EMPATHIZE

Student Work

On this page, explore the many ways in which this step can take shape in assignments.

Much of what you use(d) to create your course can be used in the classroom as well. The useful thing about the design thinking approach is that because of its focus on people, context, and goals, the guidance really comes from driving questions that you can answer across situations rather than a step-by-step tutorial applicable to limited scenarios.

Note that you should consider communicating with students your strategy/intention in facilitating “Empathize” activities. The language surrounding design thinking can feel like jargon, unfamiliar to students and thus not enabling the invested, engaged type of intellectual work this process aims to stimulate. Without this transparency, students can become frustrated and confused by such an unfamiliar approach.

METHODS AND EXAMPLES

Source: Stanford d.school, “Design Thinking Bootleg.”

BEGINNER’S MINDSET

Replace the word “users” here with “audience.”

Guide your students to ask themselves: Who is my audience? What do they care about? How will they engage with my writing? How will my writing impact them?

Source: Stanford d.school, “Design Thinking Bootleg.”

In the spring of 2020, the Writing Program at Georgetown University implemented a pedagogical initiative called “Writing 4 Others,” which ultimately gave instructors the structure upon which they could build authentic audiences into the curriculum. A small team of core writing faculty partnered with a few different University offices/organizations to create courses shaped around providing those University offices/organizations with real, implementable, and publishable writing. 

Phil Sandick, PhD, offered this example from his course, which partnered with Georgetown’s Cawley Career Education Center

“As part of their [the students in the course] information-gathering, they spent a lot of time in Cawley… One time [in the beginning of the course] we all met there and we did table-by-table interviews of the staff, which was so helpful because you talk to people who are doing different sorts of things there. And that was a full 75-minute group interview, changing tables, chatting, etc.”(Clipped from an interview edited for clarity and length.) 

The students were also encouraged (i.e. bonus points were offered) to attend events outside of class and research the Center’s presence on the Handshake app to gather as much experiential information about them as possible. 

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Details to consider from this example: 

  • Departmental support, administrative support, and support from whichever center/office/organization with which you want to partner matters, here. If you want to build your course around a design brief, like Phil’s class, you would need substantial time to plan a course with this much infrastructural need.

Scott Wible’s example from his article, “Using Design Thinking to Teach Creative Problem Solving in Writing Courses”(2020).

Class topic & context:

“This course centered on a project commissioned by my university’s Office of Faculty Affairs (OFA). The leaders in this office asked me to teach a course in which students created videos for the new faculty orientation held each fall. OFA originally envisioned these videos simply showing glimpses of student life at our school, but I reframed the course as a design thinking project. Students would first identify problems that new faculty experienced in their first semesters at our school, and then working within the constraints of the video medium, they would compose creative solutions to those problems. Integrating design thinking methods into this course prompted students to develop video projects that were more attuned to the experiences, thoughts, and emotions of faculty participating in the orientation and moving into their first semesters on campus.” (406)

Interviewing method:

“Students asked questions that helped them travel with
new faculty to the “horizon of context” (Jamison 5) beyond what students often assume or see. In their empathy interview questions, then, students did not ask questions like “What has a typical day been like in your first semester at our school?” and “What could have helped you the most in your
first semester at our university?” Instead, students used prompts such as “Describe a moment from your first year when you felt frustrated in your transition to this school” and “Tell me about a time when you left campus feeling energized and thinking, ‘I love working here.’” Here they asked faculty questions that drew out specific stories as a way of helping students more deeply understand not only what professors do but also how they feel about their professional lives.” (409)

INTERVIEWING

Facilitate an interview process in your class.

Before you start, it’s important to have built your connection with interviewees beforehand. In other words, it would be beneficial for you to establish a working relationship with those external participants you wish to involve.

Introducing students to this process for the first time will depend on you to provide a degree of safety—you can provide that support by creating a sound infrastructure.

Source: Interaction Design Foundation, “What is 5 Whys?

5 WHYs

Begin by framing any project or writing proposal as a problem: what are you (student) attempting to solve or impact by offering your writing?

This thinking exercise invites writers to pause, and think about what exactly it is they’re trying to do with their writing. Nobody can offer a truly helpful or accurate intervention without fully understanding a problem’s source.

