Literature Review EDLD 5315

The Emerging Issue of Digital Empathy

Katrice Wright


Viewing the world, one can say that the meaning and understanding of empathy is a lost attribute. Students are not studying the essence and action of empathy. This focus and research of this study, insight are toward middle school students. The focus group is students with 1:1 device and the applications of several meaningful technology tools to better their learning and ownership of digital etiquettes. The students in this innovative plan are in a Title One school with many extreme situations that can cause a deficiency in their empathy.  This research can help with changing the culture of such young and impressable minds.

Several have studied and documented their research with this phenomenon of children lacking empathy in the digital world. Some have concluded screen time and the lack of face to face social interaction. The study used for this review focuses on education and using technology to enhance and cultivate empathy and ownership of actions in the digital world. This research is essential because the world is in a shift. Having more students immerse themselves in studying empathy can help move the change in behaviors into a positive wave. The research has many obstacles because of the multiple definitions of empathy—the variety of studying empathy that includes the affective, cognitive, and behavioral approaches.

Willing this literature review will bring about a more in-depth understanding of why empathy needs to fully immerse in digital citizenship lessons. The field of education has similarly begun to see the importance of empathy in teaching its teachers. White (1999) outlined empathy and understanding of the student as one of the four “personal-social emotional feelings that impact teaching and what is learned in the classroom” (p. 122). Empathy is a personal and emotional trait that happens to occur within the said person’s mind and being. To actual conduct, a quantitative measure is robust. The literature review will focus on addressing the concerns and importance of how to teach empathy within the educator but mainly the students.


What is the meaning of empathy? The word empathy is used in common conversation today; however, prior to the late 1950s, it was seldom used at all (Freedberg, 2007). Its evolution can be traced back to the Greek word empatheia, translated as “to suffer with” (Cunningham, 2009, p. 681). Here are three central elements to consider for the word empathy. From the cognitive component it, “refers to one’s ability to take the perspective of others, and see the world through his or her perspective.” The second, from an affective component which, “involves experiencing the feelings of another person.” The third, the behavioral component, “involves verbal and non-verbal communication to indicate an understanding of emotional resonance with the other person” (Lam, Kolomitro, & Alamparambil, 2011, p. 163). It can be argued that all three components are necessary to define empathy truly. In other words, empathy can be defined as the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experience and emotions. Having the capacity to understand or feel another emotion and therefore act or react accordingly.

Cultivating young minds to embrace empathy

The sole purpose of this study is to recreate what digital citizenship lessons can look like when empathy is a part of the experiences and allowing the students to be a part of the design process. Digital citizenship programs are consistently redesigned with the same topics, yet, we now see the impact of Blended Learning and its effect on the meaning of lessons. Every one of their nine elements addresses different perspectives on safety, security, respect, civility, privacy, and effective, productive, and creative use of digital technologies. Digital Etiquette, for example, not only covers inappropriate use but also encompasses effective ways to write an email (is “reply all” always necessary?), respect content shared in confidence by others and addressing authority figures in different online formats (Sklar, Alissa p.40)

Rapid advances in technology have resulted in the need for schools to cultivate a variety of skills to ensure students are able to excel in a changing world. The Internet has revolutionized the way that material is accessed, leading researchers to claim digital literacy as an essential 21st-century competency (Voogt et al., 2013).

Dialogue-oriented activities are pedagogically effective for developing general reasoning skills (Wegerif, Mercer & Dawes, 1999), and reasoning skills related to online inquiry in particular (Knight and Mercer, 2015). However, productive dialogue is not guaranteed when students work collaboratively (Häkkinen and Mäkitalo-Siegl, 2007). Students often require support and scaffolding to be deliberate and explore ideas effectively (Mercer et al., 2004).

Dialogue serves several purposes during educational tasks: exchanging information and strategies, critiquing and building on ideas, enhancing explicit awareness of metacognitive strategies, and becoming aware that others have different experiences and views (Hicks, 1996; Mercer, 2013).

