In this course, you'll discover the relationships among design thinking, empathy, and problem reframing and apply your insights to solving an interpersonal challenge of your choosing.

This Facilitating Learning Online (FLO) MicroCourse takes place over 5 days with the goal of providing you with a supportive environment to ask questions, take risks, offer advice, and enjoy exploring the course concepts. It is designed to be short, single-topic, hands-on, and free. In one week you will dip into the FLO experience, and leave with something practical and useful for your own practice.

In this FLO MicroCourse you will:

  • Consider the role of perceptual errors and cognitive biases in how we approach interpersonal conflict
  • Recognize the power of reframing situations to foster empathy in relationships in the post-secondary environment
  • Create an empathy interview to deepen your understanding of a current or typical interpersonal challenge
  • Give and receive feedback on your empathy interview

Step 1 - Explore It

Due by Tuesday morning

What is design thinking? What are "empathy" and "perspective-taking" and how do they help us to reframe problems? What does it mean to reframe a problem?steps in design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test

Design thinking as an approach is most often associated with designing new products or services, but it can also be applied to designing other things, like a lesson plan, a meeting agenda, or even an informal plan for a conversation you'd like to have.

The empathize phase in the design thinking process helps us to get insight into another's experience, and the define phase uses that insight to "reframe" the problem we are trying to solve, or the challenge in front of us. Often the new perspective we gain from exploring the problem with more empathy means we came to see our original problem very differently but more accurately.

To begin your journey, review the resources on the Background and Research page associated with Step 1.

Learn by doing! There's an activity waiting for you in the Introductions Forum.

Step 2 - Consider It

Due by Tuesday night

Consider a recent or typical scenario with a student or colleague that was challenging and how you framed (or typically frame) the situation.

For example, I (Tabea) once had a student come into the first day of class several minutes late while I was giving my opening introduction. He noisily dropped into a seat at the back of the room, books falling to the floor, and put his head down on the desk, pulling at his hood to cover his face. He barely moved for the rest of the class. My instant reaction—and my first frame for the problem—was “Oh no, this guy’s trouble.”

Even when we don’t mean to be, we are susceptible to common perceptual errors and cognitive biases. Review the resources on the Background and Research page associated with Step 2 for more on this. 

Now, considering the power of bias and assumption, what are at least three alternative ways you could have reframed - or can reframe now - the situation you identified; i.e., what are some possible alternative explanations for what you observed or encountered?

Going back to the earlier example of the late student, alternative ways of framing the incident could include:

  • the student got some bad news right before class started
  • the student had suddenly fallen ill and was trying to get his bearings
  • the student had just seen his ex-partner in the hallway
  • the student hates the prospect of this class because his parents have told him to take it

Post a brief description of the situation you identified and at least three ways you framed or could have framed it by adding a new discussion topic to the Sharing & Feedback Forum, including your name in your post title, e.g. "Julia's situation". (Note: You don’t have to disclose which way of framing you actually used.)

Step 3 - Brainstorm It

Due by Wednesday night

Now that you’ve posted the description of your challenge situation and ways that you think you did or could have reframed it, it’s time to look at what others have posted and help them shift their perspective even more.

Read through some of the posts in the Sharing & Feedback Forum so far and how your colleagues have indicated they could have reframed their situations. Can you add to their list, expanding their perspective through your own? What do you see about how they could reframe the situation that they haven’t yet?

If you’ve been in a similar situation, try to share enough relevant details to help your colleague, but not so much that it shifts the focus to what happened with you. Keep your posts short, to the point, and focused on brainstorming ideas with your course colleague most of all.

Step 4 - Draft It

Due by Thursday night

Review the resources on the Background and Research page associated with Step 4.

An empathy interview in design thinking allows a designer to use open-ended, curiosity-driven questions to push for deeper insight into the problem or challenge. Ask questions you don’t know or anticipate the answers for! You can apply these same principles and techniques to your scenario. In a typical empathy interview, you start with a few questions to have ready, but then ask follow-up questions based on the other person’s responses—to probe for deeper insight.

Create three questions to guide an approximately 15-minute “empathy interview” you might conduct with that person in your scenario - to test your assumptions and to better understand the situation and what is going on for them. How might you choose interview questions that allow you to more deeply explore the situation?

Remember, an empathy interview is not a job interview. The person should not feel like they are being "interviewed". Rather, the questions you come up with should help the person feel that you are genuinely trying to understand what is going on for them or their point of view.

To share your draft empathy interview questions with everyone, find the post in the Sharing & Feedback Forum that you started to tell us about your challenge situation in Step 2. Reply to that post and share your three questions. This will help us all manage the "flow" of each individual person's situation you are working on.

Step 5 - Build On It

Due by Friday night

In this last step of our five-step process, you'll both give and receive feedback on your draft empathy interview questions. Return to the Sharing & Feedback Forum and look for posts from your colleagues where you might be able to expand what they've done so far or give them something else to think about.

To give feedback to others, consider noting ways the questions can be more open-ended or offer additional questions to ask (or avenues to explore). Think about how you might be able to bring value to your course colleagues' questions based on your unique experiences and perspectives.

We invite you to close out the feedback process (and the week!) by posting thanks or other words of gratitude to your course peers for their sharing and insights.

Lastly, we hope that by participating in this week's activities, you feel empowered with more tools and the inspiration to have that important conversation.

"It's not 'us versus them' or even 'us on behalf of them.' For a design thinker it has to be 'us with them.'"
- Tim Brown, CEO and President of IDEO