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Instructional Strategies for Incorporating Empathy in Transdisciplinary Technology Education

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Ethics Instruction in Context: Civil and Construction Engineering and Engineering Technology

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Colin M. Gray Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Colin M. Gray is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University in the Department of Computer Graphics Technology and a Faculty Fellow in the Educational Research and Development Incubator. He holds a PhD in Instructional Systems Technology from Indiana University Bloomington, a MEd in Educational Technology from University of South Carolina, and a MA in Graphic Design from Savannah College of Art & Design. His research focuses on the role of student experience in informing a critical design pedagogy, and the ways in which the pedagogy and underlying studio environment inform the development of design thinking, particularly in relation to critique and professional identity formation. His work crosses multiple disciplines, including engineering education, instructional design and technology, design theory and education, and human-computer interaction.

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Luciana Debs Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Luciana Debs, is a Technology doctoral student and Graduate Research Assistant in the Department of Building Construction Management at Purdue University´s College of Technology. She received her MS from the Technical Research Institute of Sao Paulo (IPT-SP), and her BSArc from the University of São Paulo (USP), both in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Prior to her current position she worked in design coordination in construction and real estate development companies in Brazil. Her research interests include team work in construction, effective communication in spatial problem solving, and design - field team interaction.

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Marisa Exter Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Marisa Exter is an Assistant Professor of Learning Design and Technology in the College of Education at Purdue University. Dr. Exter’s research aims to provide recommendations to improve or enhance university-level design and technology programs (such as Instructional Design, Computer Science, and Engineering). Some of her previous research has focused on software designers’ formal and non-formal educational experiences and use of precedent materials. These studies have highlighted the importance of cross-disciplinary skills and student engagement in large-scale, real-world projects.

Dr. Exter currently leads an effort to evaluate a new transdisciplinary degree program which provides both liberal arts and technical content through competency-based experiential learning.

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Terri S. Krause Purdue University Orcid 16x16

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Terri Krause has a BBA from the University of Notre Dame, with 30 years experience in business and industry; and, a MSEd in Learning Design and Technology from Purdue University. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in Learning Design and Technology at Purdue, is a Graduate Research Assistant, and is serving on the evaluation team for a new transdisciplinary studies program that incorporates real world cross-cultural challenges into a values-based instructional environment with the goal of reaching practical and sustainable, ethical solutions.

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In the past decade, there has been an increasing focus on the ethical content of designed artifacts, including the ways in which engineers and technologists are responsible for considering ethical issues relating to the end user or context for which they are designing. Creating sustainable post-secondary ethics education has been an increasing focus in engineering and technology education scholarship, with the goal of developing students’ ability to understand and make ethically-sound design decisions through evidence-based instructional strategies.

In this study, we focus on the ways in which a transdisciplinary educational experience might encourage the development of empathic ability by documenting the activities of undergraduate technology students as they sought to develop an off-the-grid toilet for the “developing” world. Students were exposed to multiple instructional strategies that encouraged them to reconsider their notion of “difference” as it might apply to their semester-long design project. We present several themes of instructional strategies that emerged from instructors and students, and contextualize these strategies in relation to the students’ development of empathic ability. The students in this course struggled to develop empathy that had practical implications for their design activity, suggesting the need for a larger shift in the ability of students to create empathically-driven action. We found that a substantial change in empathic ability also requires a certain amount of vulnerability and ability to position-take (i.e., taking the position of another), indicating the need for “safe spaces” that challenge student perspectives while also encouraging trust and honesty.

Gray, C. M., & Debs, L., & Exter, M., & Krause, T. S. (2016, June), Instructional Strategies for Incorporating Empathy in Transdisciplinary Technology Education Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25746

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