‘Put yourself in my shoes’: an active learning exercise for the instruction of diversity

Dr George Kyparissiadis


Diverse hands on table

What is the idea?

“Put yourself in my shoes” is an active learning exercise designed to help students appreciate the dimensions of diversity and the value of inclusive representation by adopting perspectives through the eyes of diverse audiences. The exercise takes students through the schema of identity, diversity, and representation on media, and asks them to consider the issue through the perspective of people that are underrepresented in contemporary texts, such as advertising. In the context of formative assessment, students select an advertisement (print or video) that portrays social groups and models of different abilities, genders, ethnic identities, etc. They are then asked to put themselves in the shoes of the person being represented in the ad, and to write in the first person how they feel seeing themselves in an advertisement. The purpose of the exercise is to encourage students to develop empathy and appreciation for diversity and inclusion.

Why this idea?

It has been shown that formative assessment can improve student learning in the classroom (Bubb et al., 2013). This exercise has been designed as an ungraded take-home assignment, that allows students to engage fully with the material and purpose of the exercise at their own pace. The exercise consists of a research component, role playing, and in-class discussions, around the students’ contribution as well as contemporary perspectives on diversity.

The course material stems from the principles of the Cultivation Theory, which posits that the content we consume through media affects our perception of the world. Audiences develop impressions and biases for different social groups, based on the portrayal, or lack thereof, of these groups on media such as television, social media and outdoor advertising. The representation of diversity in media raises, therefore, ethical, legal and social considerations that can be assessed by appraising the situation and appreciating the value of inclusion and appropriate representation (Cluley, 2017, Mosharafa, 2015). The exercise encourages students to revisit their own preconceptions around specific identities, and to switch perspectives with them. Their outlook is then shared with their colleagues through an online blog as well as an in-class presentation of their experience. Students are encouraged to comment on each other’s contribution, allowing for the discovering of new identities, which may even be represented in class. This practice stimulates empathy, team spirit and a deeper understanding of the necessity for representation and inclusion.

How could others implement this idea?

The exercise ‘Put yourself in my shoes’ was originally designed as a formative assessment in a course on Advertising Theories, but can be adapted for different Liberal Arts and Sciences courses. The implementation presented below regards the exercise in advertising.

Background Discussion

As mentioned above, the exercise is based on the premise of Cultivation Theory, and the concepts of identity and appropriate representation. Lectures and discussion in the classroom take students through these notions, with a focus on advertising, and its contribution to the building of stereotypes around gender, age, abilities, ethnicities, sexual preference, among audiences for the past decades.


Following the in-class discourse, students are given the instructions below:

Blackboard Blog: Cultivation Theory

As discussed in class, the majority of models in advertising tend to comply with the stereotypic white, able-bodied, young, heterosexual person. Men tend to be strong and independent, women tend to be useful in the house, and in need of protection. Your task is to find an advertisement that portrays models of appearance or behaviour that do not comply with the mainstream stereotype.

For this advertisement, answer in a couple of sentences the following questions:

    • Why do you think this ad is important?
    • Assume you are a member of the group represented in the ad. How do you feel seeing it? Write your statement in the first person.

Students are asked to submit their responses on a Blackboard blog, and are encouraged to review and comment upon the previous entries. Once the responses are up, each student shares in class the advertisement they have selected. The discussion that follows is key in ensuring that students benefit from the diverse perspectives and understand the significance and value of inclusion in advertising, as well as the larger societal context. The focus of the discussion should lie primarily on the learnings of the exercise. Indicative questions and areas for discussion can be:

  • How do media contribute in the forming of our identities?
  • What is the value of representation?
  • What is the responsibility of media and communication organisations towards society?
  • What role should regulatory bodies play in this process?

Transferability to different contexts

The objective of the exercise is to help students appreciate the value of representation of different identities and voices, specifically through advertising. However, it can apply easily to other fields, such as music, art, literature, cinema or other commercial media content, depending on the course area and material.

A consideration for instructors is the fact that such reflective exercises may touch upon sensitive, or even vulnerable, aspects of identity that students may find too personal. The conducting of the exercise relies on empathy, which can be defined as “understanding another person’s experience by imagining oneself in that other person’s situation” (Baumeister & Vohs, 2007, p. 297-298) both on the part of the students, as well as the instructor. This notion should be introduced at the beginning of the session, to set the framework and the spirit in which individual contributions should be developed and viewed.

On the part of the instructor, empathy also indicates an effort to “deeply understand students’ personal and social situations, to feel care and concern in response to students’ positive and negative emotions, and to respond compassionately without losing the focus on student learning” (Meyers et al, 2019, p. 160). With this in mind, it is important to be alert for any potential discomfort among the students, and direct the conversation back to the main topic, using for example, the indicative questions listed above of the exercise is the appreciation of different identities and voices, through their representation in advertising. However, it can apply easily to other contexts, such as music, art, literature, cinema or commercial media content, depending on the course topic.

Regarding student acceptance, below are a couple of considerations:

Some students may see this exercise as an opportunity to bring their own identity to the forefront of the discourse, particularly if they belong in a socially mis- or under-represented group. I believe this should be encouraged, and also used as a prompt for further discussion in class.

In my experience, there were no incidents of students challenging the purpose or learning of this exercise, and refusing to contribute or cooperate. However, such resistance is likely and should be anticipated. My suggestion would be to define the aspects of diversity that will be discussed (e.g. gender, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc) depending on cultural codes and societal dogmas shared among students.

Links to tools and resources

Examples of advertisements addressing Diversity and Inclusion


Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Empathy. In R. F. Baumeister & K. D. Vos (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Social Psychology Volume 1 (pp. 297-298). SAGE Publications, Inc. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781412956253.n179

Bubb, D. K., Schraw, G., James, D. E., Brents, B. G., Kaalberg, K. F., Marchand, G. C., Amy, P., & Cammett, A. (2013). Making the case for formative assessment: How it improves student engagement and faculty summative course evaluations. Assessment Update, 25(3), 8–12.

Cluley, R. (2017). Essentials of Advertising. Kogan Page Limited

Meyers, S., Rowell, K., Wells, M., & Smith, B. C. (2019). Teacher empathy: A model of empathy for teaching for student success. College Teaching, 67(3), 160–168. https://doi.org/10.1080/87567555.2019.1579699

Mosharafa, E. (2015). All you need to know about: The cultivation theory. Global Journal of Human-Social Science, 15(8).

Image Attribution

Five human hands by Clay Banks is used under Unsplash Licence

About the author

Dr George Kyparissiadis teaches marketing and communications at the American College of Greece, and is the Program Coordinator for the MA in Advertising Communications. His academic and research interests focus on the areas of gender, identity, representation and diversity, as well as visual communications, particularly in the area of advertising.


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100 Ideas for Active Learning Copyright © 2022 by Dr George Kyparissiadis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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