June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Educational Research and Methods
26.740.1 - 26.740.12
Exploring the Relationship between Empathy and Innovation within Engineering Within engineering education research there seems to be a consensus that innovation isan important and even essential component of succeeding as a practicing engineer. Innovationmay be described as the creative act of generating novel concepts, processes, or designs. It maybe described as incremental, leading to small changes, or radical, leading to a completerethinking of existing practices or designs or entirely new concepts altogether. Further,innovation may be broken up of its constituent components by identifying what skills or traits arenecessary for being innovative. The Innovator’s DNA, for example, identified questioning, ideanetworking, experimenting, and observation as the key traits exemplified by innovativeexecutives. The Innovator’s DNA has even developed a self-report instrument to measure eachof these behaviors (see attachment). This paper explores whether another specific trait may be connected to innovation:empathy. Using a model developed out of social psychology, we define empathy as a multi-faceted phenomenon built upon four distinct sub-constructs; (a) fantasy or the tendency toimagine yourself in another person’s situation, (b) perspective-taking or the tendency to thinkabout how others are thinking or feeling, (c) empathic concern or the tendency to demonstratecare and concern for others, and (d) personal distress or the tendency to become anxious in tensesituations. What we put into question is whether any or all of these components of empathy arerelated to any or all of the components of innovation depicted by the Innovator’s DNA. Our guiding research question for this study is, “From the perspective of engineeringstudents, what is the relationship between empathy and innovation?” As a data collectionstrategy, we invited students at a large Mid-Western University to complete each of the twosurveys. Upon completion of the surveys students had the opportunity to volunteer in a follow-upinterview. More than one-hundred survey responses were collected along with nine semi-structured interviews ranging from one hour to one and a half hours in length. The data wasanalyzed using two distinct phases of research analysis. In the first research phase, wequantitatively explore whether the four distinct sub-constructs of empathy (perspective-taking,empathic concern, personal distress, and fantasy) have a correlated relationship to these fourinnovative behavior traits (questioning, idea networking, experimenting, or observation). Second,we qualitatively explore the same nine students’ perceptions of the correlations reported betweenthe empathy and innovation scales. Results from this study will inform the body of engineering education knowledge bygenerating the first concerted discourse around empathy, innovation, and engineering. Namely,this study will indicate whether specific components of empathy catalyze or inhibit innovativeengineering, and in turn, which components engineering educators should focus on whenteaching for innovation.Innovator’s DNA Survey Items (Labeled Constructs) Dimension # Survey Item Questioning – Asking 1 I often ask questions that challenge the status quo. questions in order to challenge I am constantly asking questions to understand why products and 7 projects underperform. inherent assumptions and 10 I am constantly asking questions to get at the root of the problem. increase understanding of a 13 I am always asking questions. topic or context. 14 Others are frustrated by the frequency of my questions. I regularly ask questions that challenge others’ fundamental 19 assumptions. Networking – Interacting with I have a large network of contacts with whom I frequently interact to 6 get ideas for new products and services. people from diverse I initiate meetings with people outside of my industry to spark ideas backgrounds to gain new 8 for a new product, service, or customer base. perspectives and develop, I have a network of individuals whom I trust to bring a new 9 perspective and refine new ideas. refine, and test ideas. I attend many diverse professional and/or academic conferences 15 outside of my academic discipline/profession. Experimenting – Seeking and 2 I am adventurous, always looking for new experiences. exploring new experiences 3 I have a history of taking things apart. and surroundings to expand 4 I frequently experiment to create new ways of doing things. knowledge and testing new I love to experiment to understand how things work and to create 17 new ways of doing things. ideas mentally or physically. 1 I actively search for new ideas through experimenting. Observing – Carefully and I have a continuous flow of new ideas that comes through 5 observing the world. critically examining the 11 By paying attention to everyday experiences, I often get new ideas. everyday world to understand New ideas often come to me when directly observing how people how objects and systems 12 interact with products and services. function and are used. I regularly observe peoples’ use of products and services to get 16 new ideas.
Hess, J. L., & Fila, N. D., & Purzer, S., & Strobel, J. (2015, June), Exploring the Relationship between Empathy and Innovation among Engineering Students Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24077
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