These last two Stage 1 modules couldn’t be more different.  TM129 was far too easy for 30 credits, was a waste of both time and money, and makes the OU look a bit like a fake university for even offering it.  The tutor support on the module was amazing.  MST124, on the other hand, while being far too time-consuming for a 30 credit module, was a wealth of information, well structured learning, and left me with the single largest academic confidence boost I could imagine.  The word to paint my tutor in the best possible light would be “terrible”, though.

TM129 was born as three separate 10-unit modules.  My guess was that, much like now, students were forced to take all three modules, with no alternatives, so eventually bundled them up and called them a single module.  There’s not much to really tie them together, however.  The first block in the module, Robotics, doesn’t see students building a robot.  Or designing one.  Or touching one.  Or controlling one.  Or learning how to build or design one.  Students do learn how to control one, by using a (barely) modified programming environment for controlling Lego robots.  The amount of programming done is significantly less than in TU100, and probably less than in TM111 and/or TM112, making that bit of the module superfluous.  Understanding actuators, sensors, different high-level models for robot behaviour, and what can only be described as robotic ethics and sociology round out the block.

I’ll be honest, I enjoyed the robotics block.  Most students I spoke to did not.  I was interested enough in the topics covered to start playing around with Arduino processors, and have made some pretty fun little projects since then.

The second block is on networking.  For this, they just give students a Microsoft networking essentials book, and tell them to read most of it.  And that’s the block.  A £30 book which is pretty darned out of date.  On the one hand, it’s not useless information.  It’s a good primer for networking.  On the other hand … It’s a £30 book!

The third block is on Linux.  Several students found it difficult to complete the module because the tools referenced in the module were so far out of date.  It was very, very light on actual information, again.  I didn’t really hate it outright, because I found plenty of tips for every day Linux use.  But as a primer for somebody who doesn’t know Linux, it was insufficient.  For anybody familiar with Linux, it’s unnecessary.  So it’s a block without an audience, really.

Most horribly in relation to all three blocks, the assessments (TMAs and EMA) had essentially nothing to do with the Learning Objectives.  One task asked students to evaluate a server and client needs to recommend a Linux deployment running several different servers, how to install them, how to test them, and complete it in 400 words.  The problem with this is that only installation and testing were mentioned in the module.  Evaluating client needs and researching server software weren’t part of the learning objectives at all.  Neither were questions on Intellectual Property law, and a host of other questions in the other blocks.  It’s like the module team didn’t even read what they’d written, they just came up with some questions that sounded related to the block titles.

Though I enjoyed the blocks (and, perhaps surprisingly, I really did), I have to say that I feel objectively that the module is not fit for purpose and should be boiled in tar.

MST124, on the other hand, was nothing short of amazing.  I started preparing for MST124 literally over a year ago.  By the time October rolled around, I felt like I barely knew enough to get started.  Indeed, I was still making silly mistakes left and right when I started, because I was so far out of practice.

It was an absolute slog of a module.  It would often take me significantly more than 20 hours a week, when the recommendation for a 30-credit module is about 8.  Most of Unit 3 (functions) and Unit 11 (Taylor polynomials) are written very, very poorly, and I recommend anybody studying MST124 find outside reference material to help with them.  Activity 17 in unit 7 will possibly remain in my memory forever as the most horrifically impossible task, until I again sought outside help understanding it.  But other than these rough spots, it was a steady, continuous climb.

I felt like I’d learned everything well enough by the time I completed the routine unit study, but I wasn’t testing well at all.  So I really, really threw myself into revision.  I revised more every week than I’d spent studying.  It would have been six solid weeks, but I was extremely ill for the better part of one week.  (ALWAYS stay one or two weeks ahead of the module planner to cope with unexpected emergencies.)  When it all paid off in time for the exam, I felt completely unstoppable.  I’d gone from struggling with basic trigonometry and never having dealt with logarithms at all to nearly acing an exam which covered topics most people will never learn.

So if my tutor was rubbish, it’s alright.  The materials were brilliant enough without the help.  (Although it was nice to be part of the Facebook group.  Don’t know how far I would have gotten without them.)

