I’ve received two emails from the OU this week in relation to two of the modules I’m starting in October: TM257 and TT284. Their titles were nearly identical, but their content was rather different.

For TM257, which I happened to read whilst on holiday, it had an offer to prepare for the module by creating a Cisco NetAcad account, logging in and downloading the Cisco Packet Tracer network simulation environment, and taking a short course on its use. I thought this was cool, created the account, and put it out of my head for a while. I figured the TT284 email would be much the same, and I made a note to check both of them out in more detail after I got back.

I did the Packet Tracer course today. I’m quite happy to get my hands on Packet Tracer, to have a bit of a play with it before the module. I know how slowly things are going to move at the module’s start, but it’ll help at least a little. I had fun trying to do a Packet Tracer Activity without watching the accompanying video. I thought I’d completed it in just about five minutes, but it was slightly over half an hour before I’d gotten the activity to agree that I’d completed all the tasks it was asking for.

The course itself wasn’t terribly helpful, as it’s mostly going to be over the heads of non-networking people, and fairly basic for any networking people. As is so extremely common with OU materials, it’s a solution without an actual audience. They really need to work on serial development from one year to the next, so these gaps don’t engulf the majority of the intake. It took me just over an hour (due to taking an inordinate amount of time on that one activity, which ideally should have only taken 7 minutes, but I wouldn’t have learned as much), so it was cheap in terms of my investment. Over all, I appreciate the offer and the effort. (It’s rewritten for last year’s TM257, but is already outdated as the CCNA paths no longer look at ALL like it did a year ago. On one hand, it’s not the TM257 team’s fault that it’s changed so drastically so quickly. On the other, everybody in this industry knows how often this happens, and we know not to plan anything that depends on it being static. I hope they’ve got better clarity on the road map by the actual start in October. I know Cisco is willing to help them if they reach out for specific help.)

TT284, on the other hand … Well, despite the similar title of the email, it had nothing at all to do to help students prepare for TT284. It was a link to the Are You Ready For quiz for TT284, along with an explanation that it was a student’s fault if they didn’t do well on the module, despite students being assured they’ve been prepared if they’ve passed all the courses leading up to TT284. And that’s it. And the questions in the AYRF quiz boil down to, “Are you able to write HTML by hand, and have you written a lot of programs outside of OU study?” It’s frankly insulting and reads like a disclaimer. If students aren’t getting enough out of their previous years’ study to do well on this module, it should be addressed at the end of those modules. And real resources should be offered to the students, rather than a general, “You suck at HTML. Good luck sorting it out!”

I get that university study is learning how to learn at a deep level, rather than being spoon-fed knowledge, but the OU has convinced its students that they’re ready for something they’re not, and then told them it’s their fault for not being ready. Again, this would be better handled were there better serial links from one module to the next in both materials and assessment/feedback. At the very least, TT284 could learn a lot from the TM257 staff.