A Practical Electronics Companion for EE2001

This is a guide to various aspects of electronics that I wrote some months ago, which was intended for students (usually in their 3rd year at NUS) taking the project-based module EE2001, in which you have to build something that’s effectively an embedded system with sufficient bells and whistles to showcase your ability to do electronics. I’ve done that module (no undergrad in the ECE department can escape it!) and was also invited to return as an ‘EE2001 Senior’ (i.e. sit around the lab and solve everyone’s problems, which usually sound like “why is it not working?!”). Having done the job for two semesters (good for funding my home ‘lab’ and even better for filling the void in my self-esteem), I felt that I had a fairly good sense of how I could contribute to help the students get a better grip on the technical knowledge we were all so lacking in.

And so I wrote “A Practical Electronics Companion for EE2001“, did a little peer review on Facebook (quite literally so), and sent it to someone I knew at the EE2001 lab. And that was the last I’ve heard of it.

Anyway, you might find it useful. You can view and download the pdf from here. The following is my preface to this work:

It’s rather unfortunate that EE2001 has, over the years, acquired such a formidably negative reputation. Much credit for this must go to the seniors, who plant the seeds of fear about the module into the innocent young minds of wide-eyed freshmen during O-week. From then on, the student with the blue toolbox is now regarded like the proverbial cursed seaman with the dead albatross around his neck.

The University deserves its fair share of criticism too. Failure is such a great way to learn, but the constraints imposed by school mean that scarcely sufficient room is left to  accommodate failure as an integral part of the learning process. For many students,  EE2001 is that first true experience with doing electronics. Prior lab sessions don’t really count, because you don’t have to know what’s going on to follow instructions and help (not necessarily of the educationally constructive sort) is always available from lab-mates who are doing exactly the same thing. On the other hand, EE2001 requires a student to, for the first time in an engineering context, decide upon a course of action, follow through with it  and deal with the consequences (which incidentally, does sound like growing up, but in terms of maturity as an engineer). This being the first time, we should expect and encourage students to go through a period of struggle with confusion and failure before they finally ‘connect the dots’, something only they can do for themselves. Regrettably though, the educational benefits from this mode of learning are diminished when the majority of that is heavily compressed into the confines of a single module (i.e. EE2001), and the experience is overshadowed by the scarcity of time and the stakes involved (i.e. grades). Perhaps the University should consider how to better integrate the imparting of theoretical understanding and practical skill involved in application of the former, such that theory and practice are more tightly intertwined within the educational experience.

With the above in mind, I have tried to prepare a set of notes intended for the EE2001 student, which will hopefully reduce the amount of distress encountered during the module due to the steep learning curve that is a result of having to confront a broad range of  practical electronics issues in a short amount of time, for the first time. These notes address a variety of technical subjects in a casual manner; these are subjects that I personally felt were less than adequately covered prior to enrolment in EE2001. My objective is simply to enhance the reader’s understanding of what is going on, and not to provide instruction on how to do the right thing. Accordingly, these notes are not particularly comprehensive, nor are they a spoon-feeding survival guide in the same league as ‘past year papers with solutions’. They do however, reflect a taste of the kind of coaching that I would have liked to receive as an apprentice in the art of electronics .

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