Skipping the fundamentals, a modern problem?

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
8,973
I was going to reply to an active thread with the quote below but I thought better of it and decided to put it here for comments from you, and expand it just a little.

"I feel compelled to make a tangential but not unrelated comment on the title of this thread.

"So many times we find a basic misunderstanding of the nature of the relationship of voltage to current, that is to say, power. In spite of knowing there was an optocoupler involved in the circuit that could influence the voltage—what could be considered advanced knowledge—the TS' initial request was physically impossible and it should have been obvious to him that was the case since W=VA is certainly very basic.

"I hasten to add this is not a knock against the TS, not at all. It is very common to make this mistake but I wonder how it can co-exist with the more advanced ideas like the opto feedback circuit. Wait, let me restate that, I do understand how it comes about, people aren't taught the basics properly. In may cases it seems to the student to be an exercise in memorization and not a foundational element of their electronics education.

So, I wonder how it is that instructors don't develop that intuitive sense of the fundamental building blocks in their students."

The "modern problem" part is my speculation on the etiology of it. I think that in the past, people learned from books, from mentors, and from instructors in a linear and progressive way. Things were taught as building blocks with advanced concepts built from the basic ones.

In addition, people could make some plan to have a narrow focus on something (e.g.: radio electronics, telephone systems, analog computers, &c.) when they started out. Of course there is overlap among those but the overlap is in common, fundamental things like the basic formulas or Ohm's Law and such at the very bottom, and then progressively more complex things like filters and power circuits built up until the areas diverge into separate disciplines.

It's not that this isn't true of specializations today, but I think there is a much more prevalent idea that the majority of people, who will be able to do good and productive work, can rely on the relatively few specialists and include modules to take advantage of them. In the past I don't think it was possible for someone to succeed without internalizing the fundamentals but today it seems many people who are doing "electronics" are largely acting as systems integrators and focus on understanding the "glue", not the things they are gluing together with it.

I think this could also be exacerbated by the wonderful proliferation of information on the web which is a great boon to everyone but has the quality of being able to be consumed as a smörgåsbord instead of a full course meal the way education and books were consumed in the past. I will push the analogy to the breaking point by adding that there are even a large number of very effective serving suggestions in the form of how-to pages that give the reader a menu completely avoiding some if the key nutrients in the full meal.

In any case, the seems to be a problem to the extent there is more and more reliance on a diminishing percentage of people creating the building blocks being glued together. In the past, someone might have been able to, say, in an emergency cobble together a radio from random parts of other things not meant to be one while today the internals of the heavily SMT-based devices all around us might as well be magic as far as most people, including those who "build" things, are concerned.

Has the world of technology just become too complex? Have the teachers fallen down on the job? Has the web damaged the process of education as the cost for its amazing value otherwise?
 

nsaspook

Joined Aug 27, 2009
12,749
Most of the issues I see here are complicated problems can be hard to solve for the OP but only need the correct rules and recipes for solutions. This is a solvable problem using education. Even with that education many problems remain in the complex problem realm where there a just too many unknowns and interrelated factors for solution. Experience and wisdom of managing complexity by organizing our mental process is something you can't teach in a conventional electronic or engineering class.

 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
20,985
It seems to me that practioners have become divorced from reality in the last decade and a half, and that a grasp of fundamental principles is completely missing. This problem is much wider than the field of electronics. Fundamental ideas have been replaced with a new mythology that is not grounded in reality or any form of objective truth. In such an environment it is not only likely to get worse, but also inevitable. This is the upside-down world of 1984, only 38 years late.

As an example, take the YouTube video which purports to show an amazing invention, which does not work and cannot be duplicated. Why does it exist? Why does it have such a powerful hold on people? Where is James Randi ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Randi ), when we need him?
 
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GetDeviceInfo

Joined Jun 7, 2009
2,189
Over the weekend I had YouTubed the history of the computer. It appears that just as many bad, as good decisions were made by vary capable people, operating at the edges of their core competencies. There are no rules. Today, more so than at any other time, entry is not barred by the lack of scholastic achievement. I can ‘blink’ a highly sophisticated device, using a foreign language, with just a few simple mouse clicks, and no previous experience. It’s a doorway that didn’t exist a few short years ago.

The question I often ponder is who is being served in a response. Are we defending our knowledge, or the perception that some knowledge elevates us over the inquisitive.

I often reflect on a learning experience I had once encountered. The wife and I danced for years and took instruction to expand our enjoyment. At one class I was having a hard time ‘getting it’. The instructor reiterated the sequence over and over, but I couldn’t grasp it, until she was showing another couple and I was able to view it from behind. Instant recognition.

