I shot my final TMA of the year off to the submission service last Thursday, but just finished with the proof reading and resubmitted it. (I’d rather have an unproofed version marked than forget to proofread and submit.)

The TMA was really enjoyable, and there was a lot of room for creativity, more creativity than I’ve experienced at the OU so far. I do pity the tutors having to mark submissions which can basically come from anywhere. I was, perhaps, a little too free with the specification. There are times when it informs a specific order of steps to be taken, and I change the order and do the seven-step process in two (well commented) steps, instead. I’m pretty sure that I will lose marks for it, but I’m extremely confident of this assignment. I expect to get better than 90 marks, but even if I did spectacularly poorly, I’m unlikely to get anything but a Distinction on the OCAS portion of my results.

(Wow! Look at me be all cocky. I’m normally hedging every prediction I make. It feels good to be completely confident, for once.)

The OU and I both agree that one of the best things that students can do is reflect on their study methods to discover the most effective way for them to learn. Because of my own reflection, I’m not going to start my revision for the exam quite yet. If I were to do so, I fear I’d burn out well before June, and forget half of what I’d revised.

Instead, I’m currently making small programming challenges for myself, and trying to code them by hand. (An example from last night is to parse a maths problem written in text, such as “28 × 17.04”, along with some error handling and resiliance.) I’m not having much luck witing code by hand, though, because I don’t design programs from top to bottom. If I’m writing a method, and realise I need a helper method, I normally jump to my helper methods section of a class, and put a method outline there, including proper header and an appropriate (but wrong) return line, then jump back to the method I was writing. I can’t do that on paper. I’ll have to learn how to plan every single detail before I write anything, and I just don’t know that I care to train myself how to do something I never plan to do. I’ll take a lower result if I have to, I think.

Anyway, we’ll hit up revision some time toward the end of April, I think.

I finally got through the end of the M250 main module materials. For some reason, the last unit on file I/O was difficult for me to sit down and concentrate on. In the end, I took some detailed notes on the reasons behind the techniques suggested in the materials for handling files and streams, and then focused on the practical activities. In the last section, I saw that it was likely that they were going to have us import a collection of objects of a custom class from a text file, and wrote the method to do it using the Java class libraries as my reference. This ended up being the last four or five module activities all rolled into my one self-set challenge, and my solution was remarkably similar to the final M250 example. (I’d separately opened a scanner and a buffered reader, rather than wrap the scanner around an anonymous buffered reader.)

So I’m going to put in my second attempt at the last iCMA, then get going on the TMA. When the iCMAs are formative in nature, and I can take them as many times as I’d like, I always take them once before I read the relevant materials, and once after. I think a lot of people do this to focus their study. I just do it to track my progress.

I’ve done a little under half the TMA so far. It’s quite enjoyable. There’s a lot of iterating over custom data structures. Anybody who builds dynamic content web pages should find the logic straighforward, and can concentrate on the theory and the syntax.

I’m looking forward to revising this module. No idea where to start, so I guess I’ll start with past exams to see what’s expected.

TM254 was so bad that it had me tied up in knots every time I considered logging into the OU site. As a result, I hadn’t done much of M250 during January. (Thankfully, I didn’t need to. I’d taken care of all the things I had to do for January before Christmas.) I’ve spent the last week or so back on M250, and am caught up again through mid-March.

It’s interesting to take M250 after the prep work I did for Java and programming in general. It’s good for the object-oriented paradigm, but it’s not very good for design. (So far, I’ve only encountered three principles for program design, and they don’t include choosing readability over simplicity, or coding each method or function only to only do one or two things to support reduction of duplicate code through modular design. The design principles they have are good ones, though, they just need to be a bit more robust and forward-thinking.)

It’s clearly focused on an academic understanding of the paradigm, and that’s fantastic. I’m much more at ease in speaking about Java and object-oriented programming in general, confident that my verbiage is correct and that I’m being precise in my descriptions. It makes it easier to read other sources, and I’m finally deciphering official manual pages without having to read translations of them. M250 is a great module.

I’m very impressed with my tutor. His comments on my last TMA were spot on, disagreed with me at various points, but respected my design choices where he did disagree. I only dropped one mark on the TMA, and I laughed out loud when I saw what I’d done. (I had just finished making a method on one sub-question, then neglected to use it and re-invented the wheel on the very next sub-question.) But I’m used to being told I’m wrong because I think approach A is easier to read and understand, and the tutor thinks that approach B is easier to read and understand, and therefore approach A is simply wrong.

