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’m done with the OCAS portion of MST-124!  That means that all my assignments are submitted, and the only the left is my certain doom the exam.  Thanks to the bewildering array of rules which make up the OU’s assignment substitution policy, I didn’t really have to submit my last assignment, TMA04, and would still have achieved a distinction level on the OCAS portion of the module.

It’s in, though, and I’m done!

Oh, wait, no.  There’s still that doom exam I mentioned.  Erm.  Imma talk more about the TMA.

The last TMA was by far the most difficult.  At least two, and maybe three questions aren’t directly referenced by the module materials at all.  And one other question is quite possibly a trick question.  I found three distinct and justifiable answers to it, so we’ll see how the one I picked goes.  (I liked maths because there wasn’t a subjective nature to the answers.  What are you doing to me?)

There’s one sub-part to a question which … Goodness.  It looked darned near unsolvable.  In fact, I thought it literally was for a few moments hours, because the modules basically only state that this type of thing exists, and doesn’t describe it at all.  Other websites also didn’t go into very much detail about the topic, so for once that didn’t help at all.  After trying very, very hard to crack the nut, I randomly selected the right nutcracker and found that … well, it was really all very simple all along.  (Except that it specifically asks you to do it in a way that makes it look impossible.)

I tried to make that last paragraph more vague, and I think I just about got it perfect.

So … Guh.  Revision.  I have a plan.  I’ve glanced at enough past exams papers to note that the majority of questions come from a set of very specific types of questions.  If I only revise those types of questions, I’ll probably come out with a Pass 2.  I’m starting to think a Pass 1 will be impossible due to how slow I am, and not all questions are from that specific set.  But we’ll see how it goes.  I’ve managed to give myself two extra weeks of revision time by finishing the study materials early.


2018/05/17 Edit: The mark on TMA04 for MST124 was the same as all others: 100.  I really would have liked some kind of feedback on my TMAs, and really only got tick marks on the answers.  I’m sure there were different approaches I could have used which could have been faster, or easier to remember, or in some other way preferred.  At least I can say I’ve been happy with my effort level all year long.  My practice exams are all coming within 3% of a distinction, so I’m really going to have to get that up about 10% to be confident under exam conditions.  I’ve got two and a half weeks, so here’s hoping!

Thanks to the quick pace of studying matrices, MST124’s TMA03 was handed in early, putting me a month ahead of schedule in both modules.  I’ve decided to concentrate on just maths revision for the last few months of the academic year, so switched back to TM129 to complete the last block, Linux.

The first few weeks have many inconsistencies, typos, and factual errors, but then the block improves.  Actually, despite working professionally with Linux, I came to enjoy the block.  The materials weren’t personally challenging, but the ePortfolio again provided fun avenues for self-directed learning.  (Bonus: I picked up many tips.)

A minor issue was the ePortfolio back loading.  The ePortfolio works best if you work on it as you go.  This both checks current understanding, and distributes the workload.  The Linux block has small, mundane activities at the beginning, and several large, interesting ones after completing the final week of study.  This results in students crushed with many longer ePortfolio activities, then the final TMA, then the EMA, in consecutive batterings.  I feel the module team may have missed this perspective.

The TMA is also a bit questionable.  Several marks aren’t covered at all in the materials … which isn’t necessarily bad.  Independent research is clearly indicated, but methods of evaluation weren’t discussed, so it’s testing students’ innate ability rather than understanding of the learning objectives.  Some marks probably test checking Linux man pages … an answer does appear in a man page, but not the related page, giving me ambiguous feelings.  One question involves Intellectual Property law, entirely absent from module materials (and learning objectives), which I feel entirely inappropriate given the complexity of IP law.  Difficulty linking assessment questions to learning objectives has been a consistent issue with this presentation of TM129.  (Another question confuses “Linux” with “Ubuntu” …)

I’m already working on the EMA’s notes.  I doubt I’ll complete it this week as hoped, though.  TM129 TMA02 still isn’t back, but I’m hoping for that this week, too.  I hope to switch back to maths while I’m still ahead there.


2018/05/17 Edit: TMA03 for TM129 back: 96%.  As that’s the lowest mark of all TMAs across my modules this year, I’m pretty happy with my effort level.  All four marks came for the same point: My testing strategy for an impossibly complex task with only 400 words wasn’t robust enough.  I feel that this one failure couldn’t possibly have been worth 1/3 of the points of a section that had four subsections, particularly when some parts of my testing were quite good considering the ridiculous word count.  So in this instance, I respectfully disagree with my tutor’s assessment.  There were only 3 marks reasonably at stake for the testing section, and I definitely secured at least one, so my score should have been a 98.  But what’s two marks, especially when it’s the first and only time I’ve had a strong disagreement with a marking?  (As I’ve had initial disagreements with other markings, but come to see them from my tutor’s perspective over time, there’s a very real chance the same will occur with this.)  On the other hand, his feedback was insightful and useful!  And who could ask for more than that from a tutor?

