Engineering and Physics Faculty Research and Publications


Humanizing Signals and Systems: A Reflective Account

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Integrating Human Values into a Continuous-Time Signals and Systems Course A growing body of scholarship suggests that when engineering students engage purely scientific and mathematical ways of knowing, they disengage from human dimensions of engineering. Based on these findings, several have commented that interventions be made within engineering science courses to engage students in sociotechnical ways of understanding engineering concepts, thereby relating abstract and mathematical concepts to a world of people. These commentators maintain that through the engineering science courses, which dominate a typical engineering degree plan, students are coming to embody a professional identity. As students develop these engineering identities, how do we educators guide their conceptual understanding of engineering content in a way that connects with their responsibility to value people in their careers? As an early-career faculty member in a small electrical engineering program, I set out to incorporate human values and social justice in a continuous-time signals and systems class. With my program being within a faith-based, liberal arts university that explicitly aims to integrate faith and learning, I have felt institutionally supported in this endeavor. Moreover, I have been academically supported for this integration based on previous work, including strategies on incorporating social justice in a thermodynamics course. Despite such support, I have encountered multiple obstacles, along with some success, in integrating social justice into the traditional signals and systems curriculum. In this paper, I authentically and reflectively depict my journey as an engineering educator delving in the challenge of humanizing a continuous-time signals and systems class. I ground the discussion of this paper in data from frequent reflections documented by 14 students in the course, responses to a design-task scenario taken at the beginning and end of the course, along with data from a log that I regularly maintained as an instructor. Specifically, I describe the signals and systems course and how I structured content and assessment plans to create space for human values. Additionally, I critically examine how some barriers that worked against my efforts. For example, one obstacle was related to my own internal sense of conflict between two roles that I adopted in teaching the course – that of an instructor responsible for a conceptually crowded class and that of a mentor guiding students into a sociotechnical profession. Finally, I share practical strategies and lessons learned for cultivating integrative ways of thinking about engineering science concepts. In sum, the intent of this paper is to provide some practical and informed recommendations for integrating human values and social justice into an engineering science course. However, I also wish to make visible those obstacles that hinder instructors from incorporating human values in an engineering science course, even when they feel committed to doing so. By making these hindrances visible, I hope to foster conversations that support each other in promoting sociotechnical endeavors in the engineering curriculum. Note: this paper is one of four in the session, “Pushing the Boundaries of the Liberal Arts and Engineering: Integrating Social Justice in Engineering Science Courses.”


This paper was presented at the 2015 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition held June 14-17, 2015.

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American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)