So that’s it.  Two completely different modules.  The OU could really learn a lot by having all of the module teams take MST124 and see how amazing it can be done.

Wooooo!  It’s over!  Yesterday was the big day, and I’m done with it.  What follows is sure to be a very long, very rambling description of my first experience with an OU exam.

Things basically began the evening before, when I took my final past exam (September 2014) in exam conditions.  By “exam conditions,” of course, I mean I had to let the dog in and out every twenty minutes, deal with the exam room doubling as a kitchen and tea station, and a desk unsurprisingly as large as a kitchen table.  But it was close enough to get an idea for how well my revision had gone, and it was great: My fastest time (90 minutes) and best score (100%).  I knew it was too good to hope the real thing would go so smoothly, but it bouyed me up with sacks of confidence.

That confidence really took care of my nerves throughout the day.  That, or maybe it’s that it’s my busiest week ever at work and I didn’t have time to panic.  Either way, I didn’t have any performance anxiety.

I’d been advised several times not to arrive more than about 15 minutes before the start of the exam, but that’s not in my nature.  I had to fight with myself not to show up an hour early, but still ended up being about 45 minutes early.

Though the OU description of the venue said that there was “ample parking onsite”, there was not.  It was completely full to bursting, but just caught a space as I was leaving to park at the (expensive) mall car park a ten minute walk away.  I entered, and was greeted with several lovely signs directing OU exams students to wait in the atrium to be called.  The exam was in a hotel, and the atrium was a relaxing place to wait, with a restaurant and a coffee bar, and a water feature filling the room with pleasantly soothing sounds.

It also contained the reason for the lack of parking: Three or four dozen Open University students waiting to take their exam.  Apparently being an hour early would have been about average.  Still, there were enough comfortable armchairs to go around when I arrived, so I settled down to wait.  About half the students I saw had MST124 (or MST125) handbooks with them, some others had different maths books, and there were a few Stage 2 students doing non-maths.  (Interestingly, there were no Stage 1 exams for anything other than maths in our centre.)

I’m not sure when we were called into the hall, as I’d left my phone (and therefore clock) in my car.  I had only my wallet, keys, MST124 handbook, Casio fx85-PLUS calculator, pen, and three pencils with me.  Oh!  And a sack of rhubarb and custard sweeties.  There was a hastily drawn A2-sized map of the room by the door, showing which rows different modules were sitting in, and where the alphabet breaks were on each row.  There were about sixty students in all, with about two dozen there for MST124.

The desks weren’t large.  I’d guess about sixty centimetres wide, and less than half a metre deep.  They could have been worse.  On top of the desk were our desk record (an A5-sized slip of carbon paper with your personal identifier, name, exam number, course name, signature box, and a few boxes to write things), the question booklet, an answer booklet, a folded-over CME (computer-marked exam form), a plastic … clip of some kind, and a flat metal paper clip.  This took up basically the whole desk.  My stomach actually cramped sitting down at it because of the tight squeeze.  I opened my sweeties and placed five of them across the top of the desk (and stowed the rest under my desk) and my three pencils covered the rest of the desk.

One of the invigilators went on for about ten minutes about what not to do, and saying over and over to read all instructions, and follow all instructions.  (What he meant was don’t read all of the instructions and follow all of the instructions, instead guess which instructions pertain to you and follow those, instead.)  And then we started.  For MST124, I should have taken the unnecessary answer booklet and placed it under my desk, and ignored it completely.  But I filled it out dutifully, as it had instructions telling me to do so.

I filled out my desk record, and left it with my driver’s license.  That always has to remain on the desk, so there’s a large chunk of the desk real-estate you’re never getting back.  Next I filled out the admin part of the CME, and placed it on the bottom of all my paperwork.  Finally, I opened up my question booklet, and got to work.

