III.2.1 The 3 inovent Steps of Virtual Mirroring for Moral Behavior

To get people to behave more socially responsible it takes both the carrot and the stick. Colorado Mesa University (C.M.U.) got through the Covid pandemic much better than many other universities using the inovent process. It illustrates the power of using virtual mirroring to educate students about better social distancing behavior  and being more honest in reporting a potential Covid infection. Early in the pandemic, C.M.U.’s leadership decided to offer its students an on-campus experience in spite of the risk of clusters of Covid19 outbreaks. They collaborated with the MIT and Harvard Broad Institute to implement a sophisticated virtual mirroring system combining insight through self-management with institutional oversight. To manage the unruly students and limit their social activities, C.M.U. employed a three-pronged approach. They provided insight to the students through the Scout smartphone app developed by Professor Pardis Sabeti and her team at the Broad Institute. Each student had to track and enter their health symptoms on the Scout app every day, giving the students an early warning sign that a Covid-infection might be on the way. Every time students went to their (socially distanced) classroom teaching, showing the green light on the Scout app permitted entry, when the light was red, they were sent to Covid testing, and if the test came back positive, they had to go into quarantine.

This self-monitoring insight component was combined with an oversight component, as the sewage installations of the student dorms at C.M.U. were controlled by a wastewater monitoring system also developed at the Broad Institute. This allowed C.M.U. leadership to recognize outbreaks in dorms early, as the Covid19 virus can be traced through human feces. Frequently individual Covid19 incidence from the Scout app and Covid19 indication through the wastewater location system did not match, as students wanting to keep their social activities alive were less than honest in entering their symptoms in the Scout app. There was thus more Covid19 shown in the wastewater monitor than the Scout smartphone app was implying. Subsequently, to discover these infected students, C.M.U did blanket Covid testing in the dorms where wastewater analysis indicated Covid, in spite of the Scout apps indicators being negative. By wielding this “stick”, students who were less than honest when entering their symptoms were discovered and sent to quarantine, and larger outbreaks thus avoided.  To further reduce and ideally eliminate this irresponsible and dishonest behavior, “Operation Outbreak”, another smartphone app for increasing socially responsible behavior was deployed among the student population.  It simulated the spread of infectious diseases by randomly jumping by Bluetooth from an “infected” smartphone to the smartphone of another user close enough to “catch the disease”. This way it showed the students that socializing and getting too close to others was dangerous and educated them about more responsible socially distanced behavior. Combining these three steps lead to a socially aware and responsible student population and very low Covid19 infection rates of C.M.U. compared to other US Colleges. 

The process applied at C.M.U.  beautifully illustrates how behavior can be made more responsible and collaborative through virtual mirroring:

  1. Insight: Do a self-assessment, which was done with the Scout app at C.M.U. When doing the self-assessment, people might not be honest to themselves however, seeing themselves in a rosier light. More generally, this means tracking individual communication behavior, to understand how the individual communicates with others. The individuals also assess their moral values, personality, and attitudes to risk. This will tell them more clearly who they are in their own eyes.
  2. Oversight: Monitor the true behavior to identify cheaters, such as with the wastewater monitoring system at C.M.U. This gives an organization an overview over its communication structure. The goal is to create a social landscape mapping the lay of the land within the organization and in interaction with the outside world. This overview map will assist the organization’s leaders to improve productivity, creativity, and satisfaction of the organization’s members.
  3. Entanglement: Show individuals the impact of their behavior in a safe environment, such as with the contagion spreading modeling app given to the C.M.U. students. This means comparing their own morals, personality characteristics, and communication behavior with others and adjusting their conduct with regards to socially desirable behavior, increasing humility and empathy, and reducing egocentrism and narcissism.

These three steps, giving them insight into their communication behavior, providing oversight of negative behavior, and supporting entanglement by making them more empathic will change people towards more collaborative and socially responsible behavior. 


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