‘Understanding’ isn’t a noun we inherit, it’s a verb we must experience.
 

nsaspook

Joined Aug 27, 2009
12,749
It's a problem that's for sure, but I'm not convinced it's inherent to modernity, probably more like a human condition exacerbated by modernity.
It's like my wife watching a home improvement video about tiling a bathroom, it takes 30 mins in the video to lay the tile but they usually don't show the days or weeks of prep it takes to make a floor that lasts decades in a warm humid environment that destroyed the previous floor.
 
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BobTPH

Joined Jun 5, 2013
8,655
It's a problem that's for sure, but I'm not convinced it's inherent to modernity, probably more like a human condition exacerbated by modernity.
Yep, I’ll bet there were people in the stone age trying to nake spear points without having learned proper technique of striking and flaking.

Bob
 

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
8,973
It's a problem that's for sure, but I'm not convinced it's inherent to modernity, probably more like a human condition exacerbated by modernity.
Progress in the sophistication of technology has constantly increased the level of abstraction we deal with. I agree that the general trajectory is visible throughout history. I do think, though, that beyond exacerbating it, the information age has rendered qualitative changes to it.

It works both ways, though. Those inclined can also dive deeply into theory and become very competent in fundamental things purely as an autodidact. Additionally, the availability of so many platforms—both physical and logical—means there is an opportunity for genuine innovation at a very high level of sophistication by individuals on their own which hasn’t existed since the beginnings of science and never to this degree.
 

drjohsmith

Joined Dec 13, 2021
850
A few things I see on the front line

Most teachers do not inspire / teach,
there seem to be no more Feynman , Laithwait, Sagen's around now days ...

"Google" ( I use the term as a general for search engine )
Once upon a time, one had to hunt through tonnes of material, reading / learning
to find an answer or example,
Combined with the first, as ever, teachers re use pre cooked questions,
but now days, the answers are on the internet
No longer can universities re use Exam questions from 5 years ago in this years exam

We find students of Master electronics,
that can't use a scope , or a soldering iron.....

Specialisation to early,
I'm no programmer, no RF expert , I'm Digital to the core
after all, its a digital world, not analog !! but thats another post.. NOT HERE.
but I had to learn and do labs in all of them, and have a working knowledge of them ,
( enough to google, but that's a circular argument :-} )


The thing is
if one person gets away with copying / cribbing, googling and not understanding
then those that learn / work it through, look slow
so when they get into industry,

As an example,
I had one very snr RF engineer, not knowing abut the Nyquest on ADC's
I was bought in to fix a problem, turn out they were using a 500 MHz ADC to sample a signal from dc to 450 MHz.
 

Papabravo

Joined Feb 24, 2006
20,985
I began my journey as a FORTRAN programmer at the Age of 14. Early in my professional career I was compelled to learn digital electronics, and so I migrated to firmware and embedded control. Prior to retirement I rekindled my interest in Amateur Radio and developed both operational and RF design skills. Subsequent to my retirement I have taken a deep dive into all manner of analog electronics, especially filters and switch-mode power supplies.

I guess, after 60 years of effort that makes me a quadruple threat. Too much to learn, and never enough time.
 

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
8,973
I began my journey as a FORTRAN programmer at the Age of 14. Early in my professional career I was compelled to learn digital electronics, and so I migrated to firmware and embedded control. Prior to retirement I rekindled my interest in Amateur Radio and developed both operational and RF design skills. Subsequent to my retirement I have taken a deep dive into all manner of analog electronics, especially filters and switch-mode power supplies.

I guess, after 60 years of effort that makes me a quadruple threat. Too much to learn, and never enough time.
Starting in the late 90’s there was a resurgence in the demand for COBOL programmers, I don’t expect it will recur in anticipation of Y2K38 but you should plan to hang around and see.

1646680554658.png
 

MrSalts

Joined Apr 2, 2020
2,767
Starting in the late 90’s there was a resurgence in the demand for COBOL programmers, I don’t expect it will recur in anticipation of Y2K38 but you should plan to hang around and see.

Because COBOL is so fundamentally different than all other programming languages that anyone under 60 will not be able to figure it out in the next 16 years.
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
5,019
I think a lot of it is due to technology itself. Granted rotely learning the times tables was not a great way to learn math but depending on technology to do the basic math for you is not a valid way either. It amazes me that the people I run into can't even do basic addition or subtraction. They must depend on a calculator or sales register to do it for them. At least they know enough to formulate the problem to find a solution. Even the basic skills of counting money or balancing a checkbook have been replaced by debit cards and computerized online banking that does it for them. I always thought of the slide rule or calculator as a tool to be used to find a solution and not the solution itself. It makes me wonder how they can manage their lives without knowing how to do critical thinking and problem solving. All you have to do is watch the talking heads, now called "Influencers", on youTube to see how far civilization has sunk.
 

