TM129 and MST124 post-mortem

These last two Stage 1 modules couldn’t be more different.  TM129 was far too easy for 30 credits, was a waste of both time and money, and makes the OU look a bit like a fake university for even offering it.  The tutor support on the module was amazing.  MST124, on the other hand, while being far too time-consuming for a 30 credit module, was a wealth of information, well structured learning, and left me with the single largest academic confidence boost I could imagine.  The word to paint my tutor in the best possible light would be “terrible”, though.

TM129 was born as three separate 10-unit modules.  My guess was that, much like now, students were forced to take all three modules, with no alternatives, so eventually bundled them up and called them a single module.  There’s not much to really tie them together, however.  The first block in the module, Robotics, doesn’t see students building a robot.  Or designing one.  Or touching one.  Or controlling one.  Or learning how to build or design one.  Students do learn how to control one, by using a (barely) modified programming environment for controlling Lego robots.  The amount of programming done is significantly less than in TU100, and probably less than in TM111 and/or TM112, making that bit of the module superfluous.  Understanding actuators, sensors, different high-level models for robot behaviour, and what can only be described as robotic ethics and sociology round out the block.

I’ll be honest, I enjoyed the robotics block.  Most students I spoke to did not.  I was interested enough in the topics covered to start playing around with Arduino processors, and have made some pretty fun little projects since then.

The second block is on networking.  For this, they just give students a Microsoft networking essentials book, and tell them to read most of it.  And that’s the block.  A £30 book which is pretty darned out of date.  On the one hand, it’s not useless information.  It’s a good primer for networking.  On the other hand … It’s a £30 book!

The third block is on Linux.  Several students found it difficult to complete the module because the tools referenced in the module were so far out of date.  It was very, very light on actual information, again.  I didn’t really hate it outright, because I found plenty of tips for every day Linux use.  But as a primer for somebody who doesn’t know Linux, it was insufficient.  For anybody familiar with Linux, it’s unnecessary.  So it’s a block without an audience, really.

Most horribly in relation to all three blocks, the assessments (TMAs and EMA) had essentially nothing to do with the Learning Objectives.  One task asked students to evaluate a server and client needs to recommend a Linux deployment running several different servers, how to install them, how to test them, and complete it in 400 words.  The problem with this is that only installation and testing were mentioned in the module.  Evaluating client needs and researching server software weren’t part of the learning objectives at all.  Neither were questions on Intellectual Property law, and a host of other questions in the other blocks.  It’s like the module team didn’t even read what they’d written, they just came up with some questions that sounded related to the block titles.

Though I enjoyed the blocks (and, perhaps surprisingly, I really did), I have to say that I feel objectively that the module is not fit for purpose and should be boiled in tar.

MST124, on the other hand, was nothing short of amazing.  I started preparing for MST124 literally over a year ago.  By the time October rolled around, I felt like I barely knew enough to get started.  Indeed, I was still making silly mistakes left and right when I started, because I was so far out of practice.

It was an absolute slog of a module.  It would often take me significantly more than 20 hours a week, when the recommendation for a 30-credit module is about 8.  Most of Unit 3 (functions) and Unit 11 (Taylor polynomials) are written very, very poorly, and I recommend anybody studying MST124 find outside reference material to help with them.  Activity 17 in unit 7 will possibly remain in my memory forever as the most horrifically impossible task, until I again sought outside help understanding it.  But other than these rough spots, it was a steady, continuous climb.

I felt like I’d learned everything well enough by the time I completed the routine unit study, but I wasn’t testing well at all.  So I really, really threw myself into revision.  I revised more every week than I’d spent studying.  It would have been six solid weeks, but I was extremely ill for the better part of one week.  (ALWAYS stay one or two weeks ahead of the module planner to cope with unexpected emergencies.)  When it all paid off in time for the exam, I felt completely unstoppable.  I’d gone from struggling with basic trigonometry and never having dealt with logarithms at all to nearly acing an exam which covered topics most people will never learn.

So if my tutor was rubbish, it’s alright.  The materials were brilliant enough without the help.  (Although it was nice to be part of the Facebook group.  Don’t know how far I would have gotten without them.)

So that’s it.  Two completely different modules.  The OU could really learn a lot by having all of the module teams take MST124 and see how amazing it can be done.

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