The Empathy Project: Using a Project-Based Learning Assignment to Increase First-Year College Students’ Comfort with Interdisciplinarity

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Micol Hutchison


Empathy and interdisciplinarity are both concepts that are current and relevant—across professions, in research, and in academia. This paper describes a large, interdisciplinary, project-based assignment, the Empathy Project, which allows students to delve into and increase comfort and skill with interdisciplinary thinking and collaborative learning, while improving the core college skills of written and oral communication, ethical and quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking. As I revised the assignment based on student feedback and results, I found that group conferences and time in class to work collaboratively were beneficial. Additionally, building increased scaffolding into the assignment, including greater student and group accountability, helped students develop and maintain self-direction. Students reported that the project was interesting and challenging and appreciated the opportunity to work with other students, to create something entirely different, and to be able to bring creativity into their projects.

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