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Students Describe Learning Empathy from Working with Shelter Dogs

Written by Jennifer Friberg, Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Illinois State University

FarmerDugan

Dr. Valeri Farmer-Dougan

Last Friday, I had the great pleasure of attending a talk entitled Helping Shelter Dogs and Students: A University-Pet Shelter Collaboration. Hosted by the Department of Psychology at Illinois State University, this talk given by Dr. Valeri Farmer-Dougan was a part of an ongoing “Extending Empathy Project” slate of speaking events for the academic year. This talk became a must-see for me when it combined two of my favorite things — dogs and SoTL. I shifted my schedule around to attend, and was thrilled that I made the time to do so! See the description below that provides an abstract of the event, with the SoTL portion in red, bolded font:

Most dog owners report a special bond between themselves and their dogs. This special bond is supported by recent research with the Canis lupus familiaris. Indeed, dogs appear able to detect and respond to basic human emotions such as sadness, happiness and anger. Dogs can follow a point or eye movement, exhibit guilty behavior, understand when to steal forbidden objects, and imitate simple human responses. Dogs provide not only physical assistance to humans, but also provide emotional support and relieve some symptoms of psychiatric illness. Further, dogs elicit empathetic and altruistic behavior from humans. Why the domestic dog can form such a unique bond with humans will be explored. In addition, the Applied Canine Behavior Project, a collaboration between the ISU Canine Laboratory and Pet Central Helps Animal Rescue, will be described.

This collaboration has three major goals:

  1. Development of a teaching laboratory where students apply learning theory and behavior analysis;
  2. Provide an opportunity for students to engage in consultation, training, and behavior intervention for shelter dogs; and
  3. Provide support for applied research with the domestic canine. Students involved in the project will discuss the impact that working with shelter dogs has had on their empathetic and altruistic behavior.

Finally, students will discuss how working with the dogs prepares them for work with human populations.  The presentation will end with an opportunity to interact with some of our dogs.

The talk started out with Dr. Farmer-Dougan, Director of ISU’s Canine Behavior and Cognition Lab, providing an overview of research on the various positive impacts of the use of service and therapy dogs with targeted human populations, explaining that the roles that dogs have taken on to support their human counterparts are both numerous and beneficial. Students who participated in the Applied Canine Behavior Project were present to answer questions and provide insights on their learning at the end of the hour-long event. Their experiences as part of a credit-earning independent study included working with dogs from animal rescue and shelter environments, training of service dogs, caring for dogs being raised by inmates at a local prison as part of a “weekend furlough socialization effort” for the dogs, and work with entities such as the University of Illinois shelter medicine program and Youth Build of McClean County. Specific *intended* learning outcomes for students involved in this project were identified as follows:

  1. gain experience with applied behavior analysis to teach/modify canine behavior
  2. gain research skills working in a research lab
  3. develop patience in working with dogs and people
shelter2

Students with dogs “furloughed” for the weekend from a local jail where they are being raised by inmates. Dogs are released to be socialized outside of the environment of the jail.

Before moving forward with my summary of this event, it must be noted that in the world of research on teaching and learning, there is a robust body of work focused on (largely) positive impacts of service-learning involvement for college and university students (one list of such scholarly work can be found on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Annotated Literature Database in the service learning section). That said, while there is a good deal of SoTL work that looks at various types of student learning that results from service-learning involvement, few studies focus on development aspects of interpersonal competency such as empathy via such experiences. To say that I was curious what the students involved with the Applied Canine Behavior Project would report is a huge understatement.