This exercise likewise asks students to boil down their research question, and really understand it before they dive in.

SECONDARY RESEARCH

Sometimes you can’t rely on external interviewees or partners because of a variety of obstacles. But you can guide students to conduct research on context in deep ways.

Communicate to your students: Knowing the context and audience can help you better provide what your students need.

Landscape Analysis assignment from the “Public Writing” course, offered in 2021 at Georgetown University.

Students were instructed to gain a sense of the discourse they planned to enter. Who has said what, already? What’s missing?

See this example from Mark Santos and Marc Leahy, in their article, “Postpedagogy and Web Writing.”

“After two weeks of research, students submit to us a proposal that identifies a community of writers (8 to 10 specific people/sites) and outlines a strategy for joining that community. Moreover, this longer assignment essentially asks them to introduce their instructor to their audience, not as a generic concept or topic, but rather as a concrete network of responsive people. While a student toiling alone may find the work of a traditional composition course slightly less unpleasant for having picked their own poison, participation in a community of writers who find a given subject not only interesting, but also worthy of their free time and enthusiasm, can be infectious,” (89).

Santos, Marc C., and Mark H. Leahy. “Postpedagogy and Web Writing.” Computers and Composition 32 (June 1, 2014): 84–95. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compcom.2014.04.006.

Source: IDEO, “Design Kit: Secondary Research.”

Source: Stanford d.school, “Design Thinking Bootleg.”

JOURNEY MAP

This activity asks students to slow down.

The journey map activity itself could happen in teams or individually, on any given project.

The form could range from post-it notes, to a Miro board or Jamboard, to a text editor document, on actual whiteboards, etc. More than anything, this is a thinking activity.

EMPATHY CARDS

Sometimes you can’t rely on external interviewees or partners because of a variety of obstacles. But you can guide students to conduct research on context in deep ways.

Communicate to your students: Knowing the context and audience can help you better provide what your students need.

Scott Wible’s example from his article, “Using Design Thinking to Teach Creative Problem Solving in Writing Courses”(2020).

Class topic & context:

“This course centered on a project commissioned by my university’s Office of Faculty Affairs (OFA). The leaders in this office asked me to teach a course in which students created videos for the new faculty orientation held each fall. OFA originally envisioned these videos simply showing glimpses of student life at our school, but I reframed the course as a design thinking project. Students would first identify problems that new faculty experienced in their first semesters at our school, and then working within the constraints of the video medium, they would compose creative solutions to those problems. Integrating design thinking methods into this course prompted students to develop video projects that were more attuned to the experiences, thoughts, and emotions of faculty participating in the orientation and moving into their first semesters on campus.” (406)

Empathy Cards activity:

“First, students worked with the genre of User Empathy Cards to better understand how different faculty prioritized their time and their activities during their first semesters on campus. For this particular research project, my teaching collaborator from the university’s Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and I composed a deck of eight cards that listed different activities and experiences likely common to new faculty at our university (see Figure 1). 

Students asked faculty to quickly browse through the cards and then roughly order them according to criteria such as importance, quantity of time, or frustrations and joys. As faculty sorted the cards, students asked questions about why the faculty member ordered the cards in a certain way, but the specific ordering itself wasn’t necessarily the most important part of the empathy interview. Rather, this User Empathy Card genre helped students initiate conversations with first-year faculty and gain insight on the activities and experiences that matter to them.” (408)

Getting to know the area (i.e., places to live, local schools for my kids, where to shop and eat) 
Learning campus culture (i.e., how to tap into university pride and spirit)
Improving my teaching (i.e., learning new methods of teaching, building skills in teaching) 
Balancing life stuff (i.e., adjusting to new schedule and department needs while also figuring out how to live life fully in a new place) 
Starting my research (i.e., diving into new territory, exploring funding opportunities, setting up my lab or office) 
Accessing campus resources (i.e., benefits, amenities, learning about who to talk to and when)
Identifying growth opportunities
(i.e., what it takes to move up in the
ranks, getting tenure, working on
topics/issues I care about)
Building relationships (i.e., with fellow faculty, communities of interest/research areas, graduate students, staff, or administrators) 
Figure 1. User Empathy Cards for new faculty activities and experiences

Ask users to sort cards reflecting aspects of their situation.

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