The educational activity provided an environment where the target language could be used several times naturally. This approach was shown to aid an individual’s ability to use the target vocabulary unaided at a later date, implying a better understanding of key concepts behind the terms (Moore and Schleppegrell, 2014).

How will the target audience cultivate the importance of having empathy and understanding the behaviors they use will affect digital citizenship? Research shows that empathy can be foster when students have immersed themselves in certain practices. Developed to counter the more typical, opaquely worded policies in most schools, Trafalgar asked their students to rewrite it in their own words (as in, “Always think about the effects your words might have before you post. Imagine the person’s face when they read it” (Trafalgar, 2017). The resulting draft was circulated for feedback from teachers, school staff, and parents; each incoming class of secondary one students is invited to edit and offer feedback. It is a living document, 41 created by students, for students, which encourages both critical thinkings in its development and buy-in from students who become de facto ambassadors among their peers for responsible behavior online. Any arrangement that draws kids into the conversation about best practices is likely to be more effective if it is simultaneously regarded as an opportunity for learning and communication (Sklar, Alissa p.40-41).

The ultimate plan is to create a significant learning environment where students study what empathy looks like and then design videos and discussion platforms to cultivate empathy in a digital environment. The students will eventually have a forum to peer coach, and then hold digital platforms to be active in assuring that the embracing of empathy is understood.

We can significantly expand upon the concept of digital citizenship and teach it to our students. The action we are hoping to foster should become natural.

The first particular point to be considered when design an educational program is to be sure about the need for a new program or the need for a revision of the current program. In order to specify this, as Demirel (2015) suggests, the current program should be overviewed in detail to determine how much it responds to the needs of the individuals and the community. Morally we find that studies can prove that, in addition to social skill development, empathy is used to promote moral development in students. Kohlberg (1969) saw empathy and moral development as relational, and some studies have used the two ideas to support one another in claims of importance (Carlozzi, Gaa, & Liberman, 1983; Sezen-Balcikanli, 2009).

What is the question and answer for the research?  

To what extent does cultivating empathy within their online project-based learning experiences carry out a change to regulate their moral responsibility in a digital environment? Empathy is about people and a deep understanding of their expectations and needs. The focus of empathy is to develop the consideration of other people’s points of view. By empathy and going underneath the surface, sometimes, the actual needs are beyond the basic request. Thus, empathy is crucial to find and realize what is really going on. By insights and observations, we can interpret what they say and do to what they actually think and feel (Desai & Nemade, 2016). Therefore, it is important to identify the differences in perspectives to focus only on relevant information. Being empathetic to the affected people require thorough observation and analysis to define the actual problems.

Empathy is the core characteristic of design thinking to explore human-driven innovation (Efeoglu et al., 2013). Design thinking is about asking the correct questions and elaborate interpretation and assumptions. Using contextual inquiry and deep understanding, design thinkers learn how to observe, listen, and develop empathetic insights that lead to human-centered ways of solving problems (Carroll, 2015). Design thinking is a human-centered innovation process that provides a sound basis for divergent problem-solving. The process which has energized business and entrepreneurship is being applied to primary and secondary school level for consideration. Because of its crucial emphasis on people’s needs is through empathy, design thinking focuses on the curriculum and assessment, mainly to solve real-world problems. Students engage in hands-on projects that focus on building empathy, suggesting ideation, and encouraging active problem solving (Lor, 2017). Students need to know how to be empathetic towards others, understand problems, and generate creative solutions. They also need to engage people in the empathy stage of the design thinking process. They look, listen, and communicate with people about what they are doing, ask questions, and reflect on what they see. The understanding and observation in design thinking help students develop a sense of empathy and feel their anxiety (Carroll et al., 2010). Understanding that one has to capture the heart for the brain to follow. It is significant, especially when working to improve middle school age students and their already emotional selves.

When we allow students to help design their learning experience, they cultivate within themselves, empathy.

