Visualizing Empathy

VisualizingEmpathy is an art curriculum that uses mobile social media to engage youth in conversations about empathy through a series of missions requiring participants to create and share personal digital productions on Flickr. By sharing representations of their lives on social media, participants give voice to their identities, cultures and values.

What is #Visualizingempathy?

What is the meaning of the word empathy? How do youth represent this value and how do they apply it through ethical or moral codes in their digitally mediated interactions? How they build a common understanding of this principle through new forms of digital communication? 

 #Visualizingempathy acknowledges the role of mobile technologies in the construction of both individual and collective identities. Thus, in order to counter the phenomenon of hate speech online, our curriculum promotes positive identity construction that begins with introspection on the part of the individual and moves toward the development of a shared vision for an inclusive community.

This is achieved through a series of creative missions, where the instructor sends out a series of visual, textual and auditory prompts to participating students through a social network.  These missions require participants to create multimodal representations of themselves, friends, school, community, city, country and world. Throughout this process, students and educators will have opportunities to engage in conversations about each other’s representations online and within the classroom. These acts representation and dialogue enable students and teachers to engage in reflexive conversations about the moral and ethical codes involved in responsible digital citizenship.  

 We suggest a total of 4 to 6 weeks to achieve the learning objectives.  The learning objectives are: 

  • To foster a sense of empathy toward diverse individual and cultural perspectives. 
  • To participate in the development of moral and ethical codes for responsible digital citizenship within an educational community. 
  • To develop media literacy skills by creating and interpreting a variety of messages disseminated through social and mobile media.   
  • To build skills in expression and media communication through the use of various digital modalities. 

Lesson Plans

Lesson 1: My Identity

The starting point of activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Tumblr is often the construction of a user profile. This includes choosing a nickname, a profile image, and other personal information that we chose to represent ourselves to the world. The construction our virtual identity becomes the basis of our interactions with online communities. The first lesson provides the opportunity to consciously reflect on the choices we make in constructing these virtual identities.   

 Lesson Objectives: 

  • Develop an online profile by choosing an image, nickname, etc. 
  • Become a member in a private group in a social media network by connecting to peers. 
  • Establish a set of protocols for respectful behavior within this online network. 
  • Identify any concerns shared among members of this digital community. 

  Example Missions: 

Lesson 2: The Others

Within both physical and virtual spaces, one’s identity is always entangled within the identities of others. Our identity is partly formed by the collective groups to which we belong such as family, friends, classmates and peers. We are also influenced by the shared physical and virtual spaces we inhabit every day. In this lesson, we consider the criteria we use to include and exclude others, and also how we can co-exist ethically in shared spaces with others who are not part of our social circles. This lesson provides the platform to explicitly think about responsible digital citizenship. 

 Lesson Objectives: 

  • To identify behaviours and attitudes the influence inclusion and exclusion of people within one’s peer group.  
  • Identify the attitudes that favour the inclusion and integration of difference. 
  • Participate in discussions about values and codes of conduct as global citizens. 
  • Implement behaviours that encourage the development of common values within social networks. 

Example Missions: 

Lesson 3: Shared Vision

Conflicts among different ideologies are a major threat to peace, quality of life and well-being of future generations. The ability to share and communicate properly is a key to a harmonious environment for all. Digital technologies enable us to communicate more easily than ever with those outside our immediate reach. Our communication and our actions online now have concrete repercussions on the future of our world. 

 Lesson Objectives: 

  • Communicate a shared vision of cooperation and collaboration 
  • Offer creative and practical solutions to issues that have roots in conflicts of differences. 
  • Develop a proactive posture in establishing a common vision. 

 Example Missions:


Juan Carlos Castro PhD

Juan Carlos Castro is Associate Professor and Chair of the department of Art Education, and Undergraduate Programs Advisor at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His current research examines how mobile media coupled with visual creative production networks knowledge in urban environments to create educational and civic engagement with teens and young adults. 

Martin Lalonde PhD

Martin Lalonde is a professor in Art Education at the School of Visual and Media Arts in Université du Québec à Montréal. His research focuses on the impact of mobile digital technologies on teaching and learning, on the intersection of arts education and social work with at-risk populations, and on informal creative practices in visual and media among young people.

Ehsan Akbari PhD

Ehsan Akbari is a doctoral student in Art Education specializing in sound art, mobile media, new media education, and complexity theories of learning.