Integrating Teacher Empathy into the Engineering Classroom one Educator at a Time: An Action Research Study

Bala Vignesh Sundaram, Nadia N. Kellam

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


In this research paper, we explore the journey of one engineering faculty while integrating best practices from research on teacher empathy in their classroom. Teacher empathy is a term used in multiple fields of study, including higher education, nursing, and medicine, to refer to the empathetic skills of teachers. This body of research generally shows that better teacher empathy helps in improving students' learning experience, satisfaction, and overall performance. The purpose of this study is to explore the story of how one engineering faculty member integrates teacher empathy into their course, including motivations, barriers, difficulties faced, and benefits to becoming more empathetic in the classroom. The model of empathy framework developed by Walther and colleagues was used to frame our study on teacher empathy [1]. We used Action Research (AR) methodology for this study as AR allows the researcher to work with the participant instead of on the participant. In this study, we were part of a teaching team for an Engineering Mechanics class. In two pre-study interviews, we discussed the meaning of teacher empathy and the participant decided on specific empathetic actions to implement in their course. We collected after-class audio reflective journaling and three 1-hour interviews (spread evenly across the semester) as the data. We used a qualitative data analysis approach, primarily utilizing inductive coding and thematic coding to arrive at our findings. Over the course of the semester, the faculty's use of empathy in the classroom increased. Positive feedback from the students during class and in regular student evaluations of the class encouraged the faculty to continue to explicitly adopt empathetic actions in this class. Our findings indicate that there are benefits of teacher empathy within engineering education. The immediate positive benefit for the faculty is an increase in work satisfaction and reduction in burn-out. In future work, we will expand the number of participants to better understand the broader benefits among diverse engineering faculty members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Aug 23 2022
Event129th ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition: Excellence Through Diversity, ASEE 2022 - Minneapolis, United States
Duration: Jun 26 2022Jun 29 2022


  • Action Research
  • Empathy in Engineering
  • Model of Empathy Framework
  • Teacher Empathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)


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