Project-based learning needs the students to establish the problem from the start, while problem-based learning needs the students to follow accepted principles to solve the clearly defined problem (Spencer, 2018). Integrating empathy in project-based learning is where students perform observation and interview sessions to the target user to gain a deep understanding of the project.  

It is the roots of constructivism, which can be found in the Dewey theory of experiential learning (Dewey, 1986). Dewey proposes that learning truly occurs when education incorporates and utilizes with experiences (Miettinen, 2000). Project-based learning is a sort of inquiry-based learning and agreed by the idea that knowledge is formed by the learner himself and continuously grown based on previous experiences (Hutchison, 2016). 

The practice of having empathy is recognized in many Title I schools as a key to active learning. Teaching students to understand someone else and showing concern by the actions they display is a powerful message. In accordance with the vision of the Malaysian Minister of Education, he outlined three core values to be implemented and nurturing the culture of happiness, love, and mutual respect in schools to create fun and positive learning environment (Tharanya Arumugam, 2018). It coincides with the objectives of empathy, where students need to embrace differences and reject hatred or prejudice among each other. Empathy skill can be developed and cultivated by discussing issues of social justice and demonstrate their concern and a more in-depth understanding of some of the more marginalized members in their own society (Jamieson, 2015). Cultivating empathy among students has been connected to some desired outcomes, such as positive peer relationships and better communication and collaboration skills. The teacher needs to express empathy and how it can influence a variety of contexts and interactions.Thus, nurturing students’ well-being and promoting a positive, empathic culture can make classrooms and schools a safe place for children. Using empathy as part of students’ social skills, they will learn to understand each other, as well as helps them to build a connection based on positive relationships of trust. (Owen, 2015).So is it safe to say that it is important to teach students to be more conscious of others’ experiences before giving a negative response?

Empathy can cultivate patience and tolerance among students and may even decrease the number of bullying cases in schools. When we put ourselves in other people’s shoes, we become more sensitive to what that person is really experiencing and would less likely to tease or bully them (Fisher, 2016).

The program also successfully cultivating positive connections among peers instead of bullies or aggressive actions towards others (Gordon & Green, 2008). Students with higher levels of empathy are proved to be more productive in cooperative learning and work environments. (Borba, 2016; Lee et al., 2018).

To develop empathy with users, students need to be able to engage, listen, and understand the views of other people, which means involving actual people in their projects. Empathy will deepen students’ understanding of people with different backgrounds, languages, races, and cultures from their own. By acquiring insights into user’s emotions, expectations, and fears, students would be able to provide critical issues and inspiration to create more focused and functional outcomes”. (McDonagh & Thomas, 2010).

The mixed research design

This literature research is a mixed method of qualitative, quantitative data. The type of innovation plan I have designed calls for several styles of questioning. To truly get the desired results, questions will have to be fluid, meaning changing consistently. I have to understand that getting potential value out of this research is vital. I cannot expect only positive results. Understanding that failure and readjustment will happen in research. My research does favor more of a digging deep into the entire approach. Reading from the book titled Action Research Improving Schools and Empowering Education 5th edition. Qualitative research questions tend to be open-ended, practitioner-researchers sometimes have difficulty identifying ahead of time the exact method they will use (Leedy & Ormrod, 2005). We also read that when the study has is continued, and the questions can become more focused.

