Term of Award

Summer 2019

Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Curriculum Studies (Ed.D.)

Document Type and Release Option

Dissertation (open access)

Copyright Statement / License for Reuse

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Department of Curriculum, Foundations, and Reading

Committee Chair

Jonathan Hilpert

Committee Member 1

Timothy Mantooth

Committee Member 2

Marla Morris

Committee Member 3

John Weaver

Committee Member 3 Email



Expanding upon the research on ecology in curriculum studies and companion animals, this mixed methods case study aimed to explore how the incorporation of a nonhuman entity impacted the relational ecology of the exceptional student classroom. Utilizing actor-network theory as a theoretical guideline, the goal of this study was to gain a deeper understanding of how the introduction of a therapy dog as a student affected the relational ecology of the classroom by analyzing the dynamic networks of relationships formed between the students and the therapy dog. Relational ecology acted as a conceptual framework within the field of curriculum studies to better understand the implications of those networks of relationships observed and documented between the students and a therapy dog. I aimed to determine whether the expansion of the classroom ecology to include a therapy dog would disrupt oppressive patterns of relating and interacting for exceptional students such as aggression, defiance, and power struggles, or, facilitate empowering patterns of relating and interacting such as on-task behaviors and cooperation. Using a mixed methods observational case study with two-time series, it was found that the therapy dog's presence improved the overall relational ecology of the classroom and demonstrated how animals can help shape identities and promote well-being in terms of social interactions. Data showed an increase in the formation of social networks, as well as an increase in behaviors of empowerment, decrease in oppressive behaviors, and a flattening of the social hierarchy previously exhibited in the classroom.

OCLC Number


Research Data and Supplementary Material