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Is electrical engineering just rote memorization? Or am I

  1. Mar 22, 2015 #1
    For instance, I was introduced to thevenin and norton theorems about 1-2 weeks ago and it seems like we're expected to rote memorize the algorithms on solving problems. There is no proof/logic explained in different circumstances.

    For instance, we're told what these theorems are and how they work, and then essentially we're expected to memorize an algorithm to solve these problems.

    Like so:

    If we have independent sources only, then ...
    If we have dependent sources only, then ...
    If we have dependent and independent sources, then ...

    I can solve circuits following these steps, but is seems rather rote memorized to me. I'm not sure if it is just supposed to be like this, or if the fault lies with me

    So I've just been doing problems and solving circuits; Am I expected to know the theory behind why we do different things when we encounter any of the three possibilities? Or should I just rote memorize it?
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2015
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 22, 2015 #2


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    hi x86

    rote memorization .... I had to look up that expression on google, hadn't heard of it before LOL :wink:

    aka parrot fashion learning

    a person can memorise all sorts of stuff in whatever field of interest and it may get you through a lot of situations
    BUT there is a big difference in being able just to recall and use a bunch of rules and equations
    compared to actually understanding what they mean and how they work

    That I think is the really important part

    so for sure learn the rules/equations
    BUT make sure you understand them and can manipulate them where necessary
    that's where the true understanding will come from :smile:

  4. Mar 22, 2015 #3

    jim hardy

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    We build on our successes.

    There's a reason we learn to solve problems using Thevenin and Norton.
    So for now consider each homework problem you solve as a little victory.

    In life, success is just a series of little daily victories.

    I was the sort of kid who always took things apart to see how they worked.
    So electronics was fascinating to me, it explained how everyday things work.

    This is the age of technology. We should understand our surroundings to the best of our ability.

    When you've worked enough problems it'll become automatic as riding a bicycle.

    I well remember my first day of first grade. Above the chalkboard on a huge green poster that spanned the room was the entire alphabet, both lower and upper case.
    It's a very intense memory to this day. - i said aloud : "Gosh.. How will i EVER learn all those letters?"

    By high school my attitude had changed to "It'll be fun learning this stuff."

    Get yourself some small hand tools and wire, experiment with flashlight batteries and compasses and little electric motors.

    old jim
  5. Mar 22, 2015 #4
    Yeah, I'm not really having trouble with the problems. I can solve most of them. The issue for me is the lack of vigor provided with explanations. Like, nothing is proved or explained, but rather we're supposed to just memorize algorithms.

    For instance, in Norton-Thevenin to find the resistance experienced by the terminals: If we have only independent sources, we can remove them all to find the equivalent resistance felt by these terminals (Not even sure why this works, it just does). But if we have dependent sources, we can't do this, we have to calculate the current by introducing a short. Again, no explanation as to why this works. No vigor or proof. Just, "it works, memorize it, and apply it"

    Is this what electrical engineering is? Just memorizing stuff?
  6. Mar 22, 2015 #5
    I wouldn't necessarily call this rote memorization. In physics, you have to memorize how to apply, for instance, Gauss's law to find an electric field. In higher maths, you have to memorize certain proof techniques. Even in calculus, you have to memorize the rules for taking derivatives. Every problem is different, but you'll have to use the rules you've memorized for each one.

    In your specific examples, with only independent sources, we can set the source values equal to 0 (short circuit for a voltage source and open circuit for a current source) and then imagine we're looking into the network from the terminals. The Thevenin resistance is that resistance we'd feel if we set up a voltage source across the terminals.
  7. Mar 22, 2015 #6


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    Why don't you try to understand on your own why/how it works , asking questions here if you feel stuck? Or you may look for proofs of the theorem on line, and then the same applies.
  8. Mar 22, 2015 #7
    Well, I'm only a first year engineering student. Not enough time to really think about this stuff, due to the crazy workload. I guess the proofs are out of my knowledge and I'll just stick to not doubting any statements then applying it.
  9. Mar 22, 2015 #8


