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Humanizing Signals and Systems: A Reflective Account

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2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Integrating Social Justice in Engineering Science Courses

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society and Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.866.1 - 26.866.15



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Paper Authors


James L. Huff Harding University Orcid 16x16

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James Huff is an assistant professor of engineering at Harding University, where he primarily teaches multidisciplinary engineering design and electrical engineering. His research interests are aligned with how engineering students develop in their career identity while also developing as whole persons. James received his Ph.D. in engineering education and his his M.S. in electrical and computer engineering, both from Purdue University. He received his bachelor's in computer engineering at Harding University.

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

Huff, J. L. (2015, June), Humanizing Signals and Systems: A Reflective Account Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24203

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