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.

After five days of websites, phone calls, and emails, I’m finally enrolled on my next modules for Q62.  I’m finishing out Stage 1 with TM129 (Technologies in practice) and MST124 (Essential mathematics 1).  Enrolment for October 2017 opened on the 9th, and it finally got completely sorted this morning.  The website wouldn’t let me register on the first day, because it thought I was trying to take the modules in America from a UK address.  I don’t even know what that means, but I had to call the next day to sort it out.  Once they corrected that issue, they said I hadn’t sent in proof of residence in the UK.  Finding it pointless to argue what had or hadn’t been done, versus what had or hadn’t been lost by their IT systems, I sent in more proof.  The next hurtle was that they registered me on the phone for the modules, but didn’t tie those modules to my degree, so they wouldn’t count toward it.  (In the long run, this isn’t an issue, but it would have required more fuss next year, since my Stage 1 wouldn’t be cleared, even though I’d taken all the required modules.)  Student Finance England should start taking applications for part-time studies in the 2017/2018 academic year in around mid-May, but putting my SFE CR number in now switched me from just reserving the spot in the module until 20 April to being fully registered in it.

As with TU100, I will be on one of TM129’s final presentations.  The module’s final run is October 2018, but I think it has a February 2018 run before that.  It covers three main areas: Networking, Linux, and Robotics.  I’m glad that the degree is rounding out the ICT experience of its programme with these areas.  I’m extremely familiar with the first two, and a very poor hobbyist in the third.  My six year old son helped me build little toy robots last year, and this year he’s been working with a brilliant snap-together circuitry kit his auntie in America got him for Christmas.  Even though the practical portions of the robotics section is entirely virtual, I’m certain he’ll enjoy sharing those parts together.  It also comes with a copy of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, which was one of my favourite books in seventh grade.

MST124, I’m not ashamed to say, is a bit outside my abilities.  I will not be receiving a distinction on this module.  As only a bare pass is required and the specific outcome does not impact my degree classification in the slightest, I’m using this to full advantage and studying something I know I’ll only do about average on.  The trade-off is that I should learn and grow the most with this module.

I’ve finally found the block descriptions for MU123 and MST124, so here’s what you learn:

MU123

  • Basic maths review
  • Vocabulary and notation
  • Types of numbers
  • Statistical summaries (types of averages, significant figures, etc.)
  • Algebra
  • Graphs
  • Inequalities
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Quadratics
  • Statistical pictures
  • Trigonometry
  • Exponentials
  • “Maths everywhere” (which I’m guessing is making it practical, which means story problems)

MST124

  • Algebra review
  • Graphs and equations review
  • Functions
  • Trigonometry review
  • Coordinate geometry and vectors
  • Differentiation
  • Differentiation methods and integration
  • Integration methods
  • Matrices
  • Sequences and series
  • Taylor polynomials
  • Complex numbers

Now, why the OU can’t just put this list side-by-side someplace and let people choose is beyond me.  Looking at this, I can see that I had cleared MU123 by the ninth grade, including the level of trigonometry taught there.  I’m about halfway up the MST124 list, having done some differential calculus, but in dire need of a refresher.  I would be bored to tears on MU123.  So even though I’m quite certain I’ll get toward the lower end of between 40% and 84% on my end-of-module exam, MST124’s my route.  (I’ve heard the exam is multiple choice, though, so anything’s possible.)

It also has a revise & review site that opens up next week for early registrants to prepare them in case we’ve forgotten as much maths as we’ve learned.

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.

Two or three days ago, the Part-Time applications for Student Finance opened up.  It turns out that my order for applying was fine, and probably even intended:

  1. Sign up for Open University account
  2. Begin enrolment
  3. Apply for SFE account and CR number
  4. Complete enrolment at Open University, using CR number from SFE, choosing course and modules
  5. Wait however long it takes to open Part-Time applications at SFE
  6. Complete application at SFE
  7. Send in evidence and declaration form (I used the same envelope sent First Class Signed-for post)

The online application took about 15 minutes, and only that long because I had to check with my father-in-law and brother-in-law that they wouldn’t mind being contacts in case I skipped out on the country.  (Seriously though, after immigration, all paperwork is easy by comparison.)

I’m probably more nervous that my biometrics residence permit is in the post than anything else. (Also that I just realised I didn’t inform them of my change of address for my BRP when I bought my house two years ago. Hrm.)

Looks like I’ll be paying on the loan (quite heavily) while I’m still on the course, as it takes longer than 4 years to complete. I could pay out of pocket, but would rather just smooth out the rough patches so I only have to worry about one thing at a time.


