to advance can enroll in a master's program that includes electronic instruction, videoconferences, live chat and on-site classes at other locations in the state.

Students anywhere in the world can and do take the online certification courses, Dixon said. A group of 20 upstate students should complete the institute's first off-campus master's program in behavior analysis next year. Six new students from central Illinois are set to enroll in a new off-campus master's program at Springfield this summer or fall, and two more such programs, including one at the doctoral level, are in the works for the southern part of the state.

Increased interest in the specialty, heightened by widely publicized successes in treating children with autism, has boosted both student enrollments and the call for graduates, Dixon said. In addition, in order to be sure that practitioners who use the title have the training to back it up, a national board recently began issuing credentials to those who meet specified standards.

"What that meant was that in addition to people who have become interested in our field, there was a mass of people out in the field who didn't have that credential," Dixon said.

"They were faced with a difficult decision: Quit their jobs and go back to school or try to gain the credential while maintaining full-time employment."

To help them, the institute began seven years ago to offer to practitioners who already had master's degrees the online graduate courses that would lead to certification. Some 80 students now enroll in these classes each semester.

"We were the first in the country to do this, and while others have followed us, we are still the most rigorous, which is why we have such high enrollments," Dixon said.

Building on that success, the institute developed a master's program delivering half the course material electronically and the other half at the Goldie B. Floberg Center, a facility in Rockton offering a range of services to children and adults with developmental disabilities.

"We're online and in their backyard," Dixon said. "They can go to SIU without quitting their jobs. The on-site courses are taught by our own faculty on weekends so no one has to miss work, and they can log on to the other courses at their convenience."

While coursework forms the backbone of graduate work, Dixon believes that camaraderie among the students plays an important role in education, too. To help that along in the virtual world, the off-campus programs rely on videoconferences and weekly live chat.

"What I think is the coolest part of the program is that we can have people from all over the world sitting in class together. We're talking in live time, and we're becoming friends. This would never have been possible if we (at the institute) hadn't taken a chance to build something that had never been done before — while it's also making the lives of people with disabilities better.

"In my seven years here at SIU, it's my proudest accomplishment."

For more information on behavior analysis at SIUC, visit the institute on the Web at or e-mail Dixon at