Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date





electrical engineering, linear circuits, educational methods, engineering students, Dordt College, ASEE


There are various ways to classify academic studies. One might make a “two cultures” division, separating academic studies into the humanities and sciences. Or one might have three divisions: humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Or one might choose to classify academic studies along the lines of traditional academic disciplines such as theology, law, art, music, economics, social studies, languages, political studies, history, psychology, biology, physics, chemistry, math, etc. In our era of global commerce, where does engineering fit in these types of classification? What should engineers study? In a 2008 presidential debate, candidate Barack Obama said that, “Ensuring that the U.S. continues to lead the world in science and technology will be a central priority for my administration.” Candidate John McCain said that public policy ought to be based upon sound science. ( Others might say they “believe in global warming” or “evolution,” or some other topic of current interest having a rather obvious basis in science. Why is there such agreement that science should be foundational in public policy? Specifically, how does science fit into an engineering education? Scientific theories are human formulations intended to describe and predict the behavior of the natural world around us. Engineering work relies on scientific theories to be sure, but also on many other academic disciplines. To train engineering students as “renaissance people” requires that our students understand engineering as a multidisciplinary subject and a human endeavor. Any engineering course ought to help students understand the breadth and depth of engineering. This paper illustrates some examples of how this can be done for a linear circuits class. Hopefully by seeing an example, the reader can generalize the ideas to other engineering courses. The hierarchical structure of engineering subjects, and specifically, linear circuits, naturally lends itself to an illustration of how the science of linear circuits is humanly constructed. The foundation of this science can be traced back to axioms. Some specific aspects of the scientific method that can be elaborated on in the context of linear circuits are the hierarchical nature of the scientific method, the axiomatic foundation of these hierarchies, the limited scope of scientific theories and its utilitarian goals, essentially to predict the future if given enough of the right information about the past and present. In contrast, the universe does not exist in hierarchies, it is wholistic, and always has unpredictable aspects. Linear circuits are also wholistic. When constructed and actually used they have limitations and even in some cases unpredicted behaviors which the scientific theories of linear circuits do not fully explain. Such understanding of the scientific method as a human invention is essential to relating ones engineering (or science) to the culture around us, so that our work is responsive to real needs and is recognizably beneficial.


Paper presented at the 2014 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) North Midwest Section Conference held on the campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa, October 16-17, 2014.

Copyright © 2014, Douglas De Boer.