It’s a huge divergence from TM254, where it doesn’t matter what the question is, how you phrase or defend your answer, what parts of the module materials you cite to prove your answer … If you didn’t have the exact same wording as the author of the evaluation, it’s 100% wrong. It’s despicable. It’s not higher education. It’s not education at all.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to quit TM254 when I did. There were quite a few others, and it’s starting to cost the OU money. They’ve responded to the complaints by (as always for this module) misunderstanding the heart of the problem. They’ve told students that some very small sections now are optional and won’t be evaluated. (Really TM254 module team? You’re telling us that something in the module materials won’t be evaluated? Like ITIL vocabulary, which made up a full 10% of TMA01? We’ve heard that lie before.) They’ve also told students they’re not studying right.

So clearly they’ve heard and understood the concer … Okay, I can’t even finish that sentence without having to take a shower. As far as I’m aware, they’re trying to determine what concerns students have without actually talking to any students with concerns. I don’t know how they’re expecting that to work, but from what I can tell, it violates everything they teach in that module about any kind of service.

I’m still considering moving over to Q67, Computing & IT and Mathematics. I’ll have to look into how much work it’ll be in stage 3, because it might add a lot of time to a degree that’s already taking seven years. But for now, I’m just going to enjoy being able to study again and learn from a module that’s been created properly. And is legible.

I’ve withdrawn from TM254. That is the most horrible, atrocious module I can imagine. It’s beyond me how anybody was proud enough to submit it, let alone getting it past an academic review. It’s more long-winded than I am, it contradicts itself (a lot), parts of it are wrong, it’s repetitive where it isn’t contradictory or downright redundant, and it’s so boring that I was doing anything I could do not to sit in front of it.

Don’t underestimate my ability to take boring. I sat through to the end of Battlefield Earth. This module is worse than Battlefield Earth.

This is going to end up adding an entire extra year to my degree course, but it also gives me a chance to reevaluate and decide if I want to switch tracks to Maths. Maths was crushingly difficult for me, but it was imparting real knowledge, not bureaucracy dressed up like facts and knowledge.

The only thing TM254 will prepare anybody for is how to be a blindingly ineffective manager who can really tick those boxes and prove why he or she isn’t responsible for the fire they’re standing in.

Meanwhile, M250 is going swimmingly. I submitted all my work for January halfway through December, and am happily working through the rest of the module.

This week has been … quite a week.  I’ve been ill since Sunday, and it’s been worse every day.  There has been a concerted effort by drivers, weather, and road works to keep me away from home.  (I usually have a twenty minute commute.  I’ve spent about six hours stuck in traffic jams this week.  I normally encounter four in a year where I live.  There were five between leaving work Wednesday and getting into work Thursday.)  And work is its own thing right now.

On the other hand, I managed to completely catch up on TM254, submit TMA01 for TM254, catch up on M250, and as of ten minutes ago submit TMA01 for M250, two weeks early.

I’ve got plenty of opportunity to get a bit further ahead in M250 right now, and I’m going to take it, but I’m just about at the first portion of group working in TM254, so won’t really be able to move too far there.  Which is fine.  I really can’t take much more of that module as it is.  (I think I did better than anticipated on the TMA, but not by much.  I think I might squeak in at about 80 marks, but I think a Pass 1 on it will elude me.  I mostly just wrote the ITIL definition of service and/or value over and over until I had 2000 words.)

I feel confident of my M250 TMA, at least.  I know (and really like) my tutor from a previous module, so I know he’ll go out of his way to pull me up on something or other on it, but I shouldn’t get below 90%, I don’t think.  My guess is he’ll claim that my self-documenting code isn’t clear enough and that I should have had at least one coding comment in one of my methods.

As it turned out, being six days behind was not sufficient for completing TMA01 for TM254.  I had to finish through week 7 completely (and some advance reading in week 9 for two answers) before I could complete the TMA, but it’s done!  It’s not great, but it’s also not my worst effort, I think, so I may end up doing better than I initially worried.  Knowing what style questions they have planned for the exam, though, I’m more than a little nervous about that.  I’m glad that the result system for TM254 won’t be the lowest-of-OCAS-or-OAS that’s common for the OU, but it may not make a lot of difference in the end.

I’ll talk about about M250 early next month, I hope, but it turns out I’m not really behind there, either.  The TMA is a very fluffy bit of programming which really just needs more thought on testing than coding, and the tutorial I attended last night set me at ease about potentially having much to catch up on.  I’m hoping to have things sorted for the Christmas break soon.

