Empathy is a complex concept, and while it is a quality that everyone has a capacity for, children don’t develop empathy on their own. Children must learn early how to notice, listen and care by watching and learning from the adults in their lives–this is where educators come in.
It is important for educators to help children develop empathy to build an understanding of what others are feeling and how their actions can impact others. One of the critical benefits of teaching empathy to students is its influence on promoting social harmony which can reverse, for example, the troubling trend of bullying. Bullying is a significant issue in schools with nearly one in three U.S. students reporting that they have been victims of bullying.
With students today spending on average more than 1,000 hours per year with their teacher, it is imperative that educators emphasize empathy within the classroom to help students develop this quality at an early age. To be successful, teachers must create opportunities for students to learn and experience it firsthand. Technology is one tool that teachers can leverage to introduce lessons in empathy and focus on social impact in a new and engaging way.
Demonstrating digital citizenship and literacy
The internet is integral to society. No longer is it possible to shield students from it. Instead, they need to be taught digital literacy skills early to learn to navigate it responsibly. Through the implementation of digital citizenship courses, teachers can equip students with the right attitude to interact online and demonstrate that the internet has the same expectations as in-person communication.
More than 33% of students between the ages of 12-17 experience cyberbullying. Students who experience cyberbullying are more likely to have trouble adjusting in school. They are also more likely to have mental health and behavior problems. Digital citizenship lessons can help promote peer respect, empathy, civility, and kindness, which in turn can reduce incidences of cyberbullying.
Technology today can have a significant impact on emotional health. Educating students about digital citizenship and online responsibility can go a long way to decreasing incidences of cyberbullying and negative interactions online.
Creating more immersive experiences through emerging tech
Incorporating augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) within the classroom gives students a more tangible grasp on what they’re learning no matter their age group or education level. AR and VR can help teachers go beyond the classroom, from walking students through the solar system to helping students visualize their favorite book or gain knowledge about life in other cultures.
New studies suggest that one of VR’s biggest strengths is its ability to tap student emotions, notably empathy and confidence.
“We did a regression analysis, lab analysis and tried to evaluate if students’ factual knowledge increased, confidence level increased, interest and engagement levels increased, as well as empathy building and other experiential aspects that we wanted to measure,” Aditya Vishwanath, a graduate of Georgia Tech who ran the experiment, told Hypepotamus. “We found in every single category, the students who used VR content outperformed those who did not use VR content on their smartphones.”
Using technology to create a more personalized learning experience
Technology can also introduce ways to help teachers support their students individually. As classroom sizes have increased, new technology tools give teachers the ability to assign students certain lessons or books that align with individual interests, abilities, and aspirations as well as introduce lessons in social and emotional learning (SEL) that can be foundational to academic success.
Reading technology like Sora, a K-12 app designed around the modern reading experience, can be a powerful tool to help students interact with others and see situations from different perspectives. Reading is a great way to develop empathy in children as it allows them to insert themselves into a story, walk in a characters’ shoes, and see through new eyes. According to a Cambridge University study by Maria Nikolajeva, professor of education, “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practicing empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think.”
Coupling the use of technology with the integration of a social-emotional teaching technique can help students develop the capacity to manage emotions, practice empathy and make responsible decisions. In a recent study, Microsoft found that the integration of collaborative platforms, artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed reality make it easier for teachers to teach key SEL competencies. Using AI-enabled collaborative platforms that come equipped with personalized learning assessments allow teachers to foster one-on-one and group interactions. This technique readies students for life outside the classroom by reinforcing soft skills, such as empathy.
Why empathy matters
Empathy is an integral part of being a responsible and helpful member of not only a classroom but society. Although it takes commitment to teach, it is imperative that empathy is a focus within every classroom. Studies have shown that teaching empathy to children during school can lower the likelihood of bullying, help students improve their communication skills and increase academic achievement. Embracing the power of technology helps teachers go further in empathy education and create a deeper connection with each of their students, so they have a successful future inside and outside of the classroom.