As with the previous MOOC review, I had signed up to these courses to help prepare myself for university study.  When doing this, I’m hoping for useful content, but am willing to walk away with just reinforcing good study habits, as well.  These didn’t tick either box.

Course Title: Succeed with maths – Part 1, Succeed with maths – Part 2
Provider: The Open University via OpenLearn
Price: Free
Level: Introductory
Effort: Self-paced, 24 hours, estimated 8 weeks
Prerequisites: None
Completion awards: Statement of Participation, Open Badge

About the course:
I didn’t honestly get very far into the first course before I realised that this was an especially remedial maths course.  I hadn’t really expected the first one to be too much more involved, so I just took the quizzes to make certain I wasn’t going to be leaving a gap in my knowledge, and got through it.

The second course, though, I thought would at least have some kind of intermediary maths in it.  Instead, it advances to the level of reading graphs.

The problem with MOOCs like this is that anybody who is disciplined, organised, and educated enough to be able to learn from such a MOOC has already far outstripped the content of this MOOC.  This is to say that there is essentially a non-existent target group for this MOOC.  Here’s my Venn Diagram describing this:
Success with maths Target Students

[Source: My arse (2016)]

This makes it a useless course.  As a result, the content is useless, and it’s useless to use to develop study habits.

Thankfully, there ARE solutions out there.  One of the solutions is so fantastic that it’s shifted a portion of my study plan for my degree.  I’ll review this other solution at a later date.

As I stated in my last post, I’ve been using free MOOC resources to prepare for university-level learning.  I logically thought this free course would be a good place to start.  Here’s my review of it:

Course title: Taking Your First Steps Into Higher Education
Provider: The Open University via OpenLearn
Price: Free
Level: Introductory
Effort: Self-paced, 24 hours, estimated 8 weeks
Prerequisites: None
Completion awards: Statement of Participation, Open Badge

About the course:
This course draws material and inspiration from the Open University’s Access modules, Y031, Y032, and Y033 for content on Arts & Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM subjects, respectively.  The full Access modules give a small and non-threatening taste of higher education study, to help you determine if it’s right for you.  This MOOC is, then, really a taster course for a taster module.  In theory, it’s meant to help you evaluate which of the general subject types you might like to study, and if you think you might enjoy (or be capable of) studying in higher education.

In reality, it comes off more like a commercial for the Open University, but one with its heart firmly in the right place.  It does do what it says it will do, but it’s a bit rhetorical in that it assumes and then insists that the answer is always that if you’re at all interested, then its right for you, and tries to convince you of this.  But this is only for higher education in general.  It’s a bit of a cheerleading exercise rather than an objective view giving both positive and negative views.

It does an excellent job of preparing those who have not studied at higher levels for a fundamental shift in learning philosophy, the change of focus from led instruction to self study.  It doesn’t do much for giving you tools for overcoming this shift, but does impress its importance.

The arts and humanities discussion was the most surprising for me.  I came into this module with a prejudice against the very nature of art history, evaluation, and appreciation. But within just a few short questions, Dr. John Butcher had shifted my world in response to art, particularly contemporary art. He had also done it in the section on poetry evaluation. I was able to access a poem I’d studied earlier and instantly recognise values in it I had never seen before, found an obvious meaning I’d never considered, and even uncovered additional subtext relative to modern philosophy that was shouting out for me to share my experiences with others.

The social studies sections were just the opposite.  Dr. Jonathan Hughes felt patronising and dismissive in his lecture. I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that he was the lead on the project for this MOOC, with its rhetorical approach and cheerleader enthusiasm. It’s a terrible shame, too, because I’m deeply passionate about social sciences, particularly social psychology and development.  But he would repeatedly invite discussion, only to then give the ‘right’ answer. At one point, he invited the student to compare their personal answers to his … Only to have his answers (and not even his exact answers, but a specific interpretation of them) be the basis for quiz questions later.  I found it quite insulting.