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    Yea, I heard there is a big load in E.E . Maybe you can do some of your own work in the Summer?
  10. Mar 22, 2015 #9
    I normally reserve summer for fun time, I'll code and do math; but nothing related to electrical engineering. I guess I'm better off just memorizing this stuff. I can definetly apply this stuff I've memorized, so that's probably good enough.
  11. Mar 22, 2015 #10


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    Of course, I mean go casually, informally through the material; I agree you need to chill in the Summers, but you can casually go through the upcoming material, and then when you actually see it in class, it will feel more like a review. It has helped me when I have been able to do it..

    EDIT: The essential idea is that by reading ahead, you create the context in which the concepts will mak
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2015
  12. Mar 22, 2015 #11


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    Sometimes but you need a good foundation to build the patterns in your mind at a subconscious level to develop the advanced engineering reasoning process to solve real problems. Like Jim says it like riding a bike or driving a car at first. The skill you learn in the end is how to eliminate all the cruft by simplifying problems quickly to the root cause. Once you have the root cause then you can analyze it in detail with rigor find the right solution.
  13. Mar 22, 2015 #12

    jim hardy

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    nope. It's learning another language. Thevenin and Norton are to EE as analogies are to English.
  14. Mar 22, 2015 #13


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    I think this analogy may be valid, specially for you, in this post, as an EE. From what I remember, it is through repetition (and some level of questioning) that your brain separates the noise from the signal when you expose yourself to the material. So this is part of the usefulness of repetition and
    rote practice. Like others said, after you have the basics down, you can do more interesting stuff.

    There is the misconception (that I used to have myself) that creative work happens
    by just sitting around and doodling. But from the research I have read, creative work
    is feasible only when you have the basics down solid, which takes some amount of
    repetitive work at first.
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2015
  15. Mar 23, 2015 #14


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    It may be different for you, but when i was in college my professor would derive how stuff worked, then we would do some examples and use it. There derivation was never looked at again, because at the end of the day when you have a process it can be trivial to discover why it works. Sure it is important to understand it in some cases, but other times you need to take a leap of faith. I'm similar to you in that i have toruble taking the leaps of faith sometimes. Thats when i would sit down myself and figure it out, or discuss it with my professors.
  16. Mar 23, 2015 #15


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    If you have a real interest (and you should), you could buy another popular EE textbook (one or two editions older than the current offering) and sometimes refer to that. Another Author that I liked when I was a LOT younger was Forrest Mims who wrote quite a few Radio Shack tablet books. They were written on engineering graph type notebooks with rough sketches of the work. Easy to read and informative. Not sure if they are readily available, but there are some pdf s available for download.
  17. Mar 23, 2015 #16
    Eh, to be honest. I can't see myself doing electrical engineering as a hobby. I strictly do computer science or math activities as a hobby; maybe some reverse code engineering or cracking. But I do treat school as my job and give it my all during semester.
  18. Mar 24, 2015 #17
    The way to really learn the classroom material is to start applying it (when possible) outside of the classroom. Start with a breadboard, resistors, LEDS, and a digital multi-meter if you don't have those already. Make voltage/current dividers and try to build up from there. If you have open access to an oscilloscope on campus then you can do even cooler stuff (or at least verify it).

    Don't expect to see too many proofs/derivations (unless it's a heavy physics or math course like DSP, EM-fields, semiconductors etc), imo EE is more about analysis and design of systems and figuring out what to do when things don't work, oh and datasheets :P

    It sounds like you might like getting involved in research, barely any memorization there. Being a first year might be too early for EE undergrad research, though if you're good at coding then you might be able to snag a spot in your second year. If you enjoy coding, maybe look up evolvable hardware...that's a really great blend of hardware and software if you ask me. Since you like math I think you'll probably like digital signal processing and EM-fields, make sure you calculus skills are up to par.

    EE gets a lot cooler towards junior and senior year, try not to get bored with the early classes. If you nail those and master the material then upper class material will be easy.
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