Bournemouth University (BU) research will explore the effects of canine assistance for students with additional learning differences.
This support is defined by the researchers as Canine Assisted Academic Learning (CAAL) - the introduction of the presence of a dog to facilitate the learning process in higher education.
The research will examine the perceptions of students who have accessed BU’s learning assistance dog, Jack, and the impact it has on their learning.
Jack is based within the university’s Additional Learning Support (ALS) team with his owner, ALS Specialist Tutor Carolyn Atherton.
Carolyn supports students with a variety of additional needs – ranging from depression and anxiety, to social communication issues, and dyslexia.
Jack, who is registered with dog assisted therapy charity Caring Canines, has been based at the university since 2013 and sits in on some of the individual learning support sessions that Carolyn holds with students.
Co-researcher Carolyn said: “As far as I’m aware, he is the first full time academic learning assistance dog working one-on-one in study support sessions at a university, and we thought it was important to explore a little more about what students really think of the support Jack provides.
“Because he’s a very calm and relaxed dog, I have had students who come in a really bad state and sit down and become calm. It also breaks down barriers and helps to make things more informal.
“He is not judgemental so I think they feel safer talking about their issues, and it may also help with student retention and make them want to keep coming back to sessions to focus on their studies.”
The research team is supported by Dr Sean Beer in an advisory capacity and Chris Scholes, manager of ALS.
As part of the qualitative research, which will start in January and take around six months to complete, students who have accessed ALS services at BU will be asked about their perceptions of Jack and what they think he brings to their learning experience.
Lead Researcher Jennie Faithfull, a PhD researcher in the Faculty of Science and Technology at BU, also works in the ALS supporting students with learning differences such as complex communication issues.
She said: “There’s anecdotal evidence that students value sessions with Jack and we felt it was important to explore more about how and why this may be.
“We aim to unpick what students believe the benefits and effects of working with Jack are, so we can find out what student perceptions really are. This may be beneficial to illuminate how we can best utilise what he brings.
“The research will give us a tangible idea of the impact of canine assisted learning, as well as offering an insight into the way forward both for canine academic assisted learning and the ALS service.”
Our Additional Learning Support team offer a range of support for BU students including a series of workshops designed to maintain a healthy body and mind.