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.

I’ve withdrawn from TM254. That is the most horrible, atrocious module I can imagine. It’s beyond me how anybody was proud enough to submit it, let alone getting it past an academic review. It’s more long-winded than I am, it contradicts itself (a lot), parts of it are wrong, it’s repetitive where it isn’t contradictory or downright redundant, and it’s so boring that I was doing anything I could do not to sit in front of it.

Don’t underestimate my ability to take boring. I sat through to the end of Battlefield Earth. This module is worse than Battlefield Earth.

This is going to end up adding an entire extra year to my degree course, but it also gives me a chance to reevaluate and decide if I want to switch tracks to Maths. Maths was crushingly difficult for me, but it was imparting real knowledge, not bureaucracy dressed up like facts and knowledge.

The only thing TM254 will prepare anybody for is how to be a blindingly ineffective manager who can really tick those boxes and prove why he or she isn’t responsible for the fire they’re standing in.

Meanwhile, M250 is going swimmingly. I submitted all my work for January halfway through December, and am happily working through the rest of the module.

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.

As it turned out, being six days behind was not sufficient for completing TMA01 for TM254.  I had to finish through week 7 completely (and some advance reading in week 9 for two answers) before I could complete the TMA, but it’s done!  It’s not great, but it’s also not my worst effort, I think, so I may end up doing better than I initially worried.  Knowing what style questions they have planned for the exam, though, I’m more than a little nervous about that.  I’m glad that the result system for TM254 won’t be the lowest-of-OCAS-or-OAS that’s common for the OU, but it may not make a lot of difference in the end.

I’ll talk about about M250 early next month, I hope, but it turns out I’m not really behind there, either.  The TMA is a very fluffy bit of programming which really just needs more thought on testing than coding, and the tutorial I attended last night set me at ease about potentially having much to catch up on.  I’m hoping to have things sorted for the Christmas break soon.

Well, I went and did it.  Despite it being my most important rule … I’ve let myself fall behind.  There are warring parts of me that want to blame anyone but me, and accept all the blame.  But I honestly think that TM254 is just terrible enough to bear more than some of the responsibility.  I get so angry with how poorly written it is, how often it contradicts itself, and, of course, how wrong it is, that I have to wander away from it for a bit or risk stress levels that are way too high.

I fell several weeks behind.  As of right now, I’m still technically six days behind, but that’s sufficient for me to start work on the TMA that’s due in a week.  I’ve got most of my notes for the TMA complete, so it’s mostly writing it up.  That should take me between two and four nights.  The worst part isn’t how it’s impacting TM254, but that my other module is suffering while I’ve tried to catch up.

Just a quick example of how poorly thought out the module is: The first TMA is due in week 8.  It evaluates material (or at least your reactions to being assessed on material) from week 9.

Here’s another example: An alleged 7 hour block part is broken down into 7 sections.  These sections are 10 minutes, 35 minutes, 5 hours and 20 minutes, 15 minutes, 25 minutes, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes.  Am I the only one who thinks that if these are the way the sections break down, perhaps there was a much more logical way to break the sections down?  And this occurs in most of the block parts.  The beehive structure does not lend itself well to study sessions.  And it’s less of a beehive and more of a Frisbee, anyway.

(I will interject a defence of the module here, in that at least they warn you ahead of time that the block part is unbalanced.  It doesn’t make it any more logically written,  however.)

I should be able to get both the TMA done and the six days’ work I’m behind this next week, then it’s time to concentrate on the TMA I have due in my other module.  (That one at least has actual answers, and not “Guess what I’m thinking” questions like, “What does this imply?”  Knock it off.  Your assumptions are not assessable facts.  And from the way everything else has been written, the TMA rubric will require that your answer match the question’s author’s, regardless of how well defended, cited, referenced, reasoned, and articulated your answer is.)

I’m shooting for about 70 marks on this TMA, even though the lowest I’ve ever gotten on anything with the OU is 90.  I’m going to take a result of Pass 2 on this module and attempt to make up for it in future years.

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!