Exploring the role of empathy in engineering communication through a transdisciplinary dialogue

Joachim Walther, Shari E. Miller, Nadia N. Kellam

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

45 Scopus citations


This paper explores the role of empathy as a core aspect of engineering communication which serves to integrate multifaceted information about, and make sense of, complex socio-technical contexts. We argue that empathy, which we understand to entail both the intuitive emotional, as well as, cognitive aspect of "perspective taking", enables engineering students to develop a nuanced, critical understanding of the multiple perspectives which characterize contemporary engineering problems. This project draws on a collaboration between faculty from engineering and social work to develop a series of course modules to infuse communication empathy into an undergraduate environmental engineering course. The development of the instructional modules builds on research from the field of social work education which conceptualizes various ways of engaging students in authentic personal interactions. More specifically, the modules incorporate elements of group reflection, communication skills building, role play, and authentic stakeholder scenarios that are commonly employed in social work education. The design of the course modules is presented with reference to the theoretical foundations from the field of social work and a particular focus on issues concerned with the transfers of these concepts to an engineering context. This includes the discussion of lessons learned from the transdisciplinary dialogue. More specifically, these insights provide a new perspective on engineering communication on a conceptual as well as instructional level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
PublisherAmerican Society for Engineering Education
ISBN (Print)9780878232413
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
Event119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - San Antonio, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 10 2012Jun 13 2012

Publication series

NameASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Electronic)2153-5965


Other119th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Antonio, TX

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Engineering


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