This part I’d practised about half a dozen times at home, so there were no difficulties with it.  I would work a question, see if it matched any answers, and then see what went wrong if it didn’t.  By question 2, I was already stymied.  Nothing matched my answer, or looked very much like it, so I re-worked it, and got the same answer.  I did it two more times, and noticed myself start to get frustrated.  At this point, I mentally put the breaks on, took a deep steadying breath, and convinced myself to skip it and come back to it later.

I completed questions 3 and 4, and noticed while finishing question 4 what I’d probably missed in question 2.  Sure enough, I had the right answer, but a simple re-arrangement soon had me circling one of the answers, and moving onto the second page.

After that, the answers mostly tumbled out.  The pace felt slower than normal, but I wasn’t struggling.  Everything made sense.  There were some tricky questions (and trickier answers) but I felt (mostly) confident about all of them.  I did run into a degrees/radians mistake at one point, but caught myself in time.

My pencils flew off the desk several times, and I felt I must have been the noisiest one in the room.  I didn’t hear anybody else flipping through their handbooks for formulae like I was.  But before I knew it, I’d circled the last answer, and I was reaching for the CME form to put my answers down.

I had bought a pack of Staedtler HB pencils last week, and I’m glad I did.  Even though I’d been using HB pencils for my practice exams, the Staedtlers marked the paper much better.  I’d used one for the question book’s rough work, and one for marking the CME.  So having an extra one that was sharpened and ready to go if anything went wrong was nice.

At this point, 90 minutes had passed, matching my best practice exam.  I then turned my attention to memorising my answers.  All rough work must be done in the question booklet or (unnecessary) answer booklet, and no writing should be done in the handbook, and nothing you write on should be taken out of the room with you.  But I found no rules against memorising my answers.  It’s not easy to walk away with 42 characters memorised, but I stared at my CME for about fifteen to twenty minutes with various mnemonics, and finally had it down.

I gathered my forms and papers and sheets and booklets together, bolted and clipped them all together, and then raised my hand and waited for an invigilator.  She whispered that I’d basically done it all wrong, had me write some numbers in boxes, and did some origami to sort out my paperwork.  Hopefully it all gets marked properly.

I gathered my things, swooped out of the room as quietly as I could, sat in the atrium, and wrote down my answers.  Our results won’t come back for about six weeks, but we can get the questions in about two days, and I’ll be able to check my answers against Wolframalpha and find out how I did.

And I think that’s it.  When the questions are released in a few days, I’ll update with what I think my results are, and I’ll make a different post when my official results are received in July.


2018/06/07 Edit: It looks like I’ve got a 98%!  At the very least, assuming my form gets marked, I’ve got a distinction.  I didn’t seriously consider that a possibility coming into this module.  For my module result to be 98 (from OCAS 99 and OES 98) would have been completely unbelievable to me when I signed up for MST124.  It’ll take a few days to get over the shock.)

It’s practically my first real exam.  I could count my CompTIA A+ certification (1995?) and my Knowledge of Life and Language in the UK (2014, I think) exams, but they were each considerably quicker than an hour.  My Graduation Equivalency Diploma in 1996 definitely counts, though.  It was a three hour exam taken at the community college I dropped out of, so … Awkward.

Subsequent to my last post about MST-124 revision, I’ve gone through every unit of the module completing practice workbooks offered on the module.  I had intentionally saved these for revision, but forgot about them until just after my last post.  It took about three weeks to get through them, but it paid off.  My performance on past papers went up nearly 10%, and I now feel like I’ve got a real shot at a distinction, if I can keep my brain fresh for just one more week.

Next Tuesday is the exam.  I panicked today and bought new pencils to keep in my car.  And cough sweets/drops because … Look, I already said I panicked.

What I’d like to do from now until then is just do every past exam paper over and over.  I’m not remembering the exact answers, and the questions are all so similar (at least for the 2-mark Section A questions 1 through 32) that they all blur together, which may be further helpful in the exam.  They take just under 2 hours each, though, so the commitment is not insignificant, and I only have time after the little ones’ bedtime.

At some point I’m going to properly review MST124 and TM129, but I don’t know if I’ll get it done before or after results day, which is mid-July.  I should probably do it sooner rather than later, because my opinion of TM129 appears to be plummeting the more time passes.

