Empathy is the new black

Current education practices face a challenge when it comes to teach college students in the 21st century. Education is becoming more about excelling in a job rather than forming contributing agents of this world.  In fact, the evolution of social sustainability and responsibility in college students—empathy—does not change during students’ four years of college experience. Students often show a decrement on the social responsibility area by a decrease in the volunteering and community engagement activities in which students participate during college (Bielefeldt & Canney, 2016). Furthermore, when measuring levels of empathy among college students as measured by the four subscales of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index—perspective taking, fantasy, empathic distress, and empathic concern—engineering students show lower levels of empathy than other college students from other majors such as health care, social sciences, or humanities (Rasoal, Danielsson, & Jungert, 2012).

Different pedagogic approaches can help to teach students about empathy and community thinking. For example, role-playing community members during a mock city meeting, or asking students to interview those stakeholders that may be impacted by our work and write a reflection. When students shared their reflections with classmates can help them recognize multiple stakeholders needs (both direct and indirect) and empathize with stakeholder groups as part of their daily tasks. The 21st century brings many challenges, and moving towards collectivistic values, empathizing with others, will give strong resources to face them.



  • Bielefeldt, A. R., & Canney, N. E. (2016). Changes in the Social Responsibility Attitudes of Engineering Students Over Time. Science and Engineering Ethics, 22(5), 1535–1551.
  • Rasoal, C., Danielsson, H., & Jungert, T. (2012). Empathy among students in engineering programmes. European Journal of Engineering Education, 37(5), 427–435.


Teaching Empathy for Inclusive Education

Inclusive pedagogy aims for more diverse students to interact with more positive outcomes. I think this could be achieved by teaching students how to empathize. Empathizing not only helps you to welcome other’s ideas (which can turn into a great outcome), but also allows engineers (civil engineers in my particular case) to develop more human centered, sustainable, infrastructure.

Education should start with perspective taking, from the point-of-view of users (students). Teaching empathy as a core teaching value can be mirrored to other engineering designs that use empathy. For instance, when taking office, the mayor /of Curitiba, Brazil recognized that the majority of the 2 million citizens did not own, or have access, to an automobile. Because the majority of potential users did not have access to an automobile, the decision was made to transfer money allocated for a highway system to repurpose existing road lanes from automobiles to above-ground ‘subway’ systems of buses and elevated waiting areas. About 75 percent of the population, now use this system every day. Curitiba’s system was cost-effective both in terms of the initial investment (less expensive than adding highway lanes or an underground subway system) and in the long-term, as residents enjoy the lowest per capita transportation costs and best air quality in the country. Fuel consumption in the city has been slashed by roughly one third (Lindau et al. 2010).

As the Curitiba example illustrates, starting with the intended users of the system offers solutions tailor made to suit their needs; in this particular case, the users are the students from diverse backgrounds, ethnicity, age, gender, etc. Defined here as user-centered design, this is vital to building more sustainable higher education.

The ability to empathize with all students, from different backgrounds, is also a necessary skill for developing and delivering sustainable educative solutions because recognition alone is likely not enough (Brown and Wyatt 2010; Liedtka 2011). Empathy is a central concept of user-centered design (Frascara 2003) and the first step within the five stage design thinking process (Brown 2009; Burnett 2016).

“Empathy is the first step to peace in a war zone” – unkown

It’s not you, it’s me…

This week’s readings called me for deep reflection. While it looks very evident, an effective way to become a good teacher through one-self awareness, it was not that evident to me. For sure there are strategies to gain student’s attention or to leave a lasting memory from a lecture, however, these strategies and techniques should be match with particular personalities to be efficient. Often times, people with opposite personalities try to use the same teaching strategy, which is no surprise that it will not produce similar outcomes. I enjoyed learning that to be a good teacher, it is necessary to first learn about our own styles, personalities, and confort zone. Once we are aware, and confident, of these personal characteristics, our style will adapt easier to the classroom personality. 

When I got the opportunity to start teaching, it was a last minute invitation. This rush in the getting things ready for joining the university faculty did not give me time to think about my teaching techniques. I remember that after turning in the required documentations, I only had time for reviewing the material I was going to teach, figuring it out, the classroom location and running to class. This sudden opportunity helped me to start teaching in my own natural way, without poses or forced techniques. This resulted in a an honest teaching approach.

However, honest does not mean efficient. In my particular case, I soon realized that the different classes had their own personalities, and like with our daily interactions, we must adapt to the way we interact and communicate with these different personalities. And it is here, where all of these techniques and strategies become useful. It is not about changing our honest ways of teaching, but about adapting it for an efficient interaction with the different classrooms’ personalities.

Hide my grade, so I can get my A!

I am very passionate about this week’s topics. To me, while grades play an important role in the education system, their role can also be misinterpreted to generate negative outcomes from the educational system. Grades have always been a good part of my education, and I have always link my progress of a class to the grades I make. Sometimes people complain that grades are not a reflection about how much you know or understand the class material, or how much you have studied int he process.

To me, grades play an important role in assessing how much material that your instructor wants you to, are you able to retrieve in a specific manner. i think grades, in general, are a good self indicator of your knowledge or an assessment of where do you need to work more. Getting a B in a test, to me, indicates that there is some material that I have not learn it yet, or that I need to revise it again. To me, this is a self-reflection process; which means that you can reflect and learn from a grade to improve in your next challenges. I think that grades help one-self to address issues for improvement.

On the other hand, grades have taken a different role, and they have become the way to evaluate and compare the final knowledge/outcome of an individual in comparison to the rest of the classmates. Nowadays we have distributions about how many A’s or B’s should a class have. It may seem that grades have taken over the overall education assessment.