Finishing things up with reliable STEM subjects was a relief.  Dr. Laura Hills certainly knew how to lecture and prepare learning materials. Her approach quickly invited independent thought and provided the confidence (to me at least) that I felt the course should have been promoting all along.

Over all, I feel that the MOOC lacked substance of useful content unless you A) want to go to university, and B) don’t know if you’d rather take humanities, social sciences, or STEM subjects. Which should bring the total number of humans on this planet who would actually find the course useful to … Zero? Nobody wants to go to university without at least having an idea of what kind of studies they want to pursue. Sure, they might not be able to decide between two or three degrees, but to have no clue?  Whatever.

I do feel that I gained a lot of personal insight from this however, especially thanks to the amazing questions from Dr. Butcher.  It just wasn’t the insight I was expecting.  The warnings about the pitfalls of self study and few other revelations scattered throughout the sections are useful and appreciated, and will be remembered, but possibly not at the cost of the 10 real hours or so I spent with it.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was going to do some preparation for studying at the Open University. It’s a distance learning university, which I’ve struggled with in the past due to poor communications tools before technology improved them.  I’ve been out of formal education for over 20 years, though I have spent a few years employed as a trainer for computer and network troubleshooting.  (I also was assigned one class to train people how to take care of flowers. It was a fun job.)

I initially tried by studying materials for a CCNA in hopes that it would make T216 easier and faster. I made decent progress in learning, but realised that I was only reading the materials. I wasn’t taking active notes, I wasn’t practicing anything hands-on, and while I was absorbing the concepts very well, I wasn’t likely to be able to retain details which would be necessary for the CCNA exam.

So far as my original goal, this was great. Being comfortable with the concepts when I take T216 will indeed make it easier.  But it underscored that my method of study wasn’t going to cut it at university. I realised that I had a golden opportunity between now and the course beginning in October to study how to study, to raise my abilities of learning to get the most I can out of my degree course.

After some doing some online searches, talking to a few people (only online, goodness that would be an awkward conversation for me in person), and heavy doses of self evaluation, here’s my plan for university study preparation:


  • The Good Study Guide by Andrew Northridge, published by the Open University
    • This was the first recommendation to me, specifically to help with writing essays at university level.  I am not reading it as a book; I am using it as a study resource and practically the basis for my own self-taught module. I initially devoted about an hour a night to study with it, and now go back to it as necessary to do some activities and reflection.  Though I started with it, I couldn’t complete it without finding other things to study, because it works best with real examples of your work on courses.  The Open University no longer sells this book, but it’s available through Amazon or other avenues.
  • OpenLearn badged courses
    • After the Good Study Guide stalled because of lack of coursework, I moved to MOOCs. I started with badged OpenLearn courses.  I’ll evaluate these courses at a later date, but they’re of varying quality and usefulness to study preparation.  In general, they’re better for experience than they are for what you actually get out of them.  For example, I was hoping to get some maths refreshers or maybe push myself a bit, but the badged courses for maths are well below university level and can be done fairly easily by anybody who stayed awake through GCSE or high school maths.
  • Other MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) for fun
    • Realising that the experience of the modules were more useful than the knowledge in the modules, I expanded to FutureLearn just to find courses that looked interesting.  I’ll evaluate these later, too.


  • My strategy is to treat what I’m doing as seriously as I can. When I enroled to the Open University, I determined I could set aside about 16 hours a week.  Thanks to The Good Study Guide, I’m now closer to being able to set aside about 24.  During my study preparation, I’m taking half of the initial figure and devoting that to my studies.  For an hour an evening and a couple of extra hours on the weekend, I go to the study space I’ve set up, close the door, and do some serious studying.  Most of the time is on the MOOCs, but I also devote a fair amount to the Good Study Guide so that I’m sure my skills at studying are actually improving.


