Teaching the fuzzy stuff – critical design

slides: GamesForEmpathy

I wanted to explore how technologies are being appropriated to teach people about empathy, socio-emotional learning, and other aspects of “fuzzy stuff” which are typically highly-valued in the classroom, but primarily ignored when it comes to actual assessment.

Empathy and socio-emotional learning ideas are typically reinforced in classrooms through discussions, activities, and stories (e.g., star-bellies sneetches and their buttered-side-up toast). I wanted to see, more recently, how tools and technologies have been developed to more directly engage children with these ideas. I first looked at the existing tools teachers are using to teach students about empathy, including “The Empathy Toy” which is, essentially, tinker-toy like blocks that can be used to promote discussions to reinforce the idea that people have different knowledge bases, and support understanding of theory of mind. There are also a number of games being developed to support these ideas, such as Quandary, where students play as the captain of a planet who needs to make complex decisions. The game’s goal is to encourage students’ understanding that no decisions are inherently right or wrong, and that everything is dependent on context and perceptions. Similarly, the game “IF” challenges some of the current standards in games by making the characters (1) aware that they are being controlled by a human, and (2) that parts of the games like failure or death deserve to be reflected upon and worked through. The characters help the students regulate different aspects of socio-emotional learning by teaching self-regulation methods, encouraging awareness of other characters’ feelings, and allowing room to mourn for a character’s death.

Recently, though, the idea of teaching these fuzzy principles of empathy and other aspects of socio-emotional learning are being explored through technologies that engage more directly with the user. For example, sensory fiction explores what it would be like for readers to *really feel* what the protagonists of stories are feeling through body-temperature regulation, constriction, and sensations like chills that automatically change along with the story. People are also talking about appropriating google glass to have people more directly engage with questions of ethics by having their real life monitored by an application called GodFilter, which monitors their behaviors, such as entrance into sex shops, and can do things like call their pastor, or shut their laptop off automatically once they open up porn.

I think the interesting difference between these technologies that exist and are being used and the ones that are currently fictions is the line between (1) giving users an opportunity to explore different feelings through the safety of an avatar, and (2) directly enforcing these feelings onto the user directly.

Links:

IF game: http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2013/11/20/246395383/video-game-creators-are-using-apps-to-teach-empathy, and learning goals: http://www.ifyoucan.org/exsel-stats/

Quandary: http://www.quandarygame.org/teachers

The Empathy Toy: http://www.fastcodesign.com/3024127/wanted/can-these-toys-teach-kids-empathy

Sensory Fiction: http://vimeo.com/84412874

GodFilter article: http://donteatthefruit.com/2013/07/how-google-glass-will-transform-your-spiritual-life/

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