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Reflections on the Integration of Social Justice Concepts into an Introductory Control Systems Course (Work in Progress)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session I

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NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Kathryn Johnson Colorado School of Mines Orcid 16x16

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Kathryn Johnson is an Associate Professor at the Colorado School of Mines in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and is jointly appointed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s National Wind Technology Center. In the fall 2011, she was a visiting researcher at Aalborg University in Denmark, where she collaborated on wind turbine control research and experienced Aalborg’s Problem-Based Learning method. She has researched wind turbine control systems since 2002, with numerous projects related to reducing turbine loads and increasing energy capture. She has applied experiential learning techniques in several wind energy and control systems classes and began engineering education research related to social justice in control systems engineering in fall 2014.

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Jon A. Leydens Colorado School of Mines

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Jon A. Leydens is an associate professor in the Division of Liberal Arts and International Studies at the Colorado School of Mines, USA, where he has been since 1997. Research and teaching interests include communication, social justice, and engineering education. Dr. Leydens is co-author of Engineering and Sustainable Community Development (Morgan and Claypool, 2010) and editor of Sociotechnical Communication in Engineering (Routledge, 2014). Dr. Leydens won the James F. Lufkin Award for the best conference paper—on the intersections between professional communication research and social justice—at the 2012 International Professional Communication Conference. In 2015, he won the Ronald S. Blicq Award for Distinction in Technical Communication Education from the Professional Communication Society of the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). His current research focuses on rendering visible and integrating the social justice dimensions inherent in three components of the engineering curriculum—in engineering sciences, engineering design, and humanities and social science courses. That research, conducted with co-author Juan C. Lucena, will culminate in Engineering Justice: Transforming Engineering Education and Practice (Wiley-IEEE Press, 2017).

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Barbara M. Moskal Colorado School of Mines

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Barbara Moskal is a professor of Applied Mathematics and Statistics and the Director of the Trefny Institute for Educational Innovation at the Colorado School of Mines. She is also a Senior Associate Editor for the Journal of Engineering Education.

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Reflections on the Integration of Social Justice Concepts into an Introductory Control Systems Course (Work in Progress)

In general, sustainability includes three cornerstone concepts: people/ethics, profit/economy and planet/environment, yet the full triad is frequently left out of the engineering curriculum. The first of these concepts, which addresses the human and ethical elements, probably receives the least instructional attention when compared to the other two. By not exposing students to the social dimensions inherent in engineering, we risk the development of engineering professionals who do not consider the needs of the individuals, communities, or societies impacted by engineering designs. Additionally, engineering faculty are not traditionally trained to instruct their students with regard to the social dimensions of their respective fields. The proposed paper presents an auto-ethnography of one faculty member’s experiences in revising a control systems course to include inherent social justice considerations.

A key motivation for this paper is the reflective account in Huff (2015). Based on this work, it is clear that faculty need resources and examples as they embed social justice or other educational innovations into the engineering curriculum. Matusovich et al. (2014) has further argued that faculty motivation provides both an opportunity and a barrier to improving engineering education. The proposed paper is designed to provide a concrete example that motivates other faculty to exchange detailed accounts regarding the process of curriculum innovation by modeling a critical reflection on educational practice.

This paper is based on the lived experiences of a faculty member during the Fall of 2014 and 2015 semesters, conceived while integrating relevant social justice dimensions in two sections of a control systems courses (see: BLIND). That faculty member worked with a research team of other faculty and students to integrate social justice concepts, and to collaboratively analyze survey, focus group, and interview data reported in (BLIND). Student responses from the Fall 2014 iteration, discussed in BLIND, influenced significant revisions to the Fall 2015 iteration. The proposed paper will provide a clear definition of social justice and track the activities and critical reflections of the faculty member during and across both iterations. This story is told from the perspective of the professor. The paper will illustrate numerous challenges, including student pushback and the struggle to balance content. Opportunities also surfaced, including insightful and eager conversations between students and faculty and student insights on learning control systems via a sociotechnical rather than just technical approach. From the perspective of the faculty member, teaching this course was a form of rewarding professional development. For the students, it was a learning opportunity in terms of learning control systems content, in rendering visible the (previously obscure) social justice dimensions of that content, and in facilitating “real world” understanding of control systems.


Huff, James, “Humanizing Signals and Systems: A Reflective Account,” Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference and Exhibition, Seattle, WA, 2015. Matusovich, Holly, Marie Paretti, Lisa McNair, and Cory Hixson, “Faculty motivation: A gateway to transforming engineering education,” Journal of Engineering Education, 103(2), 2014, pp. 302-330.

Johnson, K., & Leydens, J. A., & Moskal, B. M. (2016, June), Reflections on the Integration of Social Justice Concepts into an Introductory Control Systems Course (Work in Progress) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26068

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