First, I’m a little way into revising for M250. My first step was to tackle the most recent past exam paper under exam conditions, to get a feel for where I’m at, so I know where I need to be.

It wasn’t pretty. I’d definitely have gotten a Pass 2 result based on this performance, and the knowledge has been (mostly) retained through my primary study of the module. But what’s missing is speed. By the time I finished my first question (of three), I noticed that an hour and a half had passed. By the time I finished my second question (in a rush), I only had 45 minutes left. And as much as you can pretend to do things in “exam conditions” for practising, you don’t get things like proctors coming up and fumbling with your paperwork and ID, trying to sort out the answer booklets, asking for new answer booklets, bolting all your materials together for marking, etc. The truth is, you’re possibly going to lose 5 to 10 minutes of the exam just to … well, paperwork. But that’s how narrow my margin for error is.

So I do need to brush up through the glossary a bit, and I do need to go over my notes a bit, but what I really, really need to do is to practise hand-writing code with a clock ticking down. No comments, no design principles, and possibly no helper methods. I just don’t have time for them. (I’m going to make an attempt to write helper methods using HTDP‘s wish list, which might work very well with hand-written code.) I hope I can find enough practice questions to get this down.

Second, I’ve started module planning for next year. I was surprised to see that preliminary due dates for major (and some minor) assignments have already been scheduled for the modules I’m enrolled on. The great news is that I don’t have any TMAs due within one week of each other. Two are due within eight days of each other, and another two are a fortnight apart, but that’s as much of a crunch as I’ll get, EMA notwithstanding.

M269 has two TMAs, an exam, and no fewer than seven iCMA quizzes. The other to haven’t got their iCMAs listed yet, and each has an EMA assignment at the end. TM257 has two TMAs, and TT284 has three.

Well, despite my misgivings on the course from the terribly written TM254, I’ve finally decided to press forward on Q62 Computing & IT from the Open University. I’ve enrolled about two months later than I normally would, because I was strongly considering switching over to a joint-honours maths degree. I think I’d have to brake too hard to make that turn right now without some serious consequences, so instead I’ll just make some small course corrections.

The first consequence of my decision is that next year is going to be a bit of a crunch. I’m going to tough it out with three modules, to catch up with where I’d have been without dropping TM254. The second (and strongly related) consequence is that I’m enrolling in easier modules related to my current job.

The first module I’ve enrolled for is not going to be easy, but should be fun: M269: Algorithms, data structures, and computability. This is real meat-and-potatoes computer science stuff: Data structures like binary sort trees, search and sort algorithms like bubble sorts, and algorithm efficiency analysis like big O notation. In my pre-university preparation, this is the stuff that’s really lit my mind, kind of like a digital landscape for mathematics. It’s the module in the Computing & IT course that I most wanted to take.

The next is TM257 Cisco networking (CCNA) part 1. The second part of this is a stage 3 module. I’d been contemplating doing the CCNA in my spare time over a summer, but now that I’m crunching three modules into one year, I’m going to take it as an official module now. Many people may find this one rough, and I may be silly for thinking it’ll be different for me, but it’s what I do professionally, and I’ve got a Cisco router in my loft for labbing with. (It should be two, but I’m sure I can use a Netgear to connect to in most instances.)

Finally, I’ll be taking TT284 Web Technologies. This is another big portion of what I do at work, and have a fairly good grounding of HTML, CSS, PHP, SQL, SSL, firewalls, etc. I don’t do much JavaScript yet, but don’t expect to be memorising much for the module. This one is a strong cop-out module for me, but there’s really slim options for modules at stage 2 if you don’t want to take the horror that is TM254.

The best part for my time is that the last two modules have end-of-module assignments, rather than exams. The last two years, I’ve had all of my assignments in from March or earlier to focus on exams. I hope that means that I’ll have enough bandwidth to work on the assignments next year.

There’s a very good chance I’ll regret this, but even if I have to defer, it’s not like it’ll set me back anything but time. With the ridiculous interest students are charged on their loans in the UK these days, it’s not like I’ll ever pay it off either way.

TMA03 is due soon for M250, and I’ve got a line fault in my DSL connection. It’ll take at least a week to fix. One of the hazards of online study is that you’re at the mercy of the technology. I’ve arranged my study plans to allow for outages, but that just deals with my initial study of the material. It’s not robust enough for either preparing assignments for a module that requires coding in an IDE, or revising for them across all the various media on which I have notes and materials.

I got the TMA in over a month ago, but this is really making revision awkward. Not impossible, but I find I’m wasting a lot of paper on printouts.

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.