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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

At the last tutorial I went to, we received an update on the Stage 2 modules for Q62 (and Q67) which are being retired within the next few years.  Some changes are excitingly small, and others are large enough to make me change my plans.

Probably the biggest news is what isn’t changing.  M250 – Object Oriented Java Programming is almost certainly being replaced with another Java module, and might even still be called M250.  This is good news for me, because I was worried after taking the Learn to Code for Data Analysis MOOC on OpenLearn and the news that TM112 included Python that a new Python module would be replacing M250.  I don’t care one way or the other if they teach using Python or Java, object-oriented is object-oriented to me at this point, and the skills seem fairly transferable.  But I’d prefer to have a more mature module than a complete tear-down which would be required by switching to Python.  Hopefully they’ll be able to preserve quite a bit of the existing material and give it a good update in the process.

The largest change is probably happening to the Networking path for Q62.  T216 currently takes 50% of the Stage 2 modules, and is reportedly very difficult.  There are so many great things to study at Stage 2 that I had recently made the decision that I just couldn’t justify the full 60 credits required for it, and so was going to take four programming and developer based modules, instead, and just certify in networking on my own time.

That’s no longer necessary.  T216 is being split into two 30 credit modules, with the first half being taught in Stage 2, and the second half in Stage 3.  Given the effort level reportedly required, this seems like a good idea.  Most importantly, it makes the networking path much more flexible.

It’s not the only module being shrunk, though.  T215, which was the only other 60 credit module in Stage 2, is also becoming a 30 credit module.  The other 30 credits aren’t be replaced, however, as there was apparently a lot of redundancy already with an existing Stage 3 module.  This updates the module and removes the redundancy.

Another largish change is that a new TM254 – Software Engineering module is being introduced.  (Final module code is pending … And everything else, really.)  This includes parts of both M256 and M258, and I imagine replaces both of them … But I’m not entirely clear on this last part.

So here’s the summary of changes:

Stage 1:

TU100 My digital life – Final presentation being taught now, being replaced by TM111 Introduction to computing and information technology 1 (30 credits) and TM112 Introduction to computing and information technology 2 (30 credits)

Stage 2:

M250 Object-oriented Java programming – Final presentation October 2017, replacement also probably M250, or another Java module

T215 Communication and information technologies – Final presentation October 2017, replacement an unnamed 30 credit module

T216 Cisco networking (CCNA) – Final presentation October 2017, replacement TM257 at Stage 2, and TM357 at Stage 3

M256 Software development with Java – Final presentation February 2018, full or partial replacement by TM254 Software engineering

M258 IT project and service management – Final presentation October 2018, full or partial replacement by TM254 Software engineering

Stage 3:

Currently unknown, aside from the addition of TM357 as the second half of the Cisco networking module.

As I’ve said, all this will change my plans.  I had been expecting to take M250, M269, M256 and TT284 (Web technologies, which I think is also just going to be refreshed similar to M250) at Stage 2, and self studying the CCNA.  Now I think I’d like to take M250, M269, TM254 and TM257.  Stage 3 is nearly half a decade away at this point, so I’m not going to worry about it just now.


Completely unrelated, I’ve got my TMA04 submitted.  The topics covered are statistical analysis, creating graphs, determining averages, personal/professional development planning, loops and lists in Sense, and report research & writing.  And probably also referencing.

In US terms, I’d give my report all of a solid C-, but that’s difficult to translate into the OU model.  I also intentionally broke the rules for the PDP section, as I’m not going to lie and pretend the ticky-box method of self reflection is useful for me, so I expect to lose a huge chunk of points for that, but it’s only worth 10 marks anyway.

If it were me grading, I’d take 10 marks off my report, 5 marks off my PDP, none off the Sense stuff, and I’ve probably forgotten 2 marks worth of stuff on the statistical analysis.  Additionally, my tutor seems to take points off the 20 skills marks in direct proportion to marks taken off the rest of the assessment, so that’s another 2 marks off.  All together, I’d score me an 81 on this one.  It makes me wonder how badly I’d have to do in order to fail an assessment.


Edit 2017/2/24: TMA04 results came back last week.  Somehow I scored another 100%.  I can’t really say that this is good news, though, because it highlights how vastly different my expectations are from my tutor’s expectations.  I can’t truly calibrate my expectations with the OU’s until the EMA comes back, but it seems as though there needs to be a large shift.

Edit 2017/4/3: T216 module descriptions now indicate that T216 is being split into TM257 and TM258, both at Stage 2.  As networking once again requires half of the Stage 2 modules, there’s no flexibility to it, and frankly no point to me taking it.  Books off eBay it is!

Edit 2017/8/29: T216’s replacement is now showing as Stage2/Stage3 again.  TM257 and TM357.  Boy do they like change!