Design Better People
This is the L2Talk I gave at Learning2. Called "Design Better People", it focuses on how taking our students through the design cycle teaches them empathy, a positive, essential life skill.
Design Better People
Today, I want to tell you a story, my story, as a cyberbully.
It happened long ago, when I was in Middle School.
Nowadays, you know how my story would begin:
You’re out for a pleasant walk on the Internet when you turn a corner and suddenly anger and hurt explode in your face.
My story could have happened on a YouTube video where invariably an anodyne conversation will lead to bitter exchanges in a very short time.
Experiencing trolls, cyberbullies directly or indirectly can be disorienting, even threatening.
And for our students, these are poor social norms to be followed.
I believe designing with empathy can help correct those behaviors.
But my story took place in grade 6 when school photos were still in B&W.
Technically it was year 0 for the world wide web, so I was not really in cyberspace.
But I was using state-of-the-art technology available to any French student at the time to bully one of my classmates.
It was a typical class, we were being lectured at, we were bored, so I started a chat room the way countless other students had done before me, on a piece of paper.
My regular group of friends all wanted in, so we were passing around the note and everybody scribbled a few words.
Eventually the popular girl in the classroom wanted in too, so I was all too happy to see that my jokes were getting a bigger audience.
I had foolishly expected that she would partake on the fun.
But in fact, in a few words, she taught me a life lesson that is still resonating with me today. She wrote this: you are not funny at all, you are being so mean to this girl, you have no idea how she feels.
And she was right, I did not know at all. In fact all I wanted to do was to be funny.
I did not take into consideration at all how the girl was feeling.
Until then, I rarely stopped to think about what other people were feeling.
I lacked empathy.
Many of the negative comments you find online also seem to derive from an original attempt at humor. And then they turn abusive in a display of one-upmanship.
With her few words, the popular girl in my class was able to bring to light a new skill I needed. I believe that through design thinking, we now have a better, more methodical approach to teach students how to empathize.
If it’s the first time you hear about design thinking, you may be smelling Swedish meatballs.
But it is hardly a novelty.
As my friend Matt reminded me this summer, this is a method engineers have been using for a long time.
Design thinking yields creative ways to solve the human-centered problems.
You can break the process into various stages but I like to retain 3: inquiry, ideation, implementation.
And the most valuable phase during inquiry is to define the problem from the point of view of the user, from the point of view of another person.
Before you start searching for a solution for an individual, you have to open your eyes to how they see the world.
It’s during this beginning stage that students have to practice empathy to see another person’s needs.
As a matter of fact, even if we do not analyze this process, we often recognize good design by the way it is being empathetic to the needs of the user.
When students are taken through the design thinking process, they practice empathy in a very real context.
They have to put their own self away and consider the needs and emotions of someone else.
And when you allow yourself to see the world from somebody else’s perspective, you are learning a positive behavior which helps break negative reinforcement cycles such as cyberbullying, just like it did for me.
Empathy will also set you on a path to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with other human beings.
And as you probably know already, this is a strong predictor of happiness.
I was very lucky that none of my words were shared in cyberspace, where people could probably still find them today.
I want to thank my classmate, who taught me in her very short frank way to become a better person.
I want to challenge you today to teach your students how to empathize and become better people.
L2Talks at Saigon South International School
Mine was only one of many presentations at SSIS. Plunge into the Learning2 YouTube channel to see some of the most influential educators in the world today, talking about their passion.