Friday, May 10, 2013

Electrical Engineering Books' Worthiness

As an adjunct faculty member at seven US colleges and universities, I teach many Electrical Engineering (EE) courses from basic to senior levels. These are 5 reasons why I think most Electrical Engineering textbooks ain't worth the $$.
  1. EE books are expensive: Many cost $100+. According to The College Board, "The average cost for books and supplies for the 2012–2013 school year was $1,200 at public colleges and $1,244 at private colleges." The question is, do you get your money’s worth? A typical EE college curriculum offers 6 to 8 core electrical engineering courses. The textbook for each course is easily over 1,000 pages. Even with a large amount of content, I argue that the quality of the contents is below par.

  2. Tedious contents: The majority of EE books are very long and focus on theories and principles, which are undoubtedly important. However, students' expectations are that reading the books will help them retain knowledge and understand the materials with ease. Unfortunately, this is far from reality. Academic EE books are difficult to read and filled with math equations and formulas that are there only for the sake of increasing page numbers. Theories are thrown at students without explaining how and why they should be applied and used. Being an Electrical Engineer for almost 2 decades, I honestly don't remember using many formulas found in mainstream academic EE textbooks in real, practical manners. Electronic theories are the most basic and easy theories to learn. Anything more is unnecessary and a tactic to crank up the number of pages to sell the books at higher prices.
  3. Practicality: College should be a place to prepare students to meet future work demands, i.e., the materials, knowledge including book contents should be practical and reflect reality. Many EE books come with a great number of pictures, diagrams, and electronic circuits. Unfortunately, most are out of date and geared towards showcasing the theories (thus increasing the number of pages) rather than explaining and applying them in practical applications. Many circuits described in academic EE textbooks are never used in the real world. One example is that I often hear students say a diode is always 0.7 V because the book says so. Any experienced electrical engineer knows that diode voltage changes with many factors in practical applications.
  4. Timeliness: The majority of EE books were published a long time ago. Sure, many of them stay up to date with new editions. Some even have 10 or more editions after the first publications. Unfortunately, most new editions only fix typos and enhance graphics but fail to intuitively revise the contents. Good EE books should be up to date on the latest technology, circuit design, test methodology, and trends.
  5. Authorship: Most academic EE books are authored by scholars and professors. It's absolutely true that these authors possess the necessary knowledge and skills, or else they wouldn't be writing and publishing a book about Electrical Engineering in the first place. The problem is that many authors do not have industry and/or real world engineering experience. These make the contents not applicable to the real world. There are, of course, a few exceptions, for example, The Art Of Electronics is a great EE book to own. A good electronics reference guide like The Art of Electronics, sadly, is seldom used in EE college curricula. EE book authors should have both academic and professional engineering backgrounds so that the contents are real, fresh, and practical in addition to covering all basic electronic theories and principles.