When deciding between the MU123 and MST124 maths modules for my degree, I put a fair amount of weight on the diagnostic “Are you ready?” quiz for MST124.  It said my results were good, there were a few areas I should brush up on, but overall I should be just fine on it.

I won’t start the module until 7 October, so I’ll have to wait until then before I throw their pants doused with lighter fluid onto a telephone wire and chanting, “Burn, liar!  Burn!”

I just don’t know how prepared I really am.  See, the OU have opened up a “revise and refresh” website for MST124.  It’s amazing that they even do that.  It has diagnostic quizzes with typical questions one might encounter on various MU123 blocks.  Depending on how well you do on that, they have some cheat sheets for reminding you how to solve certain problems.  (It keeps referring me to read blocks from MU123 … Uh … probably not worth it to buy the books on eBay.)

When I do those, I perform a bit better than I did on the MST124 AYR quiz.  I note my weak areas, I study the sheets, and I do better.  But it kept feeling like it was only checking a very, very narrow section of maths at that level.

So I went to my original plan for MST124 preparation: Khan Academy!  (I can’t say enough good things about this site.  My older son enjoys it about as much as he enjoys Roblox.)  I’ve been working over there for about a week, now, shoring up as many weak spots as I can find, but that list keeps getting longer, and longer, and longer.  The site can hone in on your weaknesses the way painkiller commercials claim their product can.  And the areas of study can be very, very specific.  Like … “Sinusoidal models word problems“.  I have to decipher it before I can decide whether or not I know it and/or need it.  (I apparently do know it.  But good luck ever getting me to recognise it.)

They’re not that difficult to study, it’s just that there’s SO MANY OF THEM!  I’ve “mastered” something like 650 identified skills, and have more than 500 to go.  Granted, that’s for all the maths they can currently teach and evaluate on Khan Academy.  I won’t need anywhere near all of them by the time I start MST124.  But the skills can sometimes take an entire night.  I’ve got a hundred and thirtysomeodd days until the module starts, and a lot of those are on holiday.  In a lot of ways, the pre-study preparation feels harder than TU100 was.

Unlike TU100, though, I’m learning tons, not just practising.  And the practise is definitely necessary to get me into fighting shape again for the module.  And more practise.  And some more.  And it’s also fun.  But that part isn’t different from TU100.  I’ve really enjoyed my journey so far.

I won’t know until after I’m in the middle of it which was better for preparation: The OU MST124 preparation site, designed specifically for it, or Khan Academy, which is pretty much drinking from the fire hose.  Or Niagara Falls.  We’ll see how it goes.

One final bit for today: Results for TU100 will be in on 19 July.  My tutor will give us a cheeky heads-up if we passed or not before that, but nothing more.

With my (first draft) final assignment in the can long ago and myself recovered, I can put TU100 firmly in my rearview mirror, much like a fox run over when you’re late for the airport.  I only have to talk about it again when I get my results, which will take a while.  How did I do on my de facto EMA?  Well, let’s take a look at what it covers:

  • A four page report on concepts relating nominally to “appropriate technology” for different socioeconomic landscapes, but in reality it’s … any report ever.  I’ve definitely nailed the structure, speaking to the right audience, defining my terms, and referencing.  But it’s arbitrary and my confidence lacks any justifiable source.  In a worst-case scenario, I could lose 10 out of 30 marks, but realistically probably 5.
  • A 200 word snip from a job application cover letter.  These are essentially free points, so I’m expecting the full 10 marks, but maybe 8.
  • Sense activity, full 50 marks, ‘nough said.
  • Understanding and normalising relational databases.  The technical side of this I’m very confident with, so this is more about my ability to describe the process, and present information in an appropriate form (in this case some tables).  I’ve defined every technical term within an inch of its life.  Maybe I’ve missed something and I’ll miss 2 of the 21 marks available.
  • A task involving understanding the Data Protection Act 1998, and security and encryption.  This task is possibly the best marriage of its explicit and implicit goals, as the explicit goals mentioned are highly relevant, and the implicit goals of tailoring your message to your audience appear to be equally weighted.  I’m again unduly confident here, but we’ll hedge another 2 out of 19 marks available.
  • A page of maths and the creation of a spreadsheet, full 40 marks.
  • Argument mapping.  This one’s difficult, as there’s lots of moving parts.  There’s logic, there’s reading comprehension, there’s technical detailing … It’s specifically stated that there’s no one answer, but that’s whatever the nice version of a lie is.  A fib?  It’s a fib.  The structure and progression of the questions give the game away.  The worst part is that we’re analysing what appears to be an Italian text that’s been run through Google Translate.  I re-did this portion completely three times, so I’m not excessively proud of my chances.  Maybe 25 out of 30 marks.
  • Risk analysis and the data security CIA triad (mentioned briefly in a MOOC review roundup).  So here’s the problem: I think this one is really about presenting information in an easy to understand format.  I’ve therefore shot for the moon on this one and presented it in a non-standard but easy-to-understand format.  This could backfire like a Chevy in winter.  Worst case is maybe 6 out of 10 marks.  On the other hand, I love the irony of taking an unnecessary risk in a task about risk analysis, so I’m not changing it.

This leaves 185 marks in a worst-case scenario from 210 non-skills marks.  That’s 88%.  If we assume that I do similarly dismally on the 40 skills marks (which would be 35), that’s still comfortably in the distinction range.  How likely is my worst case scenario?  Unlikely.  Realistically, I would mark it at 93-95%.

So how do I feel about TU100?  I don’t feel overwhelmingly like it was a waste of my time, but it’s a waste of money.  That much outdated and poorly constructed material is worth maybe £500.  I had a good tutor and good support from other tutors, but not really in line with the amount of money which was spent.  It did, however, give me an excellent chance to practise my skills.  And remind me how much I hate group tasks.  It’s for the best that it’s coming to an end, and I hope they A) pull the plug on Sense, and B) stop telling people not to take Scratch courses ahead of the module if they use Scratch going forward.

And studying at the Open University?  It’s brilliant.  It’s perfectly suited to my lifestyle.  I’m glad I’m taking it slowly, as I hit quite a few personal challenges and had to keep scaling things back over and over, but I was consistently able to keep up with the work.  I’m quite happy with the study prep I did, as it worked well.  I know the rest will be harder than this year, but I’m really looking forward to the next short five years.

Onto the greener pastures of TM129 and MST124, part-time student finance loans for the next academic year opened sometime in the last few days, so that’s sorted.  Much quicker this year than last in many ways.

And that brings me to … The first year of this blog being complete!  And I’ve written a lot.  I have no idea of what I’ll write about during the summer this year, but I’ll find something to keep me busy and learning.  Certainly I’m going to tackle as much of maths as I can before MST124, and somehow I don’t think that OpenLearn is going to be of much help.