Just as I was starting to despair ever seeing TMA02 again, it popped up in my inbox in the middle of the night, about a week late.  I had a stern talk with it, let it know how nervous I get when it stays out till all hours.  I’d like to say that it wouldn’t happen again, but I think we all know that it will.

The results were again too good.  I didn’t get full marks, as I had half a mark deducted for an amazingly obtuse error on my part, but it rounded back up to full marks for the result.  I don’t think later stages will be so forgiving.  It was, of course, on the one part of the TMA that I couldn’t bring myself to proof read, because it was ages since I’d done it, and barely remembered how.  (The exam’s going to be a real treat at this rate.)  Still, aside from that one mistake, I’m very pleased with how well I’ve been doing.  I’m understanding much more than I thought I would, but that’s often due to seeking resources external to the OU for assistance.

After the slog that was differentiation and integration, studying matrices as an absolute sleepwalk.  They weren’t immediately obvious, but I didn’t have to practise too much before they were second nature.  In fact, I found them downright logical and useful.  The mathematics for linking input and output networks have never been that difficult, but they’re messy, and matrices tidy them up nicely.  I tore through the whole unit in two days, and got to work finishing up TMA03.

I submitted my first draft at about 2:30 AM this morning – just half an hour after I got TMA02 back!  I submitted my second draft at about 10:30 AM.  I’ve given it a decent read through, and it’s probably the best I can do for this round, but again I think I’ll do well with it.  As difficult as calculus is, I feel I’ve done a good job grounding myself with it.  And to do it more than a month ahead of the due date is an unexpected relief.  I thought I’d be struggling for time after the way calculus started off.

Part of TMA03 is a practice section for an exam.  It’s only three questions long, and it took me half an hour to get through it.  (The last question was of a form I’d only practised twice before, so it took me nearly all of the half hour to complete.)  At that rate, come exam time I’ll need a little more than four hours to complete the exam, and they only give us three.  I foresee a lot of practice in my future.


2018/03/29 Edit: MST124’s TMA03 back: Full marks again, no comments from the tutor again.  This one was returned only 20 minutes overdue.  I was really pleased with my effort this time, though, and feel for once that the high marks were deserved.

Last year I was in the States for Christmas, and I had run out of things I could study, anyhow.  (I needed to study an online-only section of the module, and it hadn’t yet been opened.)  By the time January rolled around and the new material was available, I had all the enthusiasm of a slug eyeing up a saltine.  Motivation was … well, it just wasn’t.

This year, on the other hand, was great for study!  As MST124 had hinted that it might be more difficult than anticipated (it may not be, it appears to have been one poorly written unit), I had been putting off the networking block in TM129 until a couple of days before the Christmas break.  I was able to catch up during those few days, and then I remembered how difficult it was to start studying again after a break last year, so I carried on with TM129 over Christmas, particularly the week after.

I wrapped things up on New Year’s day, and cut through all but one question on the TMA yesterday.  So that’s the networking block done, and I’m free to wrestle with maths until just about March.  This should see me through the calculus stuff, so I’m pretty happy about the convergence of events.  I feel there should have been a prophecy to give me a heads up.

So, to the rundown of TM129’s networking block!

The OU didn’t really prepare any of the material for this.  There was an outdated textbook from Microsoft with OU commentary on the chapters, and activities that were also mostly taken from the textbook.  I’m of two minds about the activities.  They were exceedingly simple tasks, that took the form of, “Type this line exactly, and copy down the response you see,” and there wasn’t any thinking involved, even for students who had never run the utilities before.  On the other hand, these are tasks that I perform day-in, day-out for my job, and it’s pretty essential that someone saying they’ve studied networking has had some hands-on experience with it.  I just think that, given the unbridled simplicity, there should have been some beefier assignments on the side.  (Trying to write my ePortfolio’s section reflecting on skills demonstrated, when all I was asked to do was type an exact command and copy-paste the results, was the biggest challenge I faced.)

Significant portions of book discussed dial-up networking.  You’d have to try really hard to still find a dial-up ISP, so while it may help someone pass a certification exam, it’s not going to help anybody do anything useful going forward.  (My condolences to anybody disagreeing, you’re obviously still dealing with dial-up and deserve my pity.)

