Behaviorally Educated Goes to ABAI & Some Tips for Making the Most of the May 2020 Virtual Convention

Co-authored by Dr. Melissa Swisher, Lecturer, Purdue University

It’s about that time when we travel from all over the world to trade ideas, establish collaborations, and catch up with fellow behavior analysts. Unfortunately, the Society for the Quantitative Analysis of Behavior (SQAB) will not be meeting this year; SQAB and ABAI typically meet together for a more robust offering of basic and applied research and practice events. Until the SQAB meeting in 2021, you can watch previous SQAB tutorials, join the SQAB listserv, and learn more about quantitative models of behavior in Behavioural Processes. Fortunately, ABAI is going virtual! So even if we’re not meeting in person in Washington, DC this year, there are still many exciting things happening in behavior analysis at the virtual conference between Thursday, May 21 and Monday, May 25.

Before we go into this year’s program details, here are a few thoughts on how you can make the most out of the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) convention in its first ever virtual format (see Dr. Killeen’s video introducing the virtual platform and how to register for the conference). You can also check out a previous post about getting the most out of an ABAI conference. 

First, spend a little time thinking about what your reinforcers are for attending ABAI. It might be seeing and visiting with old friends and colleagues; having discussions about a talk you just attended with current colleagues and how you might incorporate these scientific advances into your research or practice, or maybe you thrive on the networking opportunities that attending ABAI affords you. There are a few methods behavior analysts have used to identify preferences or reinforcers (for example, see Cannella et al., 2005; Fisher et al., 1992; Pence et al., 2012; Verriden & Roscoe, 2016). But perhaps more easily, you could simply list your favorite ABAI activities and rank them in order from most to least preferred to help identify your reinforcers and prioritize those conference activities that produce them (similar to the caregiver interview, Lee et al., 2010; but see Lattal, 2016, Oct. 30).

Whatever your reinforcer(s) are, our next tip is to think about how you can obtain the same (or similar) reinforcers given the changed stimulus conditions. Sometimes we can find a functionally equivalent or substitute reinforcer to support alternative or different behaviors (see Green & Freed, 1993; Madden et al., 2007; Reed et al., 2013; Sumter et al., 2020). As a student, for example, you might have been hoping to find a graduate training program and talk with some of the faculty and students who teach at that program during the Expo. The good news is that you can still do this during the ABAI Expo! But here are a couple of more tips – email the program faculty member before ABAI. Express your interest and fit with the program and inquire if you will be able to talk with them directly at ABAI during the Expo and request an opportunity to chat with them or one of their students after the convention, too. It may not be as easy to get that 1:1 attention during the convention this year, but you can still show your enthusiasm and interest in learning more about the program and see whether or not you’d be a good fit! 

[2] People chatting in between events at a coffee shop
If your primary reinforcers for attending ABAI are related to connecting with others, whether socially, to recruit students into your programs, or to discuss similar challenges applied behavior analysts working in similar but different settings than you do, think about creating a “Side Zoom” or a personal meeting room on Zoom with a unique link that you can share with your friends and colleagues or others you would typically meet with at ABAI; that way, you can still have breakfast or coffee together to catch up. The Behaviorists for Social Responsibility Special Interest Group (SIG), for example, is going to host a Side Zoom following some of the SIG events (follow the BFSR SIG on Facebook or Twitter (@BFSRorg) or look for announcements at the BFSR SIG Business Meeting (#289 on Sunday, May 24 from 7-7:50 pm) and other events to find out the link and the times The Side Zoom will be “open” for guests). The Side Zoom is a great way to stay connected, share ideas, or interact with others who have similar interests. 

Next, we’ll highlight the workshops, symposia, poster sessions, and paper sessions focused on a behavior analytic approach to education that you can attend this year.

[3] The Blackstone Hotel in Chicago where the precursor to the first ABAI convention was held
In all, there are 12 workshops, one invited symposium, 35 symposia, eight panels, 17 paper sessions, one BF Skinner lecture series, and 23 poster sessions labeled as education (EDC) at the annual conference. The events at the conference on education are generally focused on teaching with behavior analytic methods and teaching effectively using interventions developed for people with intellectual disabilities. 

The events at the ABAI conference pertaining to education are listed at their start times in the table below. All conference events occur in Eastern Daylight Time (Michigan), and poster sessions for each area – including education – occur from 1-3 pm EDT on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. You can convert the listed times here to your local time zone, and you also have the option to watch the presentations asynchronously (might be helpful if you are experiencing fatigue from being on the screen too long). Workshops occur on Thursday and Friday and must be registered for separately. 

