Robots x Humans

The future of education will be humans partnering with artificial intelligence to co-create. I prototyped this partnership by building a multi-day lesson plan using a chatbot. Through this collaboration I was able to address the following needs that are common to many education professionals:

  1. Using time more efficiently
  2. Incorporating problem-solving and creative thinking
  3. Building scaffolded instruction
  4. Real-world application

The framework below was generated on ChatGPT using the following prompt: Create a multi-step lesson plan on teaching middle school students empathy in project design

Here is the lesson plan along with activities that I would use to complement the steps created by AI. The AI-generated text is in italics my original words are in plain text.


Introduction: Begin the lesson by explaining the concept of empathy and why it is important in project design. You might start by asking students to think about a time when they had to design a project for someone else. Ask them to consider what they did to make sure their project was meaningful or helpful to the intended audience.

This is a good introduction, but lacks any specifics on how to deliver the learning outcomes. An introductory activity I use for exploring empathy is to put students in pairs and have them design a “hybrid food” that contains the elements of their partner’s favorite food. Students interview each other about what types of foods they like, and what textures and flavors. One person takes this information and creates a new unique food from this description. In doing this activity students have created pizza with falafel or pasta with carne asada. It’s a fun way to get students to practice their listening and communication, integral skills for empathy work.

Defining Empathy

Define empathy: Provide a clear definition of empathy and explain that it involves understanding and relating to the feelings and experiences of others. You might use examples or scenarios to illustrate what empathy looks like in action.

For the “defining empathy” part of the lesson, have students watch this video and put them in small groups to write their own definition of empathy. Place the definitions somewhere for the entire room to see and do a short discussion/feedback to generate a class definition. Source your own materials on social and emotional learning such as videos and articles if the video I shared doesn’t resonate.

Practicing Empathy

Practice empathy: Next, give students an opportunity to practice empathy by asking them to brainstorm a list of different groups of people who might be affected by a project (e.g. elderly, children, people with disabilities, etc.). Then, ask students to think about what those groups might need or want from a project, and how they might go about designing something that meets those needs. Encourage students to share their ideas and discuss them as a class.

The chatbot did a pretty good job providing some specifics about an activity to use to help practice empathy. In addition to “brainstorming, a list of different groups of people who might be affected by a project” students can use observation to practice empathy. If students choose to design for people with disabilities, for example, walk around their neighborhood and take pictures of things that would be impactful on this group. Use the photographs to facilitate a discussion about what their needs are and how to solve for those needs.

Empathy in Action

Empathy in action: To further illustrate the importance of empathy in project design, you might show students examples of projects that were successful because they were designed with empathy in mind. For example, you could show examples of products that were designed to be accessible or user-friendly for people with disabilities, or community projects that were designed to address a specific need in the local area.

This phase of the lesson is a good time to expose students to case studies in design. Introduce how empathy is used in action by showing this news report on IDEO’s design process. Then have students work through three or four different products designed to solve a problem, for example Nike FlyEase shoes or this expandable conveyor system. Students can outline how the examples embody the principles of empathy identified in the first part of the lesson.

Applying Empathy

Apply empathy: Finally, give students the chance to apply what they have learned by working in small groups to design a project that demonstrates empathy. Encourage students to consider the needs and wants of the intended audience as they develop their project ideas, and to think about how their project will address those needs in a meaningful way.

It is important to use intentional scaffolding in this phase of learning. Provide students with an extended period of time to create a design or prototype (1-2 weeks depending on the depth of their application). The Stanford University “Introduction to Design Thinking Process Guide” has a section on prototypes. 

Their deliverable can be a written summary, a drawing or digital design, or even a physical prototype created using simple maker tools. This could include plastics, textiles, wood, paper, or lasers, 3D printers, sewing and embroidery machines, or a vinyl cutter. 

Closing the Lesson and Reflection

Throughout the lesson, be sure to emphasize the importance of empathy in project design and how it can help to create more meaningful and impactful projects. Encourage students to continue practicing empathy as they work on future projects, and remind them that it is an ongoing process that requires practice and awareness.

The chatbot did a good job including a final reflective piece for the lesson. After students have presented their prototypes in an exhibition have them write reflections in a journal or portfolio. Use the following as prompts: What do you understand about empathy? How can you use empathy in future projects? Or How can you apply empathy in your daily life?

Teachers and Robots Working Together 

There has been a proliferation of social media posts with articles about chatGPT technology. There is evidence that this tool is an effective way to help support teaching practice. But I have yet to see one that details how we can combine our own creative human abilities with AI. This is important because it shows how AI can help address the four challenges I identified at the beginning of the article.

  1. Using time more efficiently
  2. Incorporating problem-solving and creative thinking
  3. Building scaffolded instruction
  4. Real-world application

AI is also effective for other instructional tasks such as generating fact-based assessments, homework assignments, or even slideshow presentations. I learned that we cannot rely solely on AI to create these resources. This post was to demonstrate that the creative abilities of educators have an important role in designing supplemental activities and tasks.

I look forward to seeing how other educators use their skills to co-create effective educational resources with the help of artificial intelligence. I believe AI will make more room for teachers rather than move us out of the instructional experience. It will also help us focus on more creative components of our job as the mundane tasks of our profession get addressed by AI.