At Dottke we like to say we are different by design with a huge emphasis on design. When we began the journey of transforming Dottke Alternative School into Dottke PBL, we spent countless hours interviewing current, former, and perspective students. Each of those conversations followed a similar format known as an empathy interview.
Empathy interview is a fancy term for an interview where the interviewer approaches the interviewee with little or no preconceptions around the questions posed. In the design world, we would never want to create a product or a service that does not meet the need of the end user who, in the case of Dottke, happens to be high school students and their families. Empathy interviews help to ensure that whatever form the finished design takes, it is created for the student and, in many cases, using direct student input.
When constructing questions for empathy interviews, the interviewer typically tries to create more open ended questions with concrete or simple responses. Instead of asking what a students favorite class is, they may ask the student to tell them about a time they were proud of something they did in school. A follow up to the student’s response may be something used to provide additional context. For example, if the student talks about a project they did in US History, asking them follow questions around how they felt when they got stuck or asking for more