Thursday, May 21 Friday, May 22 Saturday, May 23 Sunday, May 24 Monday, May 25
8:00 am #W35, #W46, #W54 #W36, #W37, #W43, #W48 #146, #150, #159 #319, #326, #327
9:00 am #166, #171 #330, #342
10:00 am #24, #31, #32 #176, #182, #186 #343, #345, #352
11:00 am #36 #195, #196, #199, #202 #369
12:00 pm #W63, #W67 #49, #56, #59, #60, #61 #205 #379, #384
1:00 pm #67, #69, #71, #73, #75, #77 #219, #220, #221, #222, #223, #225, #226, #227, #228 #385, #386, #387, #389, #392, #393, #394
2:00 pm
3:00 pm #78, #96#97 #236, #240A, #244
4:00 pm #W6, #W32 #W92 #98, #102 #416, #417, #419, #427, #431, #432
5:00 pm #109, #114, #119, #120 #265, #271, #272, #273, #274 #433, #434, #436, #444, #445
6:00 pm #276, #278, #282
7:00 pm

In 18 events, presenters will focus on course instruction with behavior analytic methods and curricula. The topic of two events (#49 and #195) is behavior analytic higher education training programs or those who offer verified course sequences for students who are interested in sitting  for the certification exam. Several events (#60, #119, #236, #278, and #416) explore reading, writing, and other programs that focus on increasing verbal repertoires for students of various ages (see also our previous blog post as a primer for these events). There are also several events on Interteaching (#159), Direct Instruction (#244 and #271), Precision Teaching (#272), the PEAK Relational Training System (#384), and Active Student Responding (#326; see also our previous blog post). The remaining events examine the role of technology in teaching skillsor even entire courses in a virtual format (#199, #202, #205, #282, and #352; another topic we’ve written about previously).

Other presenters will focus on using equivalence-based (#31, #166, and #431) and multiple exemplar-based instruction (#273 and #319) to teach various skills to neurotypical children and children with intellectual disabilities. Notably, both PEAK (#384) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT; #146) involve derived relational responding (also see a previous blog post regarding how Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be used in the classroom).

[4] Conference participants discussing posters
In 20 events, presenters will focus on delivering applied behavior analytic services in schools. Presenters for several workshops, one symposium, and a paper session will focus on using behavior analysis in the classroom to improve academic skills like appropriate behavior (#W35, #W48, and #61), on-task behavior (#78), and self-monitoring (#W43). Reducing bullying (check out a prior Behaviorally Educated blog post about bullying) and increasing appropriate peer interactions in the classroom will be addressed by ABAI presenters too (#61). 

Attendees can also learn how to decrease problem behavior (#171) and conduct functional analyses (#W54) in the classroom. A few events will help attendees learn more general strategies for how to bring applied behavior analysis to the classroom (#W36, #W37, #96, #186), including overcoming barriers when implementing token economies (#97). There are several events that pertain to working with teachers (#176 and #369) and support staff (#444) both in the classroom as well as how to better use educational data generally (#98) and specifically for 6,000 children with autism in China (#276). 

While it’s ultimately important to help our clients, part of doing so involves taking the client’s family’s experience into account (#330); doing so is a good recipe for better and more socially valid treatment outcomes. As part of the BF Skinner Lecture Series, Dr. Overstreet will discuss trauma-informed schools (#102). In an additional paper session (#342), Ms. Comis will address restorative justice for at-risk students.

In 20 events, presenters will address aspects of effective treatment for people with and without disabilities in settings other than schools. There are workshops about using the scientific literature for effective treatment (#W6), understanding the role of stimulus control and differential reinforcement in error correction (#W32), providing behavior analytic treatments in trauma-informed environments (#W46), and taking into account and treating neuropsychological deficits in people with intellectual disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders (#W63). Along the lines of the workshop on error correction, there are symposia on mastery criterion (#32) and goal setting (#445) as well as teaching self-control (#379). Before we can select goals and set mastery criterion, some argue that we should determine what some potential reinforcers for a client with a preference assessment (#59) and which treatment programs would be most effective. Toward that end, conference attendees can learn about the effects of noncontingent reinforcement on challenging behavior (#150) and varying magnitudes and reinforcement schedules for skill acquisition (#240A) or staying on task (#433). There are several events about different intervention packages: scripting and pivotal response training (#274), psychosocial interventions in medical and educational settings (#345), social-emotional intervention via Project HEAR+T (#419), and behavioral skills training for peers prior to interactive play (#432). Presenters will address parent training (#343 and #436) and how to improve client independence with technology (#36). Attendees can also learn how applied behavior analysis can be used to help clients transition after they age out of high school (#120) and how an intersectional lens can help to mitigate treatment disparities for underserved populations with autism (#327).

In 10 events, presenters will address various topics that range from ethics to supervision to publishing, and even social issues. Attendees will learn about supervising and teaching trainers in person (#W92 and #417) and virtually/via telehealth (#24) as well as how to use software to evaluate interventions and pinpoint and analyze any staff performance issues (#196). Some events will provide information about ethical documentation of interventions (#W67), ethical supervision and supports in schools (#265), social justice and the role of behavior analysis (#56), and countercontrol via aversive social consequences (#434). In addition to providing effective treatment, behavior analysts should publish to document and share those effective treatments; publishing necessarily includes writing the manuscript for submission to journals (#182), reviewing for journals, and using peer reviewer feedback constructively (#427).

There are many excellent and informative events about education to attend at this year’s virtual ABAI conference. Be sure to register, create a conference schedule, and find a quiet and comfortable place in your quarantine setting to enjoy listening to and discussing recent advances in behavior analysis.

Image credits:

  1. Image of the conference center in Washington, DC courtesy of dbking under CC BY 2.0
  2. Image of people at a cafe courtesy of Free-Photos under Pixabay License
  3. Image of the Blackstone Hotel in Chicago courtesy of TonyTheTiger under CC BY-SA 3.0
  4. Image of a poster session courtesy of UC Davis College of Engineering under CC BY 2.0