MrSalts

Joined Apr 2, 2020
2,767
Has the world of technology just become too complex? Have the teachers fallen down on the job? Has the web damaged the process of education as the cost for its amazing value otherwise?
No, learning has become too easy.

It's kind of like this thread where someone asks "So, any advice, warnings, encouragement, &c.?" while claiming no knowledge of any other PCB drawing tool or anything about PCB drawing tools so he just asks a vaguely worded question to get the conversation started. See, learning is too easy - everyone is helping him. https://forum.allaboutcircuits.com/...n-traps-or-important-tips.185455/post-1715135
 

nsaspook

Joined Aug 27, 2009
12,749
I think a lot of it is due to technology itself. Granted rotely learning the times tables was not a great way to learn math but depending on technology to do the basic math for you is not a valid way either. It amazes me that the people I run into can't even do basic addition or subtraction. They must depend on a calculator or sales register to do it for them. At least they know enough to formulate the problem to find a solution. Even the basic skills of counting money or balancing a checkbook have been replaced by debit cards and computerized online banking that does it for them. I always thought of the slide rule or calculator as a tool to be used to find a solution and not the solution itself. It makes me wonder how they can manage their lives without knowing how to do critical thinking and problem solving. All you have to do is watch the talking heads, now called "Influencers", on youTube to see how far civilization has sunk.
"Influencers" == While under the influence, bad decisions were made.
 

Thread Starter

Ya’akov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
8,973
Getting to 90 would be something, but I'm not sanguine about my prospects.
Sanguinity can be set aside in favor of a steady phlegmatic application of the continuously improving medical technologies. You might live longer than you ever imagined. It could happen.
 

ZCochran98

Joined Jul 24, 2018
303
As a recent student, I can kind of speak to this. It's a bit of both - teachers are stuck in a prior era of technology in some cases, but the simple matter is that so many students just do NOT grasp that they need to learn the material, not just memorize it. Calculus - they memorize how to solve specific derivatives and integrals. Physics - if it's not a simple problem, they don't know how to set it up. Circuits - they can't figure out how to break down a problem into sections, or even understand that you can "Thevenize" a circuit (as a simple example). I suspect it's largely because many of them got by in school just memorizing for the test and moving on, because there is no overall cumulative test, nor is the material ever used again. When I was a student, I saw both my cohort and the students for which I was a TA do the same things over and over, and rare was it that I encountered another student that actually had a drive to understand the material and theory, and why things were the way they were, and want to actually learn the concepts so they could apply it. More often than not, it was "how do I solve this specific problem?" and if the material deviated slightly from the examples, they were completely lost.

I absolutely think this problem is on both the students and the teachers. Students don't have the drive or care to understand the material; they only want to pass the class, get their grade, and move on. But teachers aren't doing enough to make them understand that this isn't how things work, and that they need to understand the material on a fundamental level. And, many times in my experience, the teachers just aren't that great to begin with, and really don't know how to make the material understandable. They come at it with the idea of "this is easy, why are you struggling with this?", having forgotten that many of these students have next-to-no prior knowledge or understanding, and many of them just don't care.

In other words, I think it's a lack of communication ability and ability to "reach the students," to be sure, but it's also a general attitude of apathy and laziness from the students in many (not all, and not necessarily most) cases, and instead the desire to just get a good (or passing) grade and be done with the class so they can graduate. This could easily lead into an entirely different subject on how education and classes themselves are run, but that's not the topic of this thread.

And as others have said, it REALLY doesn't help when most of the professors got their degrees in the 70s or 80s and haven't bothered to stay up-to-date on things. As an example, when I learned assembly a few years back, we were using a technology that was 20 years OUT OF PRODUCTION, not to mention obsolete! It wouldn't be until a later class that we'd actually learn a useful form of assembly like ARM/RISC. Similarly, our semiconductor classes were still in the era of 100s of kHz to 10s of MHz being "high frequency" applications. 100 MHz was considered "really high frequency." 100 MHz doesn't even cover the bandwidth of many S-, X-, or K-band systems (S maybe, but the others not as much). So yes: being way behind on technology (both in teaching and utilization of it) is another major contributor.

There are many, many other factors I think contribute to this problem, but I've probably said (ranted?) enough. It's a variety of factors, and all of which indicate that there needs to be a MAJOR overhaul to the educational system. And not to make it easier, either. When 30% is considered a passing grade post-curve, there's a problem somewhere.... But pinning the blame solely on students, teachers, or the educational system itself is definitely not a look at the full picture, to be sure. All are complicit in the problem; just the question is, how do we fix it? I don't have an answer. Not yet anyway.

As an aside, I wonder if part of it could also be that students have lost their curiosity and/or creativity, to some degree? It seems that there's minimal to no drive to "go beyond the classroom" on subjects and to explore, tinker, and create. That would definitely contribute to the issue, I think.
 
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