Education Opinion

Using Snapchat to Develop Empathy in a Technology-Driven World

By Beth Holland — February 05, 2016 6 min read
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I’m grateful for this guest post from Sabba Quidwai (@AskMsQ) who currently serves as the Director of Innovative Learning for the University of Southern California - Keck School of Medicine where she works with faculty to create innovative learning experiences for students. Sabba also works with us as an instructor at EdTechTeacher.

This year, as leaders from all industries gathered together for the 2016 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a common theme ran across many conversations: “Will the rise of technology lead us toward promise or peril?

In a conversation on, “The Future of Growth: Technology-Driven, Human Centered,” Marc Benioff, CEO of SalesForce, highlighted the importance of leadership; and Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, discussed the importance of developing empathy for people in all parts of the world. Through empathy and leadership, these leaders stressed that we can move towards promise.

As we look forward to the challenges and opportunities of 2016, this year brings with it an opportunity to embrace the global citizens of the word as one. While we have many hurdles to overcome, each time a horrific or tragic event unfolded in the past year, there was one app in particular that - time and time again - gave me hope for how we can strengthen the respect between people across the globe and become more culturally competent. This app has been Snapchat.

Snapchat allows users to share images and videos within a 24-hour period. After which, unless you save them, are deleted from your feed. Users can share these posts privately with people whom they have added, or they can post them to My Story, allowing followers to view all posts. Many educators will remember the controversies that arose when Snapchat was first released in regards to inappropriate images being shared and how they could be captured regardless of the time limit that the creator set on the post. Snapchat, however, has done an incredible job of redefining who they are, what they mean, and the possibilities that they can bring to allow us to be more human-centered in a technology-driven world.

Erik Brynjolffson, a panelist alongside Benioff and Burrow at the World Economic Forum said,

“When you see growing inequality, it is a sign that we are not doing education right. The first Nobel Prize winner of economics said, ‘inequality is a result of the race between technology and education.’ Education must be reinvented.”

Snapchat does not immediately strike people as being an “educational app” to help enhance and develop the skills that we strive to teach in schools. However, it brings with it tremendous possibilities for us in the field of education, especially when it comes to telling our story and developing empathy. These are the moments when we must look to decide whether we will shape the tools that technology brings, or allow the technology to shape us.

Snapchat as a Tool for Empathy

We often hear how we live in an “innovation economy,” where people must act as creative problem solvers, therefore making this a primary skill to give today’s learners. After sifting through numerous approaches to problem solving, I’ve found the design-thinking framework to be the most effective because it asks the user to begin with developing a sense of empathy. Oftentimes, when we approach problems, we bring to the table our own assumptions about why things are not being done the way they are “supposed to.”

Beginning with empathy requires users to take a step back and approach a problem from the perspective of others. Each day, Snapchat features a different city; and as I watch the snaps that people are posting, I am constantly reminded of my own biases, my own stereotypes, and my own lack of knowledge about many people and places. A media outlet or corporation does not curate these moments, making it a unique experience. Rather, Snaps come from local people telling the story of who they are, what they do, and what the day-to-day looks like. At the end of the day, when I have finished watching an entire Snapchat story, I have a deeper appreciation for humanity; but above all, I always leave with the same thought, “Wow, they are just like us.”

Imagine asking students to watch the Snapchat story featuring the city of the day and respond to the visible thinking routine, “I used to think.... But now I think...” Consider the discussions that could take place as we come to a self-realization about the depth of people around the world and what it means to be a global citizen. That moment of self-assessment, where you realize what you used to think and what you now have learned, truly leaves you feeling more cautious about the biases you develop towards people and places with which you are not familiar.

In addition to highlighting cities around the world, when major events are happening, Snapchat allows all users in that location to post to the general story. Once again, Snapchat is empowering people to tell the story of who they are and what they are doing to viewers across the globe. These events include sporting, religious, and cultural occasions. As you begin each day with your students, consider opening with, “What’s happening in the world today?” If you have never heard of the place or event before, you can swipe up on any image or video to “explore,” allowing all of us to enhance and develop our skills in geography, history, and culture.

Snapchat allows users to post stories that are shared with a global audience, however, it also allows news-outlets to create Snapchat stories. This brings up an excellent opportunity to have students examine the differences in content created by news outlets and content created by the people on the ground presenting an excellent way to look at the difference in sources and how they shape the stories we hear. The use of graphics and text to spark curiosity about events can also lead students to learn more or comment on the story and share with their groups.

Snapchat as a Tool to Tell Your Story

This past summer, I attended the Apple Distinguished Educators Institute where one of the highlights was the art of storytelling. Each Snapchat user has the opportunity to create their “story of the day,” termed My Story. This provides an excellent opportunity to show students how they can share their story while also delving into topics about digital citizenship and social media. Telling your story should not just be limited to students. Educators can use this as a way to share the story of their classroom, and administrators can tell the story of their school, allowing parents and community members to have an inside look into their learning community.

Thoughtful conversations centered on why we share what we do and how this tells the story of us are powerful conversations that not only allow students to have a deeper understanding of what it means to have empathy but also how the stories we share may ultimately shape how others come to understand us. As we have so often heard, “if we do not tell our own story, someone else will.”

What if this year marked the year that we began to truly embrace people all over the world as global citizens? What if this year we resolved to deepen our sense of empathy and commitment to sharing our stories with people across the globe so that together we can come together to learn and share with one another? What if this year we embrace the vision that we heard at the World Economic Forum of moving toward a technology-driven world that is truly human-centered.

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.