You know how teenagers seem to know absolutely everything?  That’s how I feel today!  I just submitted my iCMA43 (MST124’s quiz for the calculus modules) and got full marks.  I’m absolutely insufferable right now.

There was a tutorial last night for calculus, which I was late for.  (My phone is … Well, it’s hard to describe without swearing.  But I’m blaming the phone because the alternative is to accept responsibility for my own choices, and forget that.)  The tutorial really built my confidence.  I made all the same arithmetic and algebraic errors I always do (so no chance of doing well at the exam), but my understanding was where it needed to be the whole way through.

I still have one or two days worth of calculus to get through, and I need to finish up the calculus parts of TMA03, but I can get back to a normal study schedule.  (I put TM129 to the side to concentrate on calculus.)  So sometime next week I’ll start handling two modules simultaneously again.  Since I only have the Linux block to do there, and I already run dozens of headless Linux virtuals (and one physical Raspbian box), I should be able to complete TM129 long before revision for MST124 starts in May.

My TMA02 results are overdue by a day, now, so I’m doing my best not to be impatient about it.  I get that my tutor is busy, and I’ve been in that situation.  On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that there really was a problem with my submission and there’s nothing to mark.  I’ll probably edit this entry once it’s back.  I’ve spotted a few unimportant mistakes in it, so it probably won’t be as good a result as my last one, but I’m not expecting it to be too much worse.

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.

As the due date of my first ever Open University TMA passed last night, I feel nearly comfortable talking about it in very broad, generic terms.  Even typing that out loud makes me nervous of somehow being stamped as colluding, perhaps the very worst thing I can be.  Or that’s how I feel after actually doing the TMA.

I can’t actually find a single university policy telling me not to post every question and every answer from the TMA.  Rumour has it that his is a no-no, as the questions might be recycled, so it’s odd that they don’t tell people not to do it.

Anyway, I’m not going to do that.  But I am going to shed some light on the content, regardless.  So if the OU police come knocking at my door, you’ll know what happened.  Remember me fondly as you accept your degree.  Or probably not.  Remember me with a “What happened to that guy?” when someone mentions annoying bloggers.

If you haven’t sussed it out, yet, what you’re supposed to learn on a module isn’t necessarily what you think you’re getting into from the module title, or possibly even the description.  What you’re supposed to learn are the items in the Learning Objectives.  So as annoying as their template is, make some kind of peace with the Learning Objectives themselves.

As the TMAs … actually all the assessments … are testing how well you’ve grasped the content you’re supposed to, that means that the TMA questions will fundamentally be tied to the Learning Objectives.  In TU100, the first half of Block 1, that means various study skills (such as taking notes and active reading), netiquette, good academic practice (re: plagiarism), remote collaboration, number bases, binary, computer history, exponential notation and growth, and basic web design concepts.  You can make a few guesses as to what might show up on the first TMA.

Additionally, there’s a bit with the SenseBoard telling you what buttons to push and recording the response.  Which may or may not be testing your ability to copy and paste spreadsheets.

As you can probably tell from the length of most of my blog entries, my biggest difficulty with the TMA is getting the word-count down.  Most sections have a maximum word-count.  There may or may not be a 10% leeway on the upper bound of the word-count, depending on your tutor.  I certainly wouldn’t count on it for an EMA, which will be marked by someone other than your tutor.  Word count tallies, at least on this module, should accompany each section with such a limit.

I finished my first draft about a week before the beginning of the module presentation.  I later decided that my entire third question had to go, and I tweaked question one several dozen times, as well.  Even so, I still put it up on a proverbial shelf to sit for several weeks before submission.  I wanted confirmation on a referencing question, and so waited until our tutorial on the TMA less than a week before the submission due date.

The response to my question was that she didn’t really care.  She didn’t really care if I even attempted a reference, so cheers for trying.  So I changed one word (no hints) and submitted it that night.  And then wrote half of TMA02 for kicks.

The tutorial was great, by the way.  Less than a handful of us showed up for it, and all three of us were done with our TMAs, and one had even already submitted it.  (A fourth showed up half an hour later, which was either late or bang on time, depending on which message from our tutor one decided to read.)  Okay, so my tutor isn’t extremely aggressive with communication, or organisation details like when tutorials are, and she insists that purple Comic Sans is a professional font due to its legibility, but she’s actually very experienced in her role, and it shows.  What she lacks in protocol she more than makes up for in being able to describe complex concepts directly, simply, and quickly.  And, I imagine, is probably good at easing nerves of those less confident with the processes.

Indeed, I found her tutorial much more useful than my previous experience.  Even though I’d be able to stumble through TMA01 and TMA02 without the tutorial, I was made much more confident of the process, as well.

I’ll update this post later with my TMA results, but I’m expecting just below the 90-mark point.  We’ll see how closely calibrated my expectations are.


2016/11/07 Edit: I got my TMA01 results back: 94 !  I lost two marks (of fifty possible) for something cheeky that I did intentionally: I left off the full title and author of an article, and just saved them for my references.  I was pretty much at the very limit of my word count, and the title was some ridiculous twelve words!  That’s six percent of my total allotted word count!

I don’t really know what the last mark was off for.  It was part of the “Relevent skills from the unit” which aren’t specified.  Frankly (as I hinted) I would have taken off another two or three marks if I were to mark it, so I’m hardly going to worry over it.

As I’ll probably detail the reasons for shortly, this is likely the only place I’ll share my results.  It is, however, nice to know that my dedication over the summer has paid off.

My first OU (… and TU100) tutorial was last night.  I had intended to go to a face-to-face tutorial for my first one.  The trouble is that my tutor group’s introduction to the module isn’t until about two weeks after the beginning of the module, and I’m about nine weeks ahead at this point.  So online it is!

Now, I’m not going to characterise the tutorial as worthless.  I will, however, say that it held no worth to me.  Or, really, anybody who can read.  Because basically, they just read to us a very few select snippets from the TU100 guide.

And it took. two. hours.  Weeeell … Okay, it took like one hour, and a whooooole lot of dead air between tutors asking, “Any questions?”  It may have gone on longer than two hours, but by then my options were to log off or stab my hand to alleviate boredom.

The tutors were able to add value by making pie charts that added visual data to the written data, so again, great for those who can’t read … Except it was inaccurate.  iCMA 57 is the only Interactive Computer-Marked Assessment which will impact our final score.  It counts for a grand-whopping total of 4%, but the pie-chart listed it at 3%.  I asked for clarification on this and whether or not iCMA 57 must be passed at 40%, even though it only accounts for 3% or 4% of the final score, and they went off to seek clarification.  (They later returned to re-read what I had read them, and clarification was not achieved.)  I’ll talk about the iCMAs a bit later, but the student reaction to them has been kind of disheartening.

There were 36 participants.  I can’t remember if that was 34 students and 2 tutors, or 36 students and 2 tutors.  But the point is, it wasn’t a whole lot.  Or at least it doesn’t seem like a whole lot for the only online introduction tutorial for a module with 2500 students.

There were no tea breaks, which I found unacceptable.  Indeed, it’s entirely possible that my question about iCMA 57 was answered, but I was heating up the kettle at the time.  So apologies if that’s the case.  You know what?  No.  This is tea.  No apologies!

So will I be back? You betcha!  At least to the TMA01 tutorial.  If that’s equally devoid of new content, I’ll be giving the rest of them a miss.  Indeed, I’ve already decided there’s no amount of content worth me hopping on a train or searching for parking, so f2f’s are right out.  Actually, if it involved searching for parking, the entire degree might just be right out.  The OU’s motto shouldn’t be “Learn and Live”, it should be, “No parking required.”