Puppy Adopts Online Course Community


Ohio State's faculty draw on an extensive toolbox to foster meaningful connections in their online courses. While teaching a traditional in-person course, one instructor stumbled upon the power a pup brings to increasing student engagement. 

Jill Clutter is a faculty member in the Health Sciences and Rehabilitation program. She often works with Buckeye Belle, a therapy dog. Clutter was keeping Belle in her office before a busy afternoon of events. She was getting ready to leave Belle to go teach her morning class, when she was met with a big set of brown twinkling puppy eyes. 

"How could I leave her?" said Clutter. 

Belle spent the next hour wriggling her way through desks and backpacks. Her presence sparked an impromptu discussion with her students about therapy dogs, mental health and the scarcity of mental health services in the United States. Jill couldn't help but notice student's enthusiasm around Belle and the number of grins around the room. Since Belle's Spontaneous classroom visit, Jill has built a small squad of 'Belle Handlers' who take her to events and distribute wellness messages. 

"Since Belle has been instrumental in helping connect with students, clients, patients, it seemed natural to include her in the online course as well," said Clutter. "Translation to an online setting is a bit more challenging since Belle is so hands on, but it seemed like a good way to add some personality to the online format."

Buckeye Belle is now features alongside Clutter in all of the weekly introductions for the online course. Belle even had her own twitter account so that students can keep up with her latest adventures and interact with her. One assignment, for example, requires students to submit audience-appropriate, evidence-based tweets about health promotion and disease prevention for Belle's approval. 

"I try to foster an inclusive, upbeat environment in my traditional courses, and hope to do the same for the online course," said Clutter. "I look at it as a challenge and a work-in-progress."

Clutter focuses on facilitating discussions and group interactions to promote a sense of community among online students. Buckeye Belle is the first of many unconventional approaches Ohio State is taking to foster student connection in online courses.