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Using Design Challenges to Develop Empathy in First-year Courses

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

First-year Programs Division: Best Papers

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First-Year Programs

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Paper Authors


Jordan Orion James University of New Mexico

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Jordan O. James is a Native American Ph.D. student in the Organization, Information, and Learning Sciences (OILS) program as well as a lecturer at the University of New Mexico’s School of Architecture and Planning in the Community & Regional Planning program. He has served as a graduate research assistant on an NSF-funded project, Revolutionizing Engineering Departments, and has been recognized as a Graduate Studies student spotlight recipient and teaching scholar. Jordan studies learning in authentic, real-world conditions utilizing Design-Based Research methodologies to investigate design learning and social engineering, in which he studies urban planners who design real-world interventions for communities and students who use design to learn. A member of the Grand Portage Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Jordan obtained both his Masters of Community & Regional Planning and Bachelor of Media Arts from the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque where he lives with his wife and three daughters.

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Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and assistant professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information & Learning Sciences program, and in the Chemical & Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project and a CAREER project, FRAME. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Chen Qiu M.Sc. University of New Mexico

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Chen Qiu, M.Sc. has a Master's degree in Biomedical Engineering, and is currently pursuing a M.A. degree in Learning Sciences. Her past interests and accomplishments include instructional design in STEM, medical devices design, and neuroscience & neuro-engineering research. Her current focus involves designing training and instructional materials for engineering students/professionals utilizing SAM model, storyboarding, and task analysis.

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Christopher Riley

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This Complete Research study investigates how first-year design projects can support diverse students to begin developing an understanding of professional ethics and empathy as central to the work of designers. Our purpose is to examine student learning connected to a design challenge in two first-year courses: one in the chemical & biological engineering department and one in community & regional planning program within the school of architecture and planning department; both courses were taught in the same research university in the southwestern US, which serves a very diverse population. We conducted two iterations in a design-based research process. Design-based research involves testing both theory of and designs for learning under real world conditions. Our learning theory is that diverse populations like ours benefit from early design experiences that connect to their experiences, support them to build on their existing strengths, and build their professional identities. Students in both classes completed a design challenge focused on providing a rural community with access to safe water in the event of contamination from acid mine drainage. In chemical & biological engineering, water filtration was foregrounded, whereas in community & regional planning, community engagement was foregrounded, but in both classes, their solutions had to include both aspects. We collected student work on the challenge, including students’ presentations of their solutions. We developed a coding scheme to compare student work on the design challenges across the two courses. We anticipated differences across the two courses, as past work has shown that students in the chemical & biological engineering course often arrived at solutions not feasible for rural communities to afford. We found that the community & regional planning students brought a more emotional sense of stakeholders and tended to avoid offering solutions. Overall, our learning design supported students to consider different perspectives that had bearing on the design problem they were tackling. This approach efficiently encouraged students to begin caring about the needs of diverse stakeholders in a design project. While we did not have an authentic client, the design challenge itself proved to be relatable to our students, most of whom were already aware of the recent regional events that inspired the design challenge.

James, J. O., & Svihla, V., & Qiu, C., & Riley, C. (2018, June), Using Design Challenges to Develop Empathy in First-year Courses Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31202

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