When it was their turn to contribute, Dr. Farmer-Dougan asked the students to describe their learning as a result of their work with the Applied Canine Behavior project. Their contributions to the presentation were unscripted and occurred as a quasi-focus group as the students reflected together. What did they report as part of their reflections? Largely, student reflections largely could be placed into two categories: development of empathy transferred from working with dogs to thinking about humans and development of empathy from working with people and dogs together. Specifically, students contributed the following to the discussion:

Development of empathy transferred from working with dogs to thinking about humans

  • Understanding a dog’s story helps us know how to work with them…and how to be more patient. The same applies to people.
  • Having dog has taught how to deal with persons in need. We work with a lot of anxious dogs and have learned that anxious people aren’t all that different.
  • We are more sensitive to non-verbal messages that people share after working with dogs, as that’s all they have to give us.
  • People can be having lots of emotions but just not be showing them, just like is the case with dogs.
  • Working with abused dogs has increased our empathy towards people in the same situation.
  • We don’t talk about human behavior like we do about dogs’ behavior. We should. With dogs, we consider their past and what they’ve gone through—their full history. We need to be more wholistic like that with people. Behaviors hide things.
  • Working with dogs makes us feel more connected to people as we are better able to “read” them in terms of what are people really saying
  • Dogs teach us to listen in a very different way. You can use that to listen to people differently, too.

Development of empathy from working with people and dogs together

  • Watching dogs develop bonds with people has been amazing and inspiring.
  • Our work with dogs has changed our perceptions of persons with disabilities — working with service dogs and their new persons has helped us see people with disabilities as more able than we had before.
  • We watch people realizing mistakes they have made with their dogs and and see them trying to make things better, which makes it easier to interact with them. They want to improve things and we want to help them.
  • Involvement in this program has made students more likely to adopt shelter dogs themselves, knowing more about the dogs, their stories, and their potential.
  • We realized time and effort in training changes dogs and gives them a second chance at life.
  • Working with dogs can help anyone heal old grief (loss of dog, persons).
  • Doing this work is a very emotional experience – it pushes you to be patient, be a better person, and change your own behavior.

Dr. Farmer-Dougan reports that she’s kept data from students over the last several semesters about their learning, so this may not be the last you hear of this project! Stay tuned!

 

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Bringing Together Academic Librarianship and SoTL

Written by Lauren Hays, Instructional and Research Librarian at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, KS. ldhays@mnu.edu  @Lib_Lauren

This post is in a sense declaring a hoped-for/planned career emphasis.  Let me introduce myself.  I am a librarian, academic, and SoTL enthusiast.  SoTL entered my professional career rather suddenly and unexpectedly.  Perhaps other academics start their careers with a narrowly defined scope.  I did not.  I just knew I loved higher education.  It was in my blood and bones.  Conceivably this was because I grew up living in married student housing while my dad pursued his Ph.D., which is where I remember seeing The Chronicle of Higher Education arrive weekly in the mail.  My love for higher education, though, is also likely due to my innate curiosity about the world and everything in it.

When deciding on a career, I decided to become a librarian because, well, why not?  I loved learning, books, students, and the buzz of academic life.  Those things are in the library, right?  After completing a masters of library science, I started work as an instructional and research librarian.  Working as a librarian is an excellent fit for me.  I enjoy research, students, faculty, and yes, the administrative work that comes along with working in a library.  My undergraduate degree, though, was in education, and at times I found myself missing the teaching and learning discourse in which I heard teaching faculty engage.

Early in my career I sought a professional network.  Margy MacMillan from Mount Royal University, who I had met through my library network, spoke passionately about SoTL.  From her descriptions, I knew I had to dig deeper.  Furthering my knowledge of SoTL confirmed that this was an area of academia where I wanted to focus my career.  Therefore, I decided to continue my education and pursue a Ph.D.  To be accepted into the doctoral program where I eventually enrolled I had to have a solid idea for my topic of study.  Therefore, I spent a lot of time reading about SoTL and academic librarians.  In my reading, I read about SoTL’s impact on faculties’ identities, and wondered if SoTL would have a similar impact on academic librarians’ identities.  This curiosity led to my current study on academic instruction librarians’ involvement in SoTL.  As I learned in a review of the literature, academic librarians do not always see themselves as teachers (Austin & Bhandol, 2013; Houtman, 2010).  Yet, teaching is an important part of many librarians’ jobs (Westbrock & Fabian, 2010; Wheeler & McKinney, 2015).  I also learned that librarians experience similar paths to becoming teachers as teaching faculty (Walter, 2005).  I anticipate defending my dissertation proposal this summer and starting to collect data after June.

