Empathy in Motion: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 and wearing face masks through peers


A screenshot from each "Empathy in Motion" video.

A sample of face masks submitted by Cooper Sloan, Mechanical Engineering '22

Students provided video journals to their research peer. Some of these were somber testimonials, demonstration of putting on a mask, outings with family, and intimate conversations.

We had one student travel during the week of video journaling. She provided evidence of how she mitigated all of the risks in doing so. Audrey Sauter, Computer Science '23.

A student located in Southern California displayed some of the social behavior conducted in public spaces. Hannah Kelly, Theater '23.

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Duration: 6 weeks
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Project Brief

COVID-19 altered reality in 2020. Everyone has been, and at this very moment are still being impacted by the global pandemic. Recovery from this pandemic will last 5-10 years – despite having a vaccine. And no one really knows how this will impact the future lives of our students years after they have graduated.

INV300 FA20 Empathy, Observational Research, and Human-Centered Design focused on several wicked problems throughout the semester. This project continues the development of empathy in the innovative mindset through remote observational research methods. The outcomes of this project are poignant vignettes into the lives of ten students at the University of Portland in the midst of their first remote semester of learning. Students discovered how the pandemic has impacted their fellow peers; their livelihoods, educational experiences, psychological states, emotional states, and their strange relationships to people, places, and things.

Innovation is the practice of listening to those who are in need within an insurmountable wicked problem space and being able to articulate their story so that others might understand and empathize through you.

Learning Objectives

  1. Apply the mindset, skillset, and toolsets associated with design, creativity, and innovation in contexts of their academic and professional interest
  2. Develop techniques for building empathy and the ability to design for human interaction including user observation and participant interview techniques
  3. Demonstrate simple sketching and prototyping skills for visualizing and communicating ideas in 2D and 3D forms
  4. Demonstrate creative problem-solving within cross-disciplinary, team based environments
  5. Expand their abilities and build expertise in persuasive communication through storytelling, presentation, and other communication techniques
  6. Demonstrate ability to integrate, communicate, and collaborate successfully on project-based work for a local business and/or organization


  1. A research consent form & a remote digital journaling research plan
  2. Rough video edit of their "Empathy in Motion" 
  3. A draft of a interview script (determined by the insights gained from the digital journaling)
  4. Final video edit of "Empathy in Motion"
  5. A written report with a problem statement from the perspective of their peer


  1. AEIOU method overview
  2. Excerpt from Interviewing Users: How to Uncover Compelling Insights by Steve Portigal
  3. Tutorials on creating/editing videos using Keynote, iMovie, and Adobe Premiere
  4. LUMA interviewing worksheet


Community is a major component at the University of Portland. Many students choose the university because of the campus, the people, and the places they get to experience when in Portland. In a remote learning situation with students spanning multiple time zones, the best part about this project was the intimate collaborations created between student pairs and the connections made within the class as a whole. Students were given VIP access into the lives of their peers through the lens of COVID-19 and face masks. They were given the opportunity to discover the impact of the pandemic upon their everyday lives and their experiences with remote learning and living at home or in isolation. The 4-8 minute "Empathy in Motion" videos resulted in a "movie night" where the class joined a Zoom call to watch each video edit. If having an emotional response during the review is a success, then the project was a success. 

The course focused on developing and understanding methods and modes of building empathy. However, students continually desired to make something. It was difficult getting the students to realize that designing a research plan, designing participatory activities, and creatively using online tools to facilitate them, is just as much design, as is designing a new face mask or a poster. 

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