A section on subnetting had the subnetting wrong in an example.  I was working from an updated release of the book where the mistake had been identified and fixed, except it was still wrong after being fixed.  (The OU staff have found the problems and fixed it properly in the module’s errata section.)

Other than that, the textbook was decently fit for purpose, though it could use some updating about speeds, technologies that are available and prevalent, there could be a lot more time spent on VLSM (variable length subnet masking, which is how subnetting typically exists in the wild, though may not be considered a best practice as not all routing protocols support it), and of course Windows Server 2008 hit End of Life status three years ago this month.  Students were mainly asked to ignore the Windows Server bits, though, so that’s not really an issue.  It’s a decent, if slightly outdated, grounding in networking.

I’m a little concerned about the TMA, though.  In the first section, the number of points allocated appear to disagree with the number of statements I need to correct, so I may need to take a closer look at either the assumption I’ve made about the statements, or the assumption I’ve made about the scoring.

Another problem is that the author of the last question seems to misunderstand the word “scalability”.  The author seems to think that it means the ability to cope with a very large scale.  It means, however, the ability to change the scale with which it can cope, typically from very small to very large.  Crucially, it deals with change, or the ability to be upgraded to handle more capacity with increasing demand without a total redesign.  So I’m going to have to spend some of my very precious 200 word count defending both a system’s ability to handle a large scale, as well as its ability to increase capacity based on increased demand, which I’m pretty sure was not the author’s intent when the word count was set.  So I’ll have to leave out some other parts and will lose points here, as well.

Still, I’d be very surprised if my TMA came in lower than 90%-95%, so I’ll just keep my mouth shut and soldier on.

So that’s a very long winded post for today, but it does represent eight or nine weeks of study compressed into two.  Also, Storm Eleanor is blowing buildings around here, right now, so long-winded seems appropriate.


2018/3/9 Edit: TM129 TMA02 finally came back.  It received a 97.  Missing marks were because the tutor felt I was being redundant at an aspect I felt I was being thorough in (fair enough), and two marks off because I didn’t discuss the history of a technology, which wasn’t expressly asked for.  This is not a bad thing.  It looks at first blush like saying, “You didn’t guess the colour I was thinking of,” but realistically, that’s part of the job.  We’re not given full context in our questions.  It’s up to us to discover or create context, or (failing that) to give a complete answer despite not having full context.  It’s a skill I’m normally good with, and I fell short this time.

I had temporarily halted all work on TM129 so that I could get back out ahead with MST124.  That’s because after the disaster that was Unit 3 (functions, which should be much easier than MST124 made it), I thought I’d have to work through the Christmas break just to keep my head above water.  As I just finished Unit 6 (differentiation, which was mindbogglingly easy) and TMA02, I have a few days to head back to TM129 and pick up a bit of what I’ve stepped away from.

For MST124, it’s definitely easiest to work on the TMA after each unit to finish up the questions for that unit before carrying onto the next.  I ended up putting a whole tonne of unnecessary graphs in, particularly for vectors.  I thought of vectors as Applied Trigonometry, and thoroughly enjoyed them.  The whole thing came out at 3400 words and 27 pages.  My EMA for TU100 was 3500 words and 16 pages.  Who knew there was so much writing in a maths module?

TM129 is being picked up at the networking block, which is a large portion of my job.  It’s basically asking us to read portions of the Microsoft Windows Networking Essentials book, and then do OU activities around it.  I imagine this to be very, very similar to T216.

I mentioned on a tutorial last week that I’d done a MS computer-based training module for networking essentials about twenty years ago, and I swear there are entire paragraphs in this book which haven’t changed from that CBT in all that time.  I’m really not a fan of MS training.

The tutorial was a fun one.  Over the last two or three weeks, I’ve spoken on the mic extensively in four tutorials (two each from TM129 and MST124), and I’m getting a lot more out of them.  It’s even worth looking a bit stupid in the ones that get recorded.  It often feels as though the tutors come wanting a lot of interaction, but end up reading a slide show because it’s difficult to get much give and take.  It’s much easier with voice chatting than typing messages.

I mentioned last year that trigonometry had been my mathematical Achilles heel until I finally got it smoothed out by Khan Academy in preparation for MST-124.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I’d have to re-invent it every time I saw a triangle.  And it turns out there are a lot of triangles.