Well, I went and did it.  Despite it being my most important rule … I’ve let myself fall behind.  There are warring parts of me that want to blame anyone but me, and accept all the blame.  But I honestly think that TM254 is just terrible enough to bear more than some of the responsibility.  I get so angry with how poorly written it is, how often it contradicts itself, and, of course, how wrong it is, that I have to wander away from it for a bit or risk stress levels that are way too high.

I fell several weeks behind.  As of right now, I’m still technically six days behind, but that’s sufficient for me to start work on the TMA that’s due in a week.  I’ve got most of my notes for the TMA complete, so it’s mostly writing it up.  That should take me between two and four nights.  The worst part isn’t how it’s impacting TM254, but that my other module is suffering while I’ve tried to catch up.

Just a quick example of how poorly thought out the module is: The first TMA is due in week 8.  It evaluates material (or at least your reactions to being assessed on material) from week 9.

Here’s another example: An alleged 7 hour block part is broken down into 7 sections.  These sections are 10 minutes, 35 minutes, 5 hours and 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 25 minutes, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes.  Am I the only one who thinks that if these are the way the sections break down, perhaps there was a much more logical way to break the sections down?  And this occurs in most of the block parts.  The beehive structure does not lend itself well to study sessions.  And it’s less of a beehive and more of a Frisbee, anyway.

(I will interject a defence of the module here, in that at least they warn you ahead of time that the block part is unbalanced.  It doesn’t make it any more logically written,  however.)

I should be able to get both the TMA done and the six days’ work I’m behind this next week, then it’s time to concentrate on the TMA I have due in my other module.  (That one at least has actual answers, and not “Guess what I’m thinking” questions like, “What does this imply?”  Knock it off.  Your assumptions are not assessable facts.  And from the way everything else has been written, the TMA rubric will require that your answer match the question’s author’s, regardless of how well defended, cited, referenced, reasoned, and articulated your answer is.)

I’m shooting for about 70 marks on this TMA, even though the lowest I’ve ever gotten on anything with the OU is 90.  I’m going to take a result of Pass 2 on this module and attempt to make up for it in future years.

I did alright with getting ahead during September.  I’d hoped to get four weeks ahead, but ended up only getting three weeks ahead.  But since the modules actually started last week, I’ve done … Maybe four hours of work?

The problem is ITIL.  This is different from the problem being TM254.  The module and module materials are about as good as they can be, considering they’re covering ITIL.  People in the UK who have adopted ITIL sing its praises and talk about how wonderful it is.  I think they have to: If they’ve invested the time and resources required to even understand the depth of ITIL, they don’t want to look like fools.  ITIL was initially created by the British government, but you don’t need anybody to tell you that.  From the moment you start to look into it, it’s obvious that only  the British government could create this kind of bureaucratic mess with as much paperwork as ITIL.

I have a lot of specific concerns with ITIL (such as its teach-to-the-quiz mentality of service improvement, reducing human beings to nothing more than the functions they perform, and the assumed context of IT services being third-party), but they’re far behind the main concern that if one were to run an ITIL shop, all the time would be spent managing ITIL, instead of managing IT services.  To its merit, the TM254 materials are way ahead of me here, warning that, as an infrastructure library, ITIL should be viewed as an a la carte menu of IT concerns which need addressing.  And I agree.  ITIL’s value (and I admit it has substantial value) lies in its questions, but certainly not in its solutions, or rather in its framework for solutions.  Any time you see anything in ITIL that has a number (7 steps, 4 processes, etc.) that’s when it stops being useful.

So it’s proven difficult to study without screaming at my monitor.  Frameworks for management are not the same thing as management, and I pity the organisations who can’t figure out why it takes so much time and money to get things done when they’ve clearly ticked all the boxes on their list.  Thankfully, the UK organisations I’ve dealt with all only pay lip service to ITIL, and none have actually implemented it to any degree.

I guess the real solution is for me to put this unit behind me as quickly as possible.  I just hope I’ve filled out the right form for that.

Related to the service management studies of TM254, I have a hard Rule Number 1 for service transition: Never make a change on a Friday.  (Ask any IT professional why.)  For whatever reason, this hasn’t been implemented into ITIL, yet, but I’ll continue my campaign.

Likewise, I’ve recently started to note a de facto Rules Number 1 & 2 for Open University study: Get ahead of the study planner, and Stay ahead of the study planner.  I’ve given this advice here a few times, now, but it’s actually becoming my default advice to any new student.  You never know what challenges are going to come at you during your module, but you can be pretty much guaranteed they’re coming.  The last thing you need when dealing with real-life tragedy is trying to play catch up in your studies.

With this in mind, I’ve gone through the module guides and first units of each module, to get a feel of what I’m in for this year.