So, I feel my research is both methods, Qualitative Research, and Quantitative Research. The real benefit lies in the fact that the consideration of both types of data provides a better understanding of the research problem than either type of data alone (Creswell, 2005). Triangulation Mixed Methods Design allows for equal emphasis. This method will enable the study to combine the strengths of both data collection. This appropriate design is situations where the practitioner-researcher values both types of data equally and treats them as such, so that the two can be “merged,” and that the results of all analyses are used simultaneously to understand the research problem (Creswell, 2005). Data collection is the key to understanding why the results happen. A need must be established. Needs analysis is a crucial stage in developing programs to determine any shortages (Long, 2005). There are various definitions of “needs analysis” in literature. For Berwick (1989) and Şahin (2006), needs are the gap between the current situation and future expectations. Pratt (1980) and Stufflebeam, McCormick, Brinkerhoff, and Nelson (1985) define “needs analysis” as a set of procedures specifying and evaluating needs and determining the most important ones among them. Specifying needs help to collect information necessary for learning experiences and to determine the level of program targets in meeting actual needs. In this respect, Demirel (2015) emphasizes the importance of specifying individual, social, and subject-related needs before design educational programs. A fantastic research study from the International Journal of Educational Technologies completed and published a study that will make a positive influence on the innovation plan that I am currently working to implement. Please take a closer look at

Different teaching programs are used in technology and design courses across the world. Many countries (England, Finland, Australia, Greece, Germany, Spain, South Korea, and Hong Kong, USA) across the globe now require that educators teaching computing, coding, integrating with other courses from the earliest year’s students enter school (Rich, Browning, Perkins, et al. 2018; Toikkanen & Leinonen 2017). Akbaş (2003), Karaağaçlı and Mahiroğlu (2005) stated in their studies that technology education programs, designed to meet the needs of the communities and individuals, aim to develop learners’ scientific thinking skills, and for this reason technology programs should develop with constructivism. A quantitative questionnaire will be essential to build a knowledge base. Expectation will be established when the research understand where the students are, emotionally.

The findings in Kocabatmaz’s study (2011) using information technologies in class, technical drawings, students’ will in making designs as they wish, and using technological tools are similar to the findings in this research. In a study by Tulukçu (2017), the findings show that technology and design teachers had positive attitudes towards computer-supported teaching styles, developing social skills, renewing teaching programs parallel to technological developments, and developing transfer skills.

Cheruvu (2014) stressed that teachers could raise everlasting success by collecting systematic information to specify students’ perceptions and needs. It is thought that the results of this research aiming to determine the student needs of technology and design courses may have some improvements in program development studies and policymakers in education.

Mercer et al. (2007) proposed that, when using digital platforms to support collaborative learning, it is important that software features provide opportunities to have productive discussions. A qualitative exploration of the transcript and video provided examples where the digital tool features prompted productive dialogue.

Citizenship education in middle school is frequently tied to behavior management initiatives and consequently usually involves obedience to authority, compliance with rules, and learning to be polite; it rarely considers thinking critically about political issues (Westheimer, 2008). Similarly, conversations in middle school about digital citizenship tend to focus on the responsibilities of internet use and the issues of surveillance, safety, and cyberbullying. The Association for Middle-Level Education (AMLE), for example, cautions educators that while digital technologies provide essential learning opportunities, young people must be “fully informed and wise consumers of modern media” (NMSA, 2010, p. 24). One researcher’s study found, by the name of  Ito et al. (2010) concluded in their three-year ethnographic study of youth technology use that the generational identity for today’s youth is a technological one; youth are “hanging out” in digital spaces, developing knowledge, identity, and agency through the tools of participatory technology in unique and collaborative ways. 

Current work in digital citizenship has clearly demonstrated that the potential of participatory technology to contribute to youth agency and self-expression has been eroded by the challenges of cyberbullying and hostile internet interactions such as trolling, flaming, and doxing.

The environment is well documented and of understandable concern to the members of the education community interested in digital citizenship; Weinstein et al. (2015) found that youth online civic expression was significantly declining in everyday social media sites due to perceived hostile environments.


Future research will need to continue. In this ever-changing digital world, empathy is a lesson that must be incorporated into digital citizenship lessons. Understanding the true meaning of empathy and not sympathy is the stepping stone to cultivating this into our students. This path has brought about a more profound understanding of the innovation plan that action research will help my organization.

“Its fruit discloses the cultivation of a tree; so a person’s speech discloses the cultivation of his mind” (Eccl 27: 5-7).


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4 Middle Grades Review, Vol. 1, Iss. 3 [2016], Art.