In today’s interconnected world—which is undergoing deep and rapid transformation—we must re-vision education for a new global context of learning; one that can account for the promising knowledge horizons that science, engineering, and medicine already signal, and for the humanistic grounding and ingenuity that art and design afford us. Might we be able to chart a course forward through new educational models, products or systems that can challenge the purpose of learning and redefine what competencies and skills might matter the most in order to lead us to a more sustainable and equitable future?
Lauren Schumacker, NAKFI Science Writing Scholar
University of Georgia
The team was asked to tackle the issue of creating sustainable and equitable futures in a world increasingly dominated by technology. The team decided that the fundamental issue pertaining to this larger problem is a pervasive lack of empathy within the global community and an overwhelming expansion of feelings of indifference. Therefore, they propose the following project: Empathy in an Expanded Field: Stemming the Rising Tide of Indifference.
This project will function within the framework of an “appreciative inquiry” that asks people to cite pressing problems they are facing themselves, rather than allowing academic or other activist experts from outside of the community to tell them what their problems are. The team established its own approach for conducting such a community inquiry. The first is to find a way to bring all the stakeholders to the table. In order for appreciative inquiry to work, community members who care deeply about what is going on around them have to be invested and work collaboratively. Then, facilitators will be selected and trained so that the community is able to identify problems as well as determine which are most pressing and, therefore, should be prioritized. The facilitators will also work to help break down the problems and reach realistic and feasible solutions.
The team decided that the pilot program should operate in Merced, California, an area that has very poor air quality and high levels of pollution. Also, the community in Merced has already raised the issue of air pollution and stated that it is one, if not the most, important problem they are facing and one that they want to alleviate.
One potential manifestation of this program is the creation of avatars designed by those who have respiratory and other diseases that are made worse by poor air quality. These avatars would be available to neighbors, the community, and the world through a cell phone application that would allow people to see who is truly affected by their decision to drive to the store on a day when doing so would further debilitate someone suffering from a condition such as asthma. Developers would create the application, but then users would have to download it and log in to track how their neighbors were doing on a given day. People could create their own avatars. In addition, an avatar could be created for an entire community of avatars for specific conditions, using aggregated data from local doctors’ offices or hospitals. This would be similar to current practice of weather forecasters or public health officials who notify people when air quality is poor. Community-level avatars would allow individuals who don’t feel comfortable being tracked/monitored to still potentially benefit from the technology and the project, while keeping their privacy intact. The whole goal of this project is to enable app users see how their behavior directly affects real people living in their community, thereby generating greater empathy for what their neighbors are going through. Perhaps some people would opt to keep their car at home on a day with poor air quality and walk or bike to the store, rather than running out for one small thing, for example.
Ultimately, the team hopes that more knowledge will lead to more
understanding and more empathy for what those affected by a given problem are struggling with and then result in actionable and real behavioral change. This project really has two end results: helping people become more empathetic toward their neighbors and community as well as solving the problem the entire community banded together to resolve.
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