I’m impressed with the level of discussion in both modules, but particularly in TM254.  I find myself almost having arguments with the material, and either coming around to its way of looking at things, or at least being able to better defend my viewpoints when I disagree.  This is sure to continue to be the case with the service management block of TM254, but I’m hoping to have similar challenges with the discussion in the other blocks.  Also, I enjoy that the module discusses that ITIL has specific best practices for service management, but rather than having students memorise them, it simply discusses that a best practice will need to be considered and arrived at, but leaves the specific practices considered up to the student.  It isn’t providing a solution, but a way to frame the problem so that it’s easier to find a solution.

One unfortunate aspect of TM254 is that when it says the workload for a task is three hours, I’m not getting away with just putting in two.  They’ve done too good a job estimating my ability to grapple with the materials.  It’s going to take a lot of time this year.

M250, on the other hand, is almost exactly what I expected to find.  It’s a mature module, and has all the hallmarks of an OU module with a module team who has adapted as students have fed back their reactions to the materials.  The software installation, for example, has been dumbed-down to an insanely simple drag-and-drop affair, with the drawback that you have to kind of take it as it is.  It’s not going to want to work outside of a drive’s root (for Windows computers) without considerable work.

There’s also an active campaign at the beginning of the module that feels like they’re encouraging students to drop the module rather than do poorly on it.  While I appreciate that this can definitely benefit a student who is spending their own money on a university degree, I wonder if it might be motivated by internal evaluation factors of the module team.  Regardless, for those students willing to stick it out, there’s an enormous amount of support that likely wasn’t there for the first run, such as programming bootcamp exercises, quizzes, forums for helping get up to speed and even collaborate on approaches to assessment questions (though of course not actual solutions).  It’s not as supportive as MST124 was, but it’s another good example of a mature module better supporting students with challenging material.

Both modules have significant portions devoted to group work.  I refer you to the Linear Sequence of Strife.  TM254 even goes so far as to having students determine a group name, so clearly somebody’s been watching too much Apprentice.  Which is everybody who’s watched the Apprentice.  I honestly go into these assuming I’ll have to cover all the bases myself (or at least making sure it’s clear I’ve gone at least as far as boundaries allow), so any help I get will be a nice surprise.  I should probably be more concerned with bad help than no help, but so long as someone’s willing to try, we can all help get the standards of work up.

I don’t think M250 will give me much in the way of headaches, though I have been warned about it.  We’ll see, but I honestly think any time sink to come from M250 will be me playing with it for giggles rather than frustration with an assignment that won’t work.  (Working code is always a bonus, but I’m not silly enough to believe it’s an actual requirement to passing!)

The websites for both M250 and TM254 open on Tuesday, so I’ll have another post later this week, maybe on the weekend, after having a bit of a nose around.  But M250 books arrived a couple of days ago.  My study area had … deteriorated its study-conducive environment … since I finished (or really started) revision this summer, so I decided to tidy it up nice and proper before unboxing my new materials.  Here they are:

M250 materials … and tea

The contents are:

  • Getting started with objects
    • Units 1-5
  • Inheritance and how to program
    • Units 6-8
  • Collections and file I/O
    • Units 9-12
  • Exam Handbook
  • Contents Checklist

In addition to the books, there’s also a module guide and a software guide, which are only available online.  I’m happy to look/read through these books before reading the guides, but I’m not likely to start studying properly until after I at least get the software guide.  I want to know I’m using the correct version of BlueJ (the module’s preferred/required programming IDE) and plugins/software modules.

The Exam Handbook only allows for highlighting for use in the exam, and must be the OU-printed version of the handbook.  So I’ve put that back in the box, slipped it under my monitor tray, and won’t get it out again until the exam.

That’s in contrast to the other books, which are now back in the box under my monitor tray, where I’ll leave them until after the entire module’s over, at which point I’ll toss them in recycling.  I wish the OU would give me a choice of whether or not I want to receive hard-copy materials.  I still have my useless SenseBoard on my desk, not sure if I can ever find any proper use for it.

There’s one book due to be shipped for TM254, but I suspect they missed the shipping date, which is standard procedure for first-run modules: Make certain that everything is behind schedule.  The book being shipped is Project Management for IT-related projects (2nd edn), edited by Bob Hughes.  There’s also an ebook being made available to us (likely on a limited time loan, I’m guessing) for ITIL Lifecycle Essentials by Claire Agutter.  I’ve snooped through this as it’s available to all students through the OU library.  It seems well written, and is thoughtfully laid out, so I don’t think I’ll have any issues with it.