Generating Empathy: Taking a Walk in my Students Shoes

For the past few weeks, I have been studying empathy and how it affects design. As I mentioned in a previous post, my problem of practice is to redesign my SIMPLE Learning Cycle in hopes to create a learning environment that is engaging, interactive, informative, relevant and personalized. In order to gain a better understanding of what my students experience on a daily basis – and therefore, see what they need and crave – I have taken steps to put myself in their school shoes. Some of these steps have been completed while others are still in the works. It is my hope that I can begin to experience school from my students frame of reference by gathering information through student surveys and interviews as well as by carefully observing my students during class. Finally, I will spend a day as a student so that I have the opportunity to immerse myself in their world. This will allow me to experience all the factors that go into a school day – hallways, lunch, Office Hours, tardies, fatigue, classes, worktime, homework, etc. Armed with all this research, I can then step back and detach from my students world while I consider how this information should affect the design of my learning cycle.

I started to gather information through a short survey that I sent to all my students. I was happy to see that nearly 50% of my students responded (21 of 44). The first thing that surprised me is how passive a school day is. While I assumed that students do a good amount of sitting and listening, I was quite surprised at how much of their day is spent this way. A majority of students (57%) indicated they sit for roughly 6 hours per school day while the average student is sitting for 5.5 hours. Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 9.52.38 AMTo make matters worse, not only are students sitting all day but their learning is passive as well. The average student is listening to teachers and/or classmates present information for about 4.5 hours each school day. I would argue that this passive learning often fails to hook the new information to existing knowledge and therefore hinders the student’s ability to construct their knowledge. Also, this might explain why many of my students look half asleep by the time they get to my class at the end of the day – even before I lecture! My final surprise came when I asked the students how they learn best. I have some pretty good students and often, these are the students that like the material fed to them. Therefore, I assumed a lot of them would say that even if lectures are boring, they learn the best from them. Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 9.55.28 AMHowever, a large majority (81%) said that they learn best by interacting with the material (as opposed to lecture (14%), video (5%), or textbook (0%)). They supported this later as they listed three words to describe their idea class. The most common words included interacting, hands-on, fun, variety, interesting, activities and challenging. These words sure don’t seem to fit with the passive school day my students are experiencing!

While this survey was a start, my empathy journey is not over. As I began to analyze the survey results, additional questions emerged. In particular, I want to learn more about the lack of one on one time between the students and their teachers. As I move toward personalized learning, this is an issue that will have to be addressed. I also want to learn more about how students view lectures and whether or not lectures should have a role in their learning. Over the next week, I plan to interview 3-5 students in an attempt to dig a bit deeper into their experiences at school. Finally, while I am beginning to understand my students on a deeper level, I really want to experience a full day. I am having a hard time truly relating to sitting for 6 (out of 7) hours each day while passively listening to someone else. At this point, I can only guess about the boredom and fatigue that this will cause. Therefore full immersion as a student will be a critical step in developing my empathy as I prepare to re-design my SIMPLE Learning cycle.

The journey continues!

Note: The full survey results can be seen here.

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