My revision plan has been … untenable.  I had hoped to start with a practice of the entire exam, find my weak spots and get a sense of time, and slowly work away at those, then do another full practice of the entire exam maybe a week before the actual exam time.  I liked this plan because the weak spots identified this way would be exactly the types of questions to show up in the exam, as the exam questions seem to (mostly) follow similar types of question year after year.  The practice exam before the real exam would hopefully work as a confidence builder going in, or at least a road map of where to start cramming in the last week.

Unfortunately, this plan requires two uninterrupted blocks of three hours several weeks apart.  I can’t seem to get any block of time that large while working full time, caring for little ones, and other responsibilities.  I’ve been so good with time management for studying over the last two years that it’s completely escaped my attention that I normally handle small day-to-day home life responsibilities a few times an hour between blocks of concentration.

So instead, I’ve been revising … everything.  All twelve units.  I got through the last one a couple of nights ago.  I’ve been tracking my progress using MST-124’s Revision Quiz.  This is a quiz with just 12 questions, one random one from each unit.  I’d have thought that this structure would make it very uneven for a battery quiz, but it proved to be quite effective.  No matter how many times I took it prior to revising, it took me one hour (with a variance of 7 minutes).

After three weeks of revision, it’s down to under 25 minutes.  I’m pretty sure that’s as fast as I’ll be able to get, so the rest of revision will be all about accuracy.  It’s a shame my revision time is nearly half up already.  Most students are starting their revision period today, though (as our final TMA was due last night), so I’ve given myself a large advantage.

More good news comes in the form of realising how much I actually have to remember.  A pass is 40% and the exam is made up of multiple-choice questions with five possible answers each.  If x is the percentage of the exam I can remember from revision, then assuming I get 1/5 of the remaining answers correct from the things I don’t remember, then in order to pass, I need

x + 0.2(100 – x) ≥ 40
+ 20 – 0.2x ≥ 40
0.8x ≥ 20
≥ 25.

So if I remember 25% of the material covered by the exam, and I get 1/5 of the remaining 75% (or 15% of the total) questions due to probability, that should combine to see me through to the 40% needed to pass.  Although making assumptions based on probability isn’t wise, at least I know my basic algebra is sufficient.

I’m done with the OCAS portion of MST-124!  That means that all my assignments are submitted, and the only the left is my certain doom the exam.  Thanks to the bewildering array of rules which make up the OU’s assignment substitution policy, I didn’t really have to submit my last assignment, TMA04, and would still have achieved a distinction level on the OCAS portion of the module.

It’s in, though, and I’m done!

Oh, wait, no.  There’s still that doom exam I mentioned.  Erm.  Imma talk more about the TMA.

The last TMA was by far the most difficult.  At least two, and maybe three questions aren’t directly referenced by the module materials at all.  And one other question is quite possibly a trick question.  I found three distinct and justifiable answers to it, so we’ll see how the one I picked goes.  (I liked maths because there wasn’t a subjective nature to the answers.  What are you doing to me?)

There’s one sub-part to a question which … Goodness.  It looked darned near unsolvable.  In fact, I thought it literally was for a few moments hours, because the modules basically only state that this type of thing exists, and doesn’t describe it at all.  Other websites also didn’t go into very much detail about the topic, so for once that didn’t help at all.  After trying very, very hard to crack the nut, I randomly selected the right nutcracker and found that … well, it was really all very simple all along.  (Except that it specifically asks you to do it in a way that makes it look impossible.)

I tried to make that last paragraph more vague, and I think I just about got it perfect.

So … Guh.  Revision.  I have a plan.  I’ve glanced at enough past exams papers to note that the majority of questions come from a set of very specific types of questions.  If I only revise those types of questions, I’ll probably come out with a Pass 2.  I’m starting to think a Pass 1 will be impossible due to how slow I am, and not all questions are from that specific set.  But we’ll see how it goes.  I’ve managed to give myself two extra weeks of revision time by finishing the study materials early.


