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Thursday, October 17 • 1:20pm - 2:30pm
Stumbling Towards Empathy; Lessons Learned in Building Cognitive Empathy in the Unmyelinated Teenage Frontal Cortex, Room 112

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A few years ago the Stanford d.school shifted their canonical design process from a series of five steps that began with “Empathize” to a collection of eight abilities to be cultivated, including “Learn from Others.” Carissa Carter defines this in her groundbreaking Medium article as “the skills of empathizing with different people, testing new ideas with them, and observing and noticing in different places and contexts.” Empathy skills are still critical to the design thinker and have been recast in a more active light as shifting from “having empathy” to “learning using empathy.” How do we cultivate this ability when our students, through a quirk of biology, may lack empathy?

This is the challenge we face every day with teenage students. During these critical years, their prefrontal cortex is still myelinating, still pruning and strengthening connections between neurons. This process starts in the hind brain, where our reptilian aspects reign supreme (and result in behaviors made famous by Lord of the Flies) and migrates to the prefrontal cortex. Cognitive empathy, adopting the point of view of others, lives in the prefrontal cortex. This region is the last part of the brain to mature, sometimes as late as the early 20s. Affective empathy, recognizing the emotion states of others, actually drops in young teenage boys.

So how do we develop design thinking skills in students who have been biologically blinded to the needs of others? That’s where this talk unpacks our own efforts to “Experiment Rapidly” and create ways for students to enhance their skills in “Learning from Others.” At times this involves tricking students into empathetic behaviors when cognitive and affective empathy are underdeveloped. Other efforts attempt to expect empathy explicitly from students, with mixed success. Join us as we share our lessons learned in accelerating the development of these abilities without invoking the Big E.

Wednesday & Thursday Slate
avatar for John Feland

John Feland

I-Lab Engineer, The Nueva School
Dr. John Feland is a teacher in the Nueva I-Lab and an award-winning design thinker. He teaches courses in design, entrepreneurship, and engineering. Before coming to Nueva he ran Argus Insights, where his team integrated information gathered from online conversations across a wealth... Read More →


Thursday October 17, 2019 1:20pm - 2:30pm
Nueva San Mateo Campus 131 E. 28th Avenue, San Mateo, CA 94403