I did alright with getting ahead during September.  I’d hoped to get four weeks ahead, but ended up only getting three weeks ahead.  But since the modules actually started last week, I’ve done … Maybe four hours of work?

The problem is ITIL.  This is different from the problem being TM254.  The module and module materials are about as good as they can be, considering they’re covering ITIL.  People in the UK who have adopted ITIL sing its praises and talk about how wonderful it is.  I think they have to: If they’ve invested the time and resources required to even understand the depth of ITIL, they don’t want to look like fools.  ITIL was initially created by the British government, but you don’t need anybody to tell you that.  From the moment you start to look into it, it’s obvious that only  the British government could create this kind of bureaucratic mess with as much paperwork as ITIL.

I have a lot of specific concerns with ITIL (such as its teach-to-the-quiz mentality of service improvement, reducing human beings to nothing more than the functions they perform, and the assumed context of IT services being third-party), but they’re far behind the main concern that if one were to run an ITIL shop, all the time would be spent managing ITIL, instead of managing IT services.  To its merit, the TM254 materials are way ahead of me here, warning that, as an infrastructure library, ITIL should be viewed as an a la carte menu of IT concerns which need addressing.  And I agree.  ITIL’s value (and I admit it has substantial value) lies in its questions, but certainly not in its solutions, or rather in its framework for solutions.  Any time you see anything in ITIL that has a number (7 steps, 4 processes, etc.) that’s when it stops being useful.

So it’s proven difficult to study without screaming at my monitor.  Frameworks for management are not the same thing as management, and I pity the organisations who can’t figure out why it takes so much time and money to get things done when they’ve clearly ticked all the boxes on their list.  Thankfully, the UK organisations I’ve dealt with all only pay lip service to ITIL, and none have actually implemented it to any degree.

I guess the real solution is for me to put this unit behind me as quickly as possible.  I just hope I’ve filled out the right form for that.

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!)

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!