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

4 Replies to “Teaching Empathy for Inclusive Education”

  1. What a great example! And what a relevant example for your field! How do you think you might incorporate empathy into a classroom setting?

  2. Thank you for the post. I like how you introduce “user centered design” to address inclusion in higher education. I have a similar question as the one Amy asked. Ho do you think we can incorporate this design approach in classrooms? Do you have any specific examples or do you have any thoughts on how you would use this in your classes?

  3. Making the system work for the people instead of the other way around is sorta the whole ISE thing. As far as using it in the classroom, i would suggest that the opening day question a lot of faculty ask about topics the students are interested in is a fundamental user centered design element. they may not have total leeway to adjust the class but can shift it towards topics the students enjoy or at least are interested in. which then starts to build on all the other intrinsic motivations of learning we’re interested in fostering in our classrooms.

  4. Thanks for this post. I agree, it is essential to consider students as the center of higher education, and emphaty for inclusive education is great way to do so. However, I consider important to reflect on the reasons why students are not considered the center anymore and why is it that the educational system have shifted the attention to alternative objectives.

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