Confidence-building in a circuits course

Ilan Gravé, Elizabethtown College


In this paper we look at how students develop professional confidence while learning circuit analysis. Usually a sophomore or a junior, the typical student takes a circuit analysis course after completing a series of basic science courses where rigor and details are strongly emphasized. So these students feel "comfortable" when they understand every line of a proof or a solution. Skipping even one comma, or using a shortcut, may hinder full understanding. The student's ensuing sense of "discomfort" is a desirable and necessary stage, one that develops curiosity, scientific skepticism and a lifetime quest towards fundamental and basic understanding. In a circuit course, students are faced with a new perspective: to become proficient in analysis and creative in design and to account for an extraordinary number of circuit techniques and variations, students have to rely on shortcuts, on sketches of solutions and, in general, on a somewhat fuzzier approach. The accomplished and expert circuit analyst and designer often employs intuition, the trace of an idea or a solution to confidently produce a successful result. The solution to a circuit problem or design is sometimes finalized when just a quick sketch of the mental process is completed. In this paper we analyze this interesting dichotomy in the perception of acquisition of knowledge and in the enhancement of skills, as it develops from basic science courses to circuits courses. We suggest techniques and tools to build desired skills and confidence. We also discuss the possibility to quantify students' reactions, attitudes and increased confidence, within a set of measurable performances and surveys.