I’m now officially on the far side of Unit 4, which is trigonometry.  By the time I opened up TMA02 and saw the trigonometry stuff, I caught myself saying, “Well this is easy!”  And I wasn’t even punished by the maths gods for my hubris!  It felt really great to be so at ease with the concepts in it.  I can no longer blame not properly learning trig for my failures, and will have to admit to not being that bright, instead.

I also finished the iCMA42 for MST-124 (which covers units 2 through 4) with full marks.  I managed to avoid making the silly, silly mistake I did on the last one, by forcing myself to triple check my answers with a calculator if I got confused by anything.  On the other hand, it took me 9 days and 10 hours to complete, so I can’t necessarily use the same techniques when it comes time for the exam.  A two-week exam would be just about right, though.


Even though I’ve put TM129 away for the time being, I had a chance to attend a last-minute online tutorial with my tutor last week.  He’d had a face-to-face scheduled about forty miles away (and about sixty miles from where he lives), and literally nobody signed up for it, so he sent out an email and did it online.

In the end, there were only three of us on it, but it was just him and me chatting by voice for the first fifteen minutes or so.  Obviously, we didn’t cover much of the actual module material, but we talked a lot about TMA strategies and general study skills.  It was good motivation, as well.  I haven’t yet attended any face-to-face tutorials, but am starting to think it could be quite advantageous.  It’d mean an entire evening away from my children, though, and that’s something I want to avoid after my father’s part-time associate degree left us practically feral for four years.

After catching up a bit in TM129 the other week, I figured I was done with everything in the Robotics block except for TMA01, so I might as well get that out of the way.  As it’s due in mid-December, and it’s such a fast module to study, I figured that if I got the TMA out of the way, I could put TM129 on the back burner until January and just concentrate on MST124’s maths.

TM129’s TMA01 is quite uneven.  Question 1 mostly tests if you were paying attention during the block, and could mostly be answered using the search function from the module planner.  It also asks for opinions, but it’d be difficult to get your own opinion wrong, so …

Question 2 is weird.  Parts A and C check your understanding of concepts.  Part B tests maths skills.  And maths skills are not a part of the Learning Objectives for TM129.  Yet part B still took two full pages to answer.

Question 3 is just programming the virtual robot.  It’s completely harmless, but fun.  I stretched my wings a bit and included abstraction techniques, self-commenting code methods, and so forth, none of which is part of the module.  If there’s a possibility of getting points docked for talking too much, I’ll be guilty here, but there are no word count limits for any section but question 4.

Speaking of question 4, it’s a report.  They ask for a lot of things, starting with research, and want you to fit it all into 400 words.  The word limit is a bit of a tall order, but it sets the expectations for scope.  One problem is that the specification asks for something contrary to the supplied context of the question.  I included it, but didn’t state that it was in reference to the specification request, so I may lose one or two points here.  (I think my tutor’s pretty good, though, so I don’t really think I will.)

Question 5 is just attaching the ePortfolio for the robotics block.  Which was awesome and fun to do.  I never imagined I’d love the ePortfolio, but I totally do.  Just do it as it comes, and not when the TMA is due, though.  Some students are already starting to struggle back-filling ePortfolio activities.


My MST124 TMA01 came back today, literally the last day it could.  I feel bad for my tutor, as she’s obviously extremely busy.  There were no comments on any of my work at all, and even though I had made (quite a few) errors on the TMA (though all the answers were correct), I was still given the full 100 marks.  I think it may have been a bit of a last minute rush job, and I’ll probably get that with each of the TMAs in this module.

I suppose that means my style is okay.  I’m just under halfway through TMA02, so it’s nice that I won’t have to retype everything in a different style.

I’ve moved on from Unit 3 (Functions and Logarithms) to Unit 4 (Trigonometry), and it’s a breath of fresh air.  I love functions and logarithms, and think they’re the coolest parts I’ve encountered in maths.  But the MST124 materials for Unit 3 were abysmal.  Nearly every student who didn’t already understand the subject matter abandoned the materials for Khan Academy or any other internet site.

Anyway, I’ve got quite a few weeks just to concentrate on maths, so I’m hoping to make quite a bit of headway getting to the calculus stuff.  Which is what we’re all dreading.


2018/3/9 Edit: I just realised I never posted my results for TM129 TMA01.  I received a 98 on it.  The missing points were for disagreeing with a point on the exclusivity of statistical and symbolic data, and a misunderstanding on which parts of my explanation I agreed and disagreed with.  The comments were very helpful in identifying avenues for deeper learning, but didn’t provide much insight to what is being looked for in assignments.  So it’s a mixed bag.