My doctoral work has been all-consuming, but it has afforded me the opportunity to read a lot of journal articles.  As I dig deeper into the SoTL literature, I see the teaching and learning I want to discuss.  I see how my work as a librarian and the study of teaching and learning are complimentary.  Academic librarians support the full curriculum and teach information literacy.  Instruction librarians spend a lot of time thinking about teaching methods and the best ways to help students become literate in information.  Practical examples of this include the numerous presentations on teaching and learning at conferences such as LOEX and the Association of College and Research Libraries.  Additionally, the Association of College and Research Libraries published a Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education built on threshold concepts.  Prior to the Framework many librarians were unfamiliar with threshold concepts, and that led to debate about the Framework.  The debate surrounding the Framework underpinned my interest in engaging with the broader teaching commons—it is too easy to silo ourselves.

The work I see other librarians doing and the need for information literacy skills makes me eager, and impatient, for the time after dissertation writing when I can spend even more time with my work as a librarian, a SoTL researcher, and maybe someday an administrator with responsibilities bringing together SoTL and librarianship.

Specifically, I dream of future projects that center around:

  • Information literacy
  • Librarian-faculty teaching partnerships
  • Student-librarian partnerships
  • Teaching and learning in the Library and Information Science classroom
  • SoTL in faculty development
  • Signature pedagogies for information literacy
  • Co-curricular teaching and learning
  • Educational technology
  • And hopefully other projects that will benefit students

It is also a goal to connect the academic library community with the SoTL community.  I have colleagues who have done tremendous work in this area, and I hope to work alongside them.  Declaring a career trajectory is a little scary, but good too.  SoTL is a wide and varied field.  There is much I can imagine doing.  So, to all who paved the way and made SoTL what it is, thank you.  To all of you doing the good work of teaching and learning today, thank you.  And to all who will come after, I hope I can help create a path that will make librarianship, teaching, learning, and SoTL even better.

*For more information on librarians and SoTL, and to view the call for proposals for the forthcoming book The Grounded Instruction Librarian: Participating in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (working title) published by the Association of College and Research Libraries in 2018, please visit http://bit.ly/librarianSoTL.

*Special thanks to Cara Bradley, Jackie Belanger, Rhonda Huisman, Margy MacMillan, and Melissa Mallon for being such great colleagues.

Blog References:

Austin, T., & Bhandol, J. (2013). The academic librarian: Buying into, playing out, and resisting the teacher role in higher education. New Review of Academic Librarianship, 19(1), 15–35. http://doi.org/10.1080/13614533.2012.740438

Houtman, E. (2010). “Trying to figure it out”: Academic librarians talk about learning to teach. Library and Information Research, 34(107), 18–40. Retrieved from http://www.lirgjournal.org.uk/lir/ojs/index.php/lir/article/view/246

Walter, S. (2005). Improving instruction: What librarians can learn from the study of college teaching. In P. Genoni & G. Walton (Eds.), Currents and Convergence: Navigating the Rivers of Change: Proceedings of the Twelfth National Conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries, April 7-10, 2005, Minneapolis, Minnesota  (pp. 363-379). Chicago, IL: Association of College & Research Libraries.

Westbrock, T., & Fabian, S. (2010). Proficiencies for instruction librarians: Is there still a disconnect between professional education and professional responsibilities ? College & Research Libraries, 71(6), 569–590.

Wheeler, E., & Mckinney, P. (2015). Are librarians teachers? Investigating academic librarians’ perceptions of their own teaching roles. Journal of Information Literacy, 9(2), 111–128. http://doi.org/10.11645/9.2.1985