Lab team visits high school STEAM fair

On March 3rd, representatives from the Kennedy Institute of Ethics’s Ethics Lab visited a local high school conference focused on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM), hosting two back-to-back workshops featuring a new pedagogical toolkit developed in the Lab.

The conference, now in its fifth year, is hosted by Georgetown Day School (GDS), an independent K-12 school in Washington, DC. In attendance this year were more than 200 student participants from DC public and independent schools, as well as the entire 500-student high school student body of GDS.

Nico Staple, Senior Product Developer at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, together with Postdoctoral Fellow Elizabeth Edenberg, led workshop sessions showcasing a pedagogical technique developed in the Lab and drawn from a design tool called empathy mapping. From the workshop description:

Participants will be guided through a design thinking exercise called empathy mapping to explore the bioethics topics of informed consent and autonomy. In this exercise, students will put themselves in the place of a patient whose consent is required for a medical intervention. They’ll read short scenarios about an accident or medical condition, each paired with a consent form. These scenarios are designed to place students in different positions of medical need, and to look at informed consent documents that patients might encounter and be asked to sign in those scenarios. This process should shed light on the difference between signing a consent form and making a meaningful decision—one that exhibits understanding and exercises genuine autonomy. Students will then use the physical empathy map to prompt and organize their reflections about what the patient may be experiencing as he or she tries to read and sign the consent form, putting down as many ideas as they can in a short time. Then we’ll reflect and discuss as a group the issues that emerged.

The Ethics Lab workshop joined sessions on a variety of topics, including data efficiency, immigration statistics, computer science, game theory simulations, and soft circuitry.

“I was excited they were adding arts to this year’s conference, and our workshop, with its design angle, I think really contributed to the ‘arts’ component,” says Staple.

“What I emphasized to students is, no matter what you’re creating—an app, a prescription drug—you need to consider the human perspective of the end-user to be successful. Empathy mapping, as a tool, is explicitly designed to throw participants into another’s perspective, values, and experience.”

Staple is actually a GDS alum, graduating in 2006. “It was weird, and great, to be back,” he says.