Design and Technology
My Own Personal Yellow Brick Road
Categories: Competence

Wow, what a journey. From landing in OZ (being given my skills audit), traveling the yellow brick road (filling in the gaps in my knowledge) to escaping the evil flying monkeys (procrastination, confusion and misinformation) I think I’ve finally arrived…

My attitude towards the whole of electronics at the start of this process was one of irrational panic and dislike. I’d never felt any inclination towards learning anything about electronics or how any of the devices I use day to day work. Things have changed so much! This subject is immense and so exciting. It’s no longer incomprehensible and intimidating, I understand how current flows through a circuit and what it will do when it reaches a component, I can now look at a circuit or circuit diagram and either know what it will do or have a good enough idea about the components used to work it out.

Right at the beginning of this project I defined competence for myself, my aim being to reach this rarefied state by the end of this semester. So the question is, am I there yet?

Here is an extract from my work on competence, it’s where I finally defined what I think it means to be competent:

So, what is competence? In doing this research my original definition now seems deficient. Competence is not just about having knowledge or understanding the theory of a subject, or even about being able to pass on that knowledge, it’s about being able to ‘do’ as well as ‘say’. To be competent in a subject you need to understand it but also to be able to apply your understanding, to make a product or to be able to understand why something isn’t working and how to fix it.

To be able to get to this point I have gone through the process of research and experimentation detailed in this project, gathering knowledge and working out how to use it. I had really underestimated my abilities in understanding electronics in general and the more work I put into the research and investigations at the start of this process the more a very surprising thing became obvious… It’s fun and I’m really interested in it! I had it in my head from the start of this year that I would be specialising in resistant materials but part way through this project that no longer seems like a concrete concept. I was picking up knowledge much faster and understanding concepts more quickly than I was expecting. The real breakthrough came when I started my first circuit experiments, actually making a circuit, even if it’s just a prototype, has been the best way to work out if I know my stuff. I started working my way towards being competent in reading and understanding circuit diagrams, able to put a circuit together and be confident that it would work on powering up.

At this stage in my process I had made headway into understanding my chosen subject and applying my understanding. Going further I moved on to more complex circuits previously far beyond my capabilities, and conquered them. Each one of my circuits worked (with only a couple of hiccups) and more than that I understood why and how they worked. I started to help other students in building their own circuits and relaying my gathered information on digital electronics to make things clearer. By the time I got to building and testing my binary to decimal counter I was already feeling competent, at least in interpreting the diagrams, prototyping the circuits and understanding the signals involved.

It was at this point that I was considering what I needed to do to actually prove competence, my natural inclination was to design and make a product but on reflection what would be the point? Any product I could come up with would be dealing with only part of my gathered knowledge so why make one? The light bulb moment came on talking to Dean and actually asking myself ‘Do you feel competent?’ the answer being ‘sort of’. The only area I was not comfortable with was in fault finding and troubleshooting, in each instance of one of my circuits not functioning it had taken either Dean or Steve to help me fix it and as I had stated in my definition I needed to be able to ‘understand why something isn’t working and how to fix it’. 

Without taking this step I would not be fully competent, it was also a major sticking point with me as the most frustrating thing about electronics has been powering up a circuit and not knowing why it’s not working. In going through a process of solving the issues in a series of circuits I now have a fuller understanding of the circuits themselves, not just being able to spot and correct issues. Looking at signals going to and from my ICs really presses home all the knowledge I’ve gathered, it makes it more present and accessible. 

Now that I’ve come to the end of this project I can confidently say that I consider myself to be competent in digital electronics but it goes further than that. In doing these investigations it has given me a wider appreciation for the subject of electronics and a thirst to continue my explorations. I no longer have that panicky feeling of not understanding when facing anything electronic, instead it has been replaced by a strong curiosity, wanting to understand this area that has so much to do with moder life and modern design.

I cannot emphasise enough how useful this process has been and how much it has added to my knowledge as a designer. I can carry the work done here not only through to my future career in teaching but also into my way of viewing the world, my decisions as a consumer and my creativity. I think I’ve arrived at the Emerald Castle and who knows… In a couple of years I may be replacing the wizard ;)

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