Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Design in Engineering Education
Developing user empathy is a key component in becoming both an innovative engineer, as well as an effective leader. However, students in project-based design courses do not typically have the opportunity to move past simply engaging with their user into actually developing user empathy: the deeper understanding of what it feels like to experience the problem natively. Providing opportunities for students to achieve this level of immersion can be difficult, especially in courses that deal with problems affecting those far outside the student’s’ own geographic area, socioeconomic standing, or physical abilities.
To overcome this barrier, in Spring 2015 the Colorado School of Mines began incorporating a unique “User Empathy Experience” into their first-year cornerstone design course, Introduction to Design. This activity was designed to physically immerse the students into the problem, versus simply showing them via observation (i.e. watching movies or video chatting with users). Prior to the implementation of the User Empathy Experience, students would rely on their imagination to gather the data needed for developing a solution. Now, these User Empathy Experiences can help to bridge the gap between imagining and feeling by having the students participate in fun, challenging, and unique activities designed to mimic what a user would experience in his or her own environment. Past experiences include becoming a wheelchair user in Africa, a bomb-diffusion team trekking across a landmine-ridden field in Cambodia, and an environmentalist attempting to remove vast amounts of debris from the ocean. Since inception, this exercise has morphed into a version in which students must go through the process of defining, creating, and executing their own experience.
This paper will detail the various approaches taken by, and research completed by, the Cornerstone program to implement User Empathy Experiences across a variety of first-year design course projects in order to increase the level of user empathy students achieve. In addition, the paper will also present strategies that other project-based design programs can use to create and implement their own User Empathy Experiences.
Mitchell, L., & Light, L. (2018, June), Increasing Student Empathy Through Immersive User Empathy Experiences in First-Year Design Education Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. https://peer.asee.org/30651
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