on empathy


half-baked post alert

This is nothing new, but I've been internally coming back to it often enough that it's worth saying out loud.

We've been working on identifying and documenting the needs of our campus community, with respect to an eLearning environment - with the unspoken goal of finding The One True Tool that will serve everyone's needs. The further-unspoken-message being that everyone is (or should be) fundamentally the same, and that by finding and encouraging a single set of "best practices" that we'll be able to help the lesser-able (i.e., different) people to adapt (i.e., conform). There are reasons to encourage conformity - it's easier to support, easier to implement, cleaner to put into an RFP, etc...

Giulia Forsythe is presenting on creativity at UMW's Faculty Academy, and mentioned a throwaway comment by an engineering prof who said her visual notes were horribly and dangerously unorganized, and that she should use Visio to keep more organized notes. Because if you want to be a proper note-taker, with an organized mind, you must adopt the tools and techniques of an engineer. Or be dismissed as an unorganized and cluttered mind.

The pattern is pervasive. "I've done this. Everyone should do it just like I did, because I've figured it out." But that doesn't work.

Michael Wesch has been doing some awesome, inspiring and innovative stuff in his digital ethnography courses. He talks about the stuff he and his students do, and people dutifully write it down as a recipe for them to do the same. But that doesn't work. People are different. Dr. Wesch nails it - the most important thing we have is empathy. The ability to recognize others' feelings. To be aware that people are different.

So. How do we move away from silently encouraging conformity, toward recognizing and leveraging diversity? This isn't just an edtech or eLearning thing. This isn't just a teaching-and-learning or education thing. How do we encourage and support empathy? How do we avoid the urge to pigeonhole problems into solutions?

Yeah. I don't know, either.