Engineering student perceptions of social justice in a feedback control systems course

Jon A. Leydens, Kathryn E. Johnson, Barbara M. Moskal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Although engineering practice occurs in social contexts, such contexts often remain obscure in engineering education. Since engineering sciences courses are crucial in shaping engineering students' knowledge and conceptions of problem-solving in engineering, students in both an augmented and a traditional section of a feedback control systems course were interviewed to explore perceptions of the social justice dimensions of engineering. Purpose: This study sought to understand student perceptions of social justice in the context of control systems courses. Design/Method: This study used a qualitative, case study methodology. Inductive analysis was used to analyze focus groups and interviews conducted over 3 years. Findings: Through inductive analysis, we identified three primary interrelated domains: (1) varied descriptions of social justice emerged, (2) diverse perceptions surfaced on how the social and technical dimensions of engineering problems interrelate, and (3) students' conceptions of engineers yielded insight into their perspectives on social justice. Conclusions: That students did not vary substantively in perceptions of social justice across course sections suggests that prior knowledge of social justice shaped student perceptions. The findings also indicate that what students value shapes what they are learning and that student perceptions were informed by students' understanding of ethics and of engineering ideologies. These findings imply a need for distributed curricular integration of social justice concepts and for presenting social justice in the context of engineering problem-solving. Such presentation could reinforce sociotechnical considerations inherent in engineering practice, clearly rendering visible inherent social justice considerations in engineering problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-749
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2021


  • electrical engineering
  • feedback control systems
  • mechanical engineering
  • social justice
  • student perceptions


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