Innovation in Learning Study Group

West Coast: Empathy-Based Design

By: Jen Stainton

At WUMSHS, students are engaging with an organization named Changing Perspectives to grow empathy for people with differences through our advisory program.  Empathy is also a project-based theme for students in IDEA, based in the NuVu Innovation Lab space.  Empathy at our school, however, is not an intentional aspect of student work and teacher lesson planning the same way it is in High Tech Schools.  Notice the three pictures in this blog post.  They were all taken in one school building at High Tech Chula Vista.  Empathy is a clear message students see every time they enter the school.  


Our travel group engaged in a design thinking workshop with educators from High Tech Point Loma.  In small groups, we selected a problem to design a solution to.  The very first step of the process was the identification of people involved in the problem so that we could reflect on it from their perspective.  This perspective shift allowed us to design more authentic solutions because we began from a place of empathy.


Students at High Tech Schools engage in a similar design process when they complete projects for their classes.  By interviewing people most impacted by a problem, by working with experts in the field, by doing a thorough research before engaging in solution iteration, students engage in empathy.   


Sitting to lunch with two Juniors at High Tech Chula Vista, I realized that empathy extended beyond the project.  They both agreed: students care about each other at school.  Both transferred from local schools where they experienced bullying, and they loved HTCV because they felt welcome and safe.