Just a quick edit to show a timeline:

  • SFE application filled out online: 18/5/2016
  • Evidence and Declaration posted: 20/5/2016
  • Signature confirmation received: 23/5/2016
  • Evidence marked as received on account: 25/5/2016
  • Declaration marked as received on account: 6/6/2016
  • Evidence returned: 26/5/2016 (was returned registered post, though I had not asked or paid extra for it)
  • SFE Application approved: 6/6/2016

Well, I’m officially enrolled. That step’s over. But my impatience may bite my behind later on.

I signed up for the course and the first module, TU100 – My Digital Life. It’s a requirement for the degree, but it’s being discontinued at the end of this academic year.  It’s being replaced by two 30 credit modules.  (Frankly, the two smaller modules sound more interesting, but what are you going to do.)

At the same time, I signed up for a student finance account.  I couldn’t sign up for an actual student loan, because it’s the first week of May, and apparently you can’t do that until the last week of May.  Because if the United Kingdom’s governmental services are anything, they’re arbitrary. Which I think should be the Civil Service’s slogan. “We’re nothing if not arbitrary.” Because in addition to being true, it’s also particularly difficult to parse. Like them.

Anyway, since I had the student finance account, and it asked me for my student finance account number when I signed up for the TU100 module … Erm … I think they think I’ve already been approved for the loan and now won’t be able to apply the actual loan to the module without a fistful of emails? That’s just how things typically go for me: I do what I’m supposed to do, which is absolutely not what I’m supposed to do.

Long story short (for me) I got an email confirming enrolment from 5/5/2016. Which is great for me, because it’s the same date in English and American.

Oh, one other thing. Since I’m a resident alien with ILR (Indefinite Leave to Remain, meaning I’m a permanent resident), Open University wants proof that I’m legally here.  Except they put the requirements of what I’m supposed to send on one page that I can’t find. And I’m not entirely sure who to contact.  I’m just going to ignore it until after I’ve proven identity for the student loan, though, as I’m sure it will require the same evidences.

I had the mixed experience of using distance learning to obtain my high school diploma after dropping out. I was successful, and it was nice that such an option existed, but to call it a drag on the soul like a million demons trying to yank me into hell would understate it.

Even though it had a positive outcome, it was an overwhelmingly negative experience.  It soured me on distance learning like soaking Tangfastics in pickling vinegar.

I thought advances in technology would change my mind, but after becoming more familiar with the ethos of the Open University, I realised I was wrong. It’s less about the medium of communication, and more about the quality.  And the structure.  And even the intent.  Okay, look, it’s that there is communication.

It’s really not appropriate to say why I chose the Open University, as I wouldn’t be doing this without it.  The Open University convinced me that I could do this.  (Okay, I probably would try it again at some point, as I started in California, but I was dreading it.)

Here’s what helped convince me:

  • Support
    Mostly I mean the tutors. Previously, when I had questions, I basically talked to an administrator who could help insomuch as telling precisely where I could place my study materials.
  • Study Materials
    Look, I don’t care if they’re online or in a book, what I care about is that I don’t have to go around finding them myself, whether at the bookstore, the library, the school’s office, or lost in the post.  People bang on about the quality of the study materials, but I currently don’t know anything about that.  All I know is that they provide all of them.
  • Part Time Student Financing
    Not really anything to do with the Open University, but the UK government allows part-time students to arrange for student loans, now.  Okay, it may have been better a few years ago when the tuition fees were a fraction of what they are now. And yes, I could pay out-of-pocket, the fees are definitely low enough. But it’s nice that I can put it into a manageable payment and eliminate a barrier that would otherwise exist for me, but not an 18 year old.
  • Everything can be done online
    I know a lot of Open University students like that it doesn’t have to be online, that you can go to tutorials and get face-to-face help. But I just want to put my head down and get on with it. I’m pretty anti-social as it is.  As in withdrawn and introverted, not as in ASBO and Stella Artois. But I mean TMA submission and such. Aside from 4 day schools if I choose the networking route, I don’t think anything can’t be done online.
  • Structure!
    Not just structure, but what appears to be a scientifically created one.  Each module has a number of credits (typically 30, 60, or 120), which generally map to 10 hours of study, over 8 months.  So the recommended 60 credits per year at part time study is 600 hours of study over 8 months (or 36-38 weeks), or about 16 hours per week. The module is then mapped out according to these 16 hour weeks to provide for time to study materials, prepare Tutor Marked Assignments, and so on. So you know exactly how far ahead or behind you are at any point in the module.
  • Feedback
    Closing the other end of my biggest problem with distance learning is that you get feedback on any assignments within two weeks. And I’ve seen some examples of the feedback. I’m sure it will often be down to the ability of my tutors to convey, but the structure for the feedback is good. It’s useful.

All of that’s great, but it does (of course) still leave the biggest problem of distance learning up to me to solve: Motivation.  Finding and keeping that is a constant struggle in distance learning. Many future posts I’m sure deal with this.