  • I’ve been extremely pleased with the results of this initiative so far.  Perhaps the best thing to come out of it has been the boatloads of confidence that it’s given me.  I’ve proven that I have at least half the time that I’ve set aside for study, and that I can stick to it at least for a few weeks.  I’ve also learned that I really, really enjoy studying. If I were to cancel my degree course right now, I’d be quite happy to continue to do the MOOCs with the same level of consideration and seriousness.

If anybody is considering going back to learning, I highly recommend this method.  You don’t have to use the Good Study Guide, but I would recommend finding some specific guide, and preferably one that helps you analyse your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to course goals.

Oh, for the sake of Saint Eff. You know, I thought I’d done a fair amount of looking into what TU100 would entail. I read the OU documentation, I chatted to a few former students … At one point I said to one, “Sense seems to be a lot like Scratch.”  The response was that it was “similar.”

It isn’t similar. It’s Scratch.  It’s an old version of Scratch which was modified slightly to have inputs and outputs to the Senseboard.  These modifications have changed the structure of the .sb save files significantly enough so that the two can’t load each other’s programmes, but it’s the same thing.

So, if you’re looking to get a tiny bit of a jump on TU100 before the start of the module, head over to Scratch and check it out. It’s pretty cool.  My five year old son loves it.  I think I’ve mentioned it before.  You use drag-and-drop tiles to build a programme using conventional coding logic structures.  And you can make a cat fart.  (Which is where the part about my five year old son loving it comes in.)  You can do a lot more with it than that, but that’s pretty much how far he’s gotten.  It’ll run on just about anything, including a Raspberry Pi. (I’m already talking about the Pi too much, aren’t I? Fair enough.)

(I imagine it will get worse.)

Scratch is a good enough introduction to coding concepts for my son in Year 1, but it’s going to drive me a little batty.

I just think that it’s interesting that the OU is so uptight about making sure its students give so much attribution to original authors, but they’re pretty quiet about MIT’s input to their Sense environment.

Student Finance marked my student loan application as approved and my declaration form as received this morning, even though it was in the same envelope as my identity and residence evidence.  The student loan process took just under three weeks to complete, and the entire enrolment process took almost exactly a month, even though I had to wait a good while for part-time student loans to open.

Since I applied for the loan, a few more dates have filtered to me from the Open University.  The module website for TU100 will open on 6 September.  The initial shipment of course materials will be shipped out on 9 September.  (I’m fairly close to Milton Keynes, so it shouldn’t be more than a couple of days before they arrive.)  These materials will include the Senseboard, which is a microcontroller with various inputs and outputs which can be programmed using a drag-and-drop programming environment called Sense.  I didn’t realise until today that I could download Sense ahead of time and play around with it.  The rest of the materials (books, apparently) will be shipped out on 25 November.  I’ll be ripping any DVDs I get so that I can load them onto tablets for easier access.

The first group of materials are for use beginning 1 October, which is the module start date.  This being distance learning, I don’t know how much that start date matters.  My initial hope was to have read through all the initial course material once by the “first day” of the module, so that I can focus my actual studies where they need to go.  I haven’t seen how much course material there is, though, but it does seem unlikely I’ll be able to get through it in only two weeks.

The second group of materials are for use beginning 17 December.  As I don’t reeeaaally think they’re going to have us start on a new block the Friday before Christmas holidays, I suspect that means the materials are really for use beginning the beginning of January.

When I look at the six different blocks, I am a bit nervous about how quickly they’re going to move.  It’ll be one TMA to the next to the next, and I hope that I can keep up, even though it’s an introductory module.

I think my next step is to have some fun playing with Sense.  I’m pretty sure that I can use it without the Senseboard to make some terrible games.  I’ve also got a hold of a Cisco switch (a Catalyst 3750) which will help with prepping for the CCNA.  I’ve managed Ciscos quite a bit, but most organisations I’ve worked for have used Netgear.  It’ll be nice to have one in my home lab for testing.

The only thing I regret is that I’d rather be taking the modules which are going to replace TU100 next year, TM111 and TM112.  Though if they also use the Senseboard, then it’s probably not all that different.