Measuring the impact of an interdisciplinary learning project on nursing, architecture and landscape design students' empathy

Publication Type:
Journal Article
PLoS ONE, 2019, 14 (10)
Issue Date:
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© 2019 Donnelly et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. Domestic violence and refuge services in Australia In Australia and internationally, domestic violence is a major cause of homelessness for women and children and yet provision for accommodation for this user-group is not well documented or understood. When designing emergency accommodation, the concerns, preferences, and perspectives of individuals who access refuge services must be sought in order to create spaces that are conducive to the needs of this diverse and vulnerable group. An empathic 'lens' can provide meaningful insights that can inform the design of refuge services specifically targeted at addressing these needs. This paper describes an authentic interdisciplinary learning experience for nursing, architecture and landscape students at a university in Sydney, Australia, and presents the results of a study designed to measure the impact of this initiative on participants' empathy towards women and children who access refuge services as a result of homelessness and/or domestic violence. Empathy levels were measured using the Comprehensive State Empathy Scale, a validated measurement tool. An authentic interdisciplinary learning experience The learning experience consisted of collaborative meetings with stakeholders from the refuge sector, fieldwork, individual research, exchanging ideas and problem-solving in teams. Students then developed design guides for refuges that demonstrated their emerging understanding of the specific needs and perspectives of the issues faced by women and children who had experienced violence and found themselves homeless. Pre-post Comprehensive State Empathy Scale results indicated that the empathy levels of nursing and landscape students increased and those of architecture students decreased, however, these results were not statistically significant. Building empathy in teaching and learning The significance of the results from this study include an ability to compare the changes in empathy in students working collaboratively on a project and to ascertain possible reasons for this using a validated measurement tool. As empathy is one of the strongest negative correlates of prejudice, authentic teaching and learning activities, such as the one described in this paper, have the potential to positively impact the lived experience of women and children leaving situations of domestic violence.
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