Applying empathy-driven participatory research methods to higher education new degree development

Lisa Bosman (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)
Abrar Hammoud (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)
Sandhya Arumugam (Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA)

Information Discovery and Delivery

ISSN: 2398-6247

Publication date: 1 March 2019



Innovation and entrepreneurship are economic drivers promoting competition and growth among organizations throughout the world, many of which would not exist without well-established new product development processes coupled with intentional and strategic focus on research and development. New product development processes, such as the lean start-up methodology and design thinking, are well-known and thriving as a result of empirically grounded research efforts. Unfortunately, educational institutions and educational researchers, alike, are lagging when it comes to new program/degree development processes. Although the quantity of new degree offerings has increased substantially over the past several decades (in particular for multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary programs), limited research has been conducted to document key procedures associated with the creation of new degree programs. The purpose of this study is to show one approach to how students can be involved within the new program development process.


This approach uses participatory research, wherein students act as researchers and actively participate in the data collection and analysis process. Under the umbrella of participatory research, the study uses photovoice, photoelicitation and focus groups for collecting qualitative data.


Results suggest that students in one transdisciplinary studies in technology program value the following key attributes: learning style (agency and choice, active hands-on learning and real-world applications) and learning context (technology and design-focused assignments, integration of humanities and self-selected disciplines of interest).


Recommendations are provided for various higher education benefactors of the user-generated data, including administration, faculty, marketing, recruitment, advisors and the students themselves.



This paper forms part of the special section “Higher education information discovery, analytics, and dissemination”, guest edited by Mounir Kehal and Dr Justin Zhang.


Bosman, L., Hammoud, A. and Arumugam, S. (2019), "Applying empathy-driven participatory research methods to higher education new degree development", Information Discovery and Delivery, Vol. 47 No. 1, pp. 17-24.

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