2018/05/17 Edit: The mark on TMA04 for MST124 was the same as all others: 100.  I really would have liked some kind of feedback on my TMAs, and really only got tick marks on the answers.  I’m sure there were different approaches I could have used which could have been faster, or easier to remember, or in some other way preferred.  At least I can say I’ve been happy with my effort level all year long.  My practice exams are all coming within 3% of a distinction, so I’m really going to have to get that up about 10% to be confident under exam conditions.  I’ve got two and a half weeks, so here’s hoping!

It just wouldn’t be OU enrolment if it went smoothly, would it?

Open University FB account: 2018 Enrolment down

I went through enrolment last night.  Not because I stayed up to enrol.  Of course not.  Who would even do that?  I just happened to be awake because … Imma go with working on a TMA or something.

Anyway, I didn’t get any kind of confirmation last night.  Considering how “well” things went for me last year, I decided to ignore it and get some sleep.  Sure enough, I found the above post from the OU’s Facebook account in the morning.

After going through enrolment a second time, I got all the proper confirmations, and all my OU tools (the StudentHome page, my study record, my student loan page …) properly showed my new modules.

So, what am I taking?

The new Q62 Computing & IT structure changes the various former paths to the following four routes:

  • Broad route
  • Communications and networking route (and here I thought networking was communications)
  • Communications and software route
  • Software route

The Broad route further breaks down into the following focuses:

  • Communications and networking focus (here we go again …)
  • Computer science focus
  • Software development focus
  • Web development focus

You have to choose a route (and potentially a focus) for selecting modules at Stage 2 and above.  Since I’m starting my Stage 2 study in October, I have to choose.

My first requirement in choosing second stage modules is that I want to study M269, which is called “Algorithms, data structures and computability”, but is pretty much just the computer science module.  M269 has M250 (Object-oriented Java programming) as a prerequisite, so that’s two modules selected.  I don’t particularly want to do two programming-heavy modules at the same time, so I’ll split up M250 this year and M269 next.  (This is the OU preference anyway, though I’m relatively confident of my ability to convince them to allow simultaneous study if I needed to.)

My other requirement is not taking TM255.  It looks like TU100 part 2.  Any actual “communications” study will take place in the networking module TM257.  The description of TM255 makes it pretty clear that what you’ll really be studying is how to do office work.  (Also, I’m not that keen on TT284 (Web technologies) as the student reviews paint it as a shallow tour of technologies I already have a decent familiarity with anyway (PHP, HTML, JavaScript, MySQL, and SubVersion), and the satisfaction survey makes it look as satisfying as the springtime snow we’re currently getting.)

So what about my other two modules?  Well, the choices are:

  • T227 (Change, strategy and projects at work – looks harmless enough, but it’s really intended to be taken by students of x15, the Computing & IT Practice foundation degree),
  • TM257 (Cisco networking CCNA part 1 – ideally I’d like to get my CCNA in my spare time and avoid spending a module studying it),
  • TM254 (Managing IT: the why, the what and the how – basically project management including software project management),
  • and the two above, TM255 and TT284.

The best of these is TM254.  Project management is a skill set used constantly in IT, and most other office roles.

So that’s what I’ll be doing this year, M250 and TM254, on the Broad route with a computer science focus.  Next year I’ll be doing M269 and … Something else.  I don’t really know yet, but I’m hoping my enthusiasm grows over the next year.


Quick note on my current modules: I’m completely, totally, and in all other ways done with TM129.  (EMA submissions went live today.)  The questions on the EMA were more vague than I could hope, so I don’t really know if I’ll do as well as I did on TU100 last year, but I’m fairly confident of a distinction.

I’m only studying MST124 now, and I’ve only got two units left: Taylor polynomials (which isn’t written very well, so I’m looking for external resources again) and complex numbers.  I’m hoping to be done with both by the end of the Easter break, and I’ll have most of April and all of May for just revision for the exam.  I don’t think I have much of a shot at a distinction there, but halfway through the module, I found that I really wanted to try for one.  So we’ll see how revision goes.