Grades should play as an external motivator agent for the individual to self-assessment rather than for group placing. There is a case in Quito, where in 2000, an elementary school tried and experimented a new methodology where motivation came from the thrill of playing and not so much for the grades of tests. This was an experimental school where kids learned about math by playing to go grocery shopping, or learned language and grammar by writing letters to Santa, or play that their job is to respond to petitions, etc. This was a successful experiment, and the school became famous for it pedagogical methods. Perhaps it was too futuristic because no other schools adopted such methodology, but that school was recognized for its positive approaches to student learning.

Similarly in the real life work. There is the case of the Chilean State Bank that replaced the Human-resources department for a Happiness department. The goal was to reduce the turnover they were facing due to stress and other negative effects typical of banking jobs. More info here (oops, ti is in Spanish): https://massnegocios.com/rodrigo-rojas-foncillas-gerente-de-felicidad-bancoestado-microempresas-s-a-chile/. The results were splendid! The new purpose was to understand people and support them as part of a family, and not to treat them as workers who must finish specific tasks in a certain time.

Perhaps it is time to rethink grades from rewards that “narrow our view and let us focus to achieve it quicker; into creative, conceptual kind of concept.

Everybody has to take the same exam

Ellen Langer article about Mindful Learning points out three important myths; that although seem very obvious about the truth, it got to my attention how current experiences show me that our reality still has not defy those myths. I am going to share a personal experience that relates to the first myth.

The first myth reads “The basics should be learned so well that they become second nature”.  When you reflect on this, this seems very obvious. I tried to learn english using various approaches, and I was left with having to do a study abroad year in a small college in PA so learning english became a survival skill.  One of my closest friends, join me along he learning experiencing, however, he did not need to go the whole path as Idid, because somehow he caught english language a lot faster than me. But he time I went to study abroad, his english was as good–or bad–as when I came back from 13 months studying in PA. I feel that I at least put as much effort as he did, I certainly Aced all my grammar quiz and grammatical examinations, while my friend did not. What happened?  One way is that each of us have different needs, skills, and weaknesses; and learning occur within that context, which is personal.

The previous example shows me that the myth should be so obvious and not necessary to be explained or shared with other educators. However, we still find students learning basic procedures without understanding why or how they work. We find educators using the same tight structured pedagogy approaches to teach to such a diverse group of learners, as any students group is. The following picture does not need words to be explained.

I think, as Sir Ken Robinson pointed out, education should have common goals, but the paths to them are infinite, and all of they work as long as they aim for the mind of the learner to flourish.

Using technology for better education, or for a more unjust world?

I am afraid of the new development of teaching.  As the video Digital Media- New Learners of the 21st Century suggest, by 2020 people who do not know how to use media will be consider as illiterate. They show 5 stories in which they successfully use digital devices and technology gadgets to engage students into learning. Students understand the reasons for learning the lessons provided. A hands on, short-term applicable lesson.

Image result for gaming in classroom

I am going a little bit off from the main subject, because this readings got me thinking about how the development of technology, if not correctly applied in the classroom, are contributing to a less just world. I think this fact should be highlighted in the teaching designs because we should teach, and learn, that technology is a language that about half of the population do not even have access; and it is our duty, to develop and use these technology to facilitate access for it.

Image result for tablet as a cutting board

It is unstoppable the use of new technologies or games.  I taught using some truss-Bridges games, and they worked very well. they provide a more realistic understanding of the behavior of trusses once loaded and in use. I tried a little experiment, and I asked a lot of my uncles and similar aged people to try it. It surprising to see that for them, people who use their phone regularly and somehow hace some education, these games were not very intuitive to be played (as opposed to the students in my classroom).  If this happens with well-educated adults, we can imagine how the impacts scales when it comes to the more vulnerables of our societies.



Yes, I do not want to blog. This assignment has required tons of effort and bravery from me. It is not easy to start formulating my ideas into a coherent message for the class to discuss; or to build the confidence to write them as discussion generators and to contrast them with my classmates’ ideas to produce knowledge…. instead, I am afraid of what I am writing, and how people will react to the way I am expressing my ideas. I am feeling tempted to find pieces of information to share rather than expose my creative and deep thinking to my classmates and instructors’ frameworks of judging. I am also afraid that my ideas may be so poorly expressed that people don’t want to read this and therefore, they won’t comment. Which can be hurtful.

Having this feelings about this blogging assignments reflects very close to Gardner Campbell’s article and Michael Wesch TEDx talk. The article is about experiential learning in the digital era and how we are not only not taking the fullest advantage of it but we are rather falling in the same vicious habit of traditional learning: forgetting about inquiry or awareness of self-learning experiences. We are succumbing into Ku’hs prediction that learning is turning into syllabi program of how to continue the path towards a career, rather than seeing objectives to achieve by following a syllabus. We are forgetting that learning is a process that involves failure but also recovering and continuing pass that failing event. Like Michael Wesh TEDx’s lessons from baby George, who enjoyed and learned from every failing step, but continued to master taking that step down the stair.

Experiential learning is becoming an unknown process for students, at least in my personal experience in STEM/Engineering majors. Not even studying abroad, a popular activity among colleges, is an experience that students in these technical fields consider useful in their future careers. Education in engineering focuses in technical education, with little room for failure. And the use of the internet is following the same path, becoming more of a tool to transcribe knowledge rather than an experiential learning instrument.

Writing this blog not only required to bring my known information out, but to go through creative thinking, using self-judgment frameworks and learning from information. In other words, implementing a rational process of reflection and knowledge production. This process took place in the connections of the digital web, reaching out to other “places” to gain information for me to process with my own ideas, and also reaching out to my classmates for contrasting of ideas and learning generation. I am still nervous to read the reactions that my post can generate, but I am thinking it is a normal feeling when network experiential learning is not familiar field.