Finals week at college can be a stressful time for students.
And it seems like the stress levels have increased over the years.
Back in my college days, I vaguely recall feeling some stress during finals week, but I don’t recall the college offering any way to relieve that stress.
Things are quite different today.
For example, here’s a description of the activities that Villanova offered to its students on Reading Day, the day before finals begin and a day when there are no scheduled classes:
Take a break from studying and enjoy a variety of stress-relieving activities. Each hour will feature a different activity, including coloring books for grown-ups, making your own stress balls, board games and puzzles, a combined yoga mindfulness session, and, of course, plenty of snacks and drinks. Comfort Caring Canines will also be here with therapy dogs from 12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m.
That’s right, dogs are brought on to campus to interact with the students. I’ve known a few students who have participated in this, and they have all said how much they loved it.
Something like this wasn’t even on the radar screen when I was in college.
But I wondered if having these dogs visit campus really provides any benefits to the students, except as a way to avoid studying for a few minutes.
Well the good old Wall Street Journal just had a story about this in yesterday’s paper with the clever title, “Canines Calm College Exam-Crammers“.
The story shared the results of a study published online in the journal Anthrozoös. The study, conducted at the Virginia Commonwealth University, involved 57 students in their late teens. About half were assigned to spend 15 minutes with 10 dogs from the university’s dog-therapy program, followed by a 15-minute control activity that involved placing symbols of the people, institutions and major stresses in their lives in a large paper circle. The remaining students performed the control activity first, followed by the dog visits.
The results indicated that the students felt significantly less anxious after a brief visit with trained therapy dogs during the week before final exams. Perceived stress was self-reported on a scale from zero (none) to nine (severe). Stress scores in both groups averaged from seven to eight before the experiments. On average, scores decreased by three points among students who visited with the therapy dogs, either before or after the control activity. The order of the dog encounters did not make a difference in the students’ perceived stress, the study found.
So there’s the proof, spending just a few minutes with a dog reduces stress. The study did offer one caveat – it isn’t known how long students’ perception of reduced stress after the dog sessions lasted.
If the stress reduction associated with interacting with a dog only lasts for a very short time period, then I think I have a solution. Upon admission to college, every student is given a dog that is theirs to keep and care for over the next four years. They can bring the dogs with them everywhere they go, from the dining halls, to the gym, to class.
I think it would be fun to teach a class of 30 students and 30 dogs.
It would also be fun to keep track of how many puppies are born during the year, to see how many dogs get lost over the course of a year, and to visit campus at 7:30 on a Sunday morning and watch students out walking their dogs (I think most students currently have no idea what the campus looks like at 7:30 on a Sunday morning).
It would also be fun to find out if having a dog actually INCREASES the stress level of students, because of all the responsibility that comes with owning a dog.
If so, we can find another home for the dogs. Student stress levels would then be reduced, without the need for dogs, and we’re back to what college was like in the 70s.
Which was, to put it simply, awesome…