Thanks to the quick pace of studying matrices, MST124’s TMA03 was handed in early, putting me a month ahead of schedule in both modules.  I’ve decided to concentrate on just maths revision for the last few months of the academic year, so switched back to TM129 to complete the last block, Linux.

The first few weeks have many inconsistencies, typos, and factual errors, but then the block improves.  Actually, despite working professionally with Linux, I came to enjoy the block.  The materials weren’t personally challenging, but the ePortfolio again provided fun avenues for self-directed learning.  (Bonus: I picked up many tips.)

A minor issue was the ePortfolio back loading.  The ePortfolio works best if you work on it as you go.  This both checks current understanding, and distributes the workload.  The Linux block has small, mundane activities at the beginning, and several large, interesting ones after completing the final week of study.  This results in students crushed with many longer ePortfolio activities, then the final TMA, then the EMA, in consecutive batterings.  I feel the module team may have missed this perspective.

The TMA is also a bit questionable.  Several marks aren’t covered at all in the materials … which isn’t necessarily bad.  Independent research is clearly indicated, but methods of evaluation weren’t discussed, so it’s testing students’ innate ability rather than understanding of the learning objectives.  Some marks probably test checking Linux man pages … an answer does appear in a man page, but not the related page, giving me ambiguous feelings.  One question involves Intellectual Property law, entirely absent from module materials (and learning objectives), which I feel entirely inappropriate given the complexity of IP law.  Difficulty linking assessment questions to learning objectives has been a consistent issue with this presentation of TM129.  (Another question confuses “Linux” with “Ubuntu” …)

I’m already working on the EMA’s notes.  I doubt I’ll complete it this week as hoped, though.  TM129 TMA02 still isn’t back, but I’m hoping for that this week, too.  I hope to switch back to maths while I’m still ahead there.


2018/05/17 Edit: TMA03 for TM129 back: 96%.  As that’s the lowest mark of all TMAs across my modules this year, I’m pretty happy with my effort level.  All four marks came for the same point: My testing strategy for an impossibly complex task with only 400 words wasn’t robust enough.  I feel that this one failure couldn’t possibly have been worth 1/3 of the points of a section that had four subsections, particularly when some parts of my testing were quite good considering the ridiculous word count.  So in this instance, I respectfully disagree with my tutor’s assessment.  There were only 3 marks reasonably at stake for the testing section, and I definitely secured at least one, so my score should have been a 98.  But what’s two marks, especially when it’s the first and only time I’ve had a strong disagreement with a marking?  (As I’ve had initial disagreements with other markings, but come to see them from my tutor’s perspective over time, there’s a very real chance the same will occur with this.)  On the other hand, his feedback was insightful and useful!  And who could ask for more than that from a tutor?

Just as I was starting to despair ever seeing TMA02 again, it popped up in my inbox in the middle of the night, about a week late.  I had a stern talk with it, let it know how nervous I get when it stays out till all hours.  I’d like to say that it wouldn’t happen again, but I think we all know that it will.

The results were again too good.  I didn’t get full marks, as I had half a mark deducted for an amazingly obtuse error on my part, but it rounded back up to full marks for the result.  I don’t think later stages will be so forgiving.  It was, of course, on the one part of the TMA that I couldn’t bring myself to proof read, because it was ages since I’d done it, and barely remembered how.  (The exam’s going to be a real treat at this rate.)  Still, aside from that one mistake, I’m very pleased with how well I’ve been doing.  I’m understanding much more than I thought I would, but that’s often due to seeking resources external to the OU for assistance.

After the slog that was differentiation and integration, studying matrices as an absolute sleepwalk.  They weren’t immediately obvious, but I didn’t have to practise too much before they were second nature.  In fact, I found them downright logical and useful.  The mathematics for linking input and output networks have never been that difficult, but they’re messy, and matrices tidy them up nicely.  I tore through the whole unit in two days, and got to work finishing up TMA03.

