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Can Empathy Be Taught? The Results of an Assignment Targeted at Improving Empathy in Engineering Design

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Empathy and Human-Centered Design 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Devanshi Shah University of Georgia

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Devanshi Shah is currently a PhD student in Engineering at the University of Georgia, under the advisement of Dr. Beshoy Morkos. She received her masters degree in Mechanical Engineering from Florida Institute of Technology in 2019. She graduated with her bachelors in Mechanical Engineering from India in 2016. Her research area is focused in design engineering and engineering education.

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Xiaoou Yang University of Georgia

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Xiaoou Yang is a graduate student from College of Engineering, University of Georgia. She is also a graduate research assistant in Dr. Beshoy Morkos's Model Group. Xiaoou Yang got her bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering in May, 2019 at Florida Institute of Technology and now she is doing her Master's program at UGA. Her research field is Engineering Education in Design Manufacturing, and she is looking forward to make some friends and collaborate with researchers in the field in the future.

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Beshoy Morkos University of Georgia

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Beshoy Morkos is an associate professor in the College of Engineering at the University of Georgia. His lab currently performs research in the areas of system design, manufacturing, and their respective education. His engineering design research focuses on developing computational representation and reasoning support for managing complex system design. The goal of Dr. Morkos’ design research is to fundamentally reframe our understanding and utilization of system representations and computational reasoning capabilities to support the development of system models which help engineers and project planners intelligently make informed decisions at earlier stages of engineering design. On the engineering education front, Dr. Morkos’ research explores means to enhance engineering education, improve persistence in engineering, and address challenges in senior design education. Dr. Morkos’ research is supported by government [National Science Foundation (NSF), Office of Naval Research (ONR), United States Navy, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)] and industry [Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Sun Nuclear, Northrop Grumman, Rockwell Collins, PTC, Alstom].

Dr. Morkos received his Ph.D. from Clemson University. In 2014, he was awarded the ASME CIE Dissertation of the year award for his doctoral research. He graduated with his B.S. and M.S in Mechanical Engineering in 2006 and 2008 from Clemson University and has worked on multiple sponsored projects funded by partners such as NASA, Michelin, and BMW. His past work experience include working at the BMW Information Technology Research Center (ITRC) as a Research Associate and Robert Bosch Corporation as a Manufacturing Engineer. Dr. Morkos was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Engineering & Science Education at Clemson University performing NSF funded research on engineering student motivation and its effects on persistence and the use of advanced technology in engineering classroom environments. Dr. Morkos’ research thrust include: design automation, design representations, computational reasoning, systems modeling, engineering education, design education, collaborative design, and data/knowledge management.

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Engineers may design products that they will never use and/or for target user populations they will not belong to. This is particularly important in the bio-tech field where the engineering designers are often not users of the product themselves (e.g. walking cane or wheelchairs). To ensure this lack of familiarity between designer and product/user does not prevent the realization of a successful product, empathy is required. This paper details the results of an assignment developed specifically to address empathy in a low familiarity design scenario. The goal of the assignment is to allow students to work on a design project where they lack empathy, recognize the role of empathy in design, and ultimately improve their empathy. A design project is given to students enrolled in a Design Methodologies course – which serves as a Capstone Design Precursor – at a small private, engineering focused university. Student empathy was collected through a survey that combined three existing empathy instruments. Student empathy was calculated before and after the assignment. Further, students were performed stimulated reflection to discuss the challenges observed with their design. The results of the study suggested that while students recognized the importance of empathy, the assignment itself did not improve their empathy scores. The students did not see a statistically significant change in their empathy scores before and after the assigned based on the survey instrument. However, their reflection indicated their realized the role empathy plays in their decision making throughout the design process. This results of the study suggest while assignments can be used to recognize empathy, their use in improving empathy is limited.

Shah, D., & Yang, X., & Morkos, B. (2020, June), Can Empathy Be Taught? The Results of an Assignment Targeted at Improving Empathy in Engineering Design Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--34255

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