I submitted my first draft at about 2:30 AM this morning – just half an hour after I got TMA02 back!  I submitted my second draft at about 10:30 AM.  I’ve given it a decent read through, and it’s probably the best I can do for this round, but again I think I’ll do well with it.  As difficult as calculus is, I feel I’ve done a good job grounding myself with it.  And to do it more than a month ahead of the due date is an unexpected relief.  I thought I’d be struggling for time after the way calculus started off.

Part of TMA03 is a practice section for an exam.  It’s only three questions long, and it took me half an hour to get through it.  (The last question was of a form I’d only practised twice before, so it took me nearly all of the half hour to complete.)  At that rate, come exam time I’ll need a little more than four hours to complete the exam, and they only give us three.  I foresee a lot of practice in my future.


2018/03/29 Edit: MST124’s TMA03 back: Full marks again, no comments from the tutor again.  This one was returned only 20 minutes overdue.  I was really pleased with my effort this time, though, and feel for once that the high marks were deserved.

 

You know how teenagers seem to know absolutely everything?  That’s how I feel today!  I just submitted my iCMA43 (MST124’s quiz for the calculus modules) and got full marks.  I’m absolutely insufferable right now.

There was a tutorial last night for calculus, which I was late for.  (My phone is … Well, it’s hard to describe without swearing.  But I’m blaming the phone because the alternative is to accept responsibility for my own choices, and forget that.)  The tutorial really built my confidence.  I made all the same arithmetic and algebraic errors I always do (so no chance of doing well at the exam), but my understanding was where it needed to be the whole way through.

I still have one or two days worth of calculus to get through, and I need to finish up the calculus parts of TMA03, but I can get back to a normal study schedule.  (I put TM129 to the side to concentrate on calculus.)  So sometime next week I’ll start handling two modules simultaneously again.  Since I only have the Linux block to do there, and I already run dozens of headless Linux virtuals (and one physical Raspbian box), I should be able to complete TM129 long before revision for MST124 starts in May.

My TMA02 results are overdue by a day, now, so I’m doing my best not to be impatient about it.  I get that my tutor is busy, and I’ve been in that situation.  On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that there really was a problem with my submission and there’s nothing to mark.  I’ll probably edit this entry once it’s back.  I’ve spotted a few unimportant mistakes in it, so it probably won’t be as good a result as my last one, but I’m not expecting it to be too much worse.

I almost admitted defeat.

Let me amend that.  I admitted defeat.  Like, forty or fifty times.  On one activity.  (Activity 17, combining differentiation rules, if anybody cares.)  But I also went back for more the same number of times.

I finally conquered it confidently and moved past it, with some help from Sal Khan.  But I wasn’t the only one that was nearly completely derailed by that single activity.  Every few hours, somebody in the Facebook group will say that they’re really struggling with Unit 7, or just about to give up on maths completely, or feel like they understood maths until one activity made them feel like an utter moron.  Practically without fail, they’re all staring at activity 17 in panic.

When I go from understanding everything well (or well enough) to understanding nothing, I typically assume that I’ve skipped a major step without realising it.  But when nearly everybody has the same experiences, I feel more comfortable thinking that it isn’t just me.  There was either a foundational piece left out, or simply too steep a learning curve.

It highlights the importance of not relying solely on one source for information.  The Open University often seems fanatical in its defence of its material always being individually sufficient and superior to all other sources.  (This is only my opinion from anecdotal observation.)  For example, any suggestion in the official MST-124 forums to check out an external resource on a topic is swiftly refuted by tutors on the course, and original OU materials are reiterated.  Without fail.

In my experience, no one source has all the right answers, and no one way of learning is right for everybody.  When doing assignments, it’s important to prepare them based on the information you’re instructed to peruse.  But for understanding, make sure you find whatever resource you can find that helps you understand.  If there’s something fundamentally different from what’s in the OU materials, it’s an excellent opportunity to open a dialogue with the tutor and gain a considerably deeper understand of the nuances involved in the reasons for the difference.

It took me five. days. to get past activity 17 using OU materials.  It took me about two hours on Khan Academy.  Find what works for you.  Self-reflection on how I learn is one of the most valuable skills I’ve developed so far.