Since TM257 is kind of a non-module, a non-review seems appropriate. And the great thing for me is that a non-review seems like it should be rather quick to not write.

As stated many places, the content for TM257 comes from Cisco’s NetAcad course environment. It comprises NetAcad courses for CCNA R&S: Introduction to Networks and CCNA R&S: Routing and Switching Essentials. You read very, very dry web pages that are like a Flash website-book, check understanding through a variety of drag-and-drop exercises, a very poor syntax checker, and a very awesome virtual network lab called Packet Tracer. (Okay, so the UI for Packet Tracer needs some remedial attention, but its functionality is excellent.) There are glossary flash cards, quizzes, and chapter exams after each portion, and a “final” exam for each of the two constituent courses; one is taken at home, and one is taken at the day school when there isn’t a global pandemic.

NetAcad has all this as a lovely pre-packaged unit, and though dry, it’s very good. The pacing, the knowledge, the checking, the repeating, the practising … It’s a great package. But for it to be an Open University module, it needs more.

It needs learning outcomes. It needs summative assessment. It needs TMAs. And frankly, I’m not very keen on TM257 in this department. The learning outcomes aren’t what NetAcad designed their module to provide, but rather a combination of what it’s observed to provide, and to a degree what it’s hoped to provide. The module team has made it very difficult to compare notes, but it seems that the evaluation fit so poorly this year that possibly nobody scored a distinction-level percentage on one of the EMA questions, and possibly only a couple of people even scored above 70% on it. Which is more or less fine, but it’s less fine when the items being evaluated must have been informed by what was taught by someone else. Either the learning outcome doesn’t match the materials, or the evaluation doesn’t match the learning outcomes. Because it seems a fair stretch to think that the materials did teach what was in the learning outcomes, the learning outcomes were appropriately evaluated, and nobody lucked into a distinction-level answer. Especially when you consider how many certified industry practitioners were on the module.

I mean, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I’m beginning to guess why it might be that we can’t get straight answers about how people did on that question.

Anyway, that aside, I suspect we’ll see similar numbers of people with distinctions this year as we did last year, and that seems to fit more or less with other Stage 2 modules. So, over all, in the broad view, it feels like the evaluation is in the right ball park.

So that’s kind of my evaluation of the module, too. It’s got dry materials, great information, and evaluation that’s more or less fine.

I’ve been putting off a review of these modules because covering all three is a lot of work. And a great way to make that worse would be to split it into three different posts. So that’s exactly what I’m going to do. First up will be M269, with a breakdown of what’s encountered on the module, how I feel about the various sections, and then an overall reaction to the module.

Note that I’m not going to discuss actual programming here. M269 happens to use Python as its language of choice, but that’s just a vehicle to demonstrate algorithms. University is not the choice place to learn a progamming language, and the concepts in M269 are language-agnostic.

M269 starts by considering the concept of abstraction, and multiple ways it can be used in computing. This is excellent, and fills a major gap in M250 caused by the language choices employed by Java. It’s a gap that made M250 more difficult to study, so that might be a reason to consider taking the two simultaneously … But then you’d have two different programming-heavy modules using different languages, and that could prove confusing, especially come exam time. The conventional wisdom is to take M250 the year before M269, and I wouldn’t disagree with that.

From abstraction, it considers (abstract) data types. I think a lot of the instruction here implies without stating that there’s a natural link between the shape and definition of your data, and how you can use that data. It’s explored more explicitely in some MOOCs I’ve done, and it feels useful. Still, students who pay attention will find the connection. Using the data leads to solving problems (such as searching and sorting) using algorithms, and then evaluating between multiple useful algorithms. This provides the context for discussion of algorithm complexity. So far, so good. This is covered in many introductory-level computing MOOCs from other universities. Frankly, I didn’t find the OU model particularly compelling, aside from laying the foundations of abstraction. But it wasn’t much worse than other methods I’ve encountered, except that it’s rather dry. It’s not as fun or entertaining as MIT-OCW, HarvardX, or UBCx MOOCs, and contextless programming challenges (aside from the iCMAs) aren’t engaging as they’re encountered in the materials. On the other hand, I found the Big-O (being changed to Big-Ω for future presentations, and the module actually explains the difference) discussion more academic than I’d encountered, which I found really useful.

The module also covers formal logic, and it does this beautifully. My dad used to lament that Geometry was the closest that students got to formal logic in school, and thanks to computer science that’s no longer the case. The largest, gaping problem here is that there’s no feedback to students on this portion of the module. Along with computability, this is assessed only in the exam, and detailed feedback is unavailable. This does a disservice to students, but one that’s likely welcome to both the majority of students and tutors alike … It seems like a lot of work for everybody.

I never got a word from my tutor, aside from a bizarre marking on a TMA. The TMA asked for changes to an existing function, and I was able to get the job done without changing the inputs and outputs, which is essential in a multi-programmer environment. She criticised me for not making a completely different function which couldn’t be used as a replacement. Fair enough. But I was able to get help from other tutors, and the tutorials from these other tutors were always engaging and enlightening.

I think there’s a lot that M269 does right, but there’s a lot that freely available MOOCs do better at an introductory level … M269 was a bit basic for a second-stage module. It does some things, like formal logic, abstraction, and complexity, better than those MOOCs, but it’s not as engaging. And for an eight month module, engagement is critical. It’s a good and important module, but it could do with some fresh, colourful paint.

This 2019/2020 academic year, I’m going not going to be able wing it. I’m taking three 30 credit modules, which the OU recommends might take from 24 to 27 hours of study a week. Realistically, I read and study slowly, and this is stage 2, so that might be underestimating it. Unfortunately, there’s really not another gap in my schedule that I can maintain for more than a few weeks.

For a few weeks at a time, I’ll be fine with finding extra time here or there, but just to get TMAs out, and possibly exam revision come next May. (May is always insanely busy at work, though, for some reason, so we’ll see.)

I’ve squeezed an extra half hour into my schedule at night, and I have my extra hours on Wednesday back, but I’m just barely in the green zone, now.

Study schedule

20:30 – 23:30 15:00 – 17:00 20:30 – 23:30 20:30 – 23:30 17:00 – 20:00 20:30 – 23:30 20:30 – 23:30
20:30 – 23:30 20:30 – 23:30

Total: 26 hours

(The OU academic week starts on a Saturday.)

I know that this is the absolute limit of my self discipline. Anything more is just going to crash out. The hours aren’t the best for my brain being active, but my family comes first. So everything has to happen after bedtime, or when the boys are with their grandparents.

I’ve also been able to plan for what the week-by-week looks like, making some assumptions about breaks in the OU’s schedule next year:

Week 614/11 TMA01
Week 94/12 TMA01
Week 1012/12 TMA01

Break 21/12/2019 – 3/1/2020

Week 1530/1 TMA02
Week 1820/2 TMA02
Week 2112/3 TMA03
Week 2325/3 TMA02

Break 11/4 – 17/4

Week 32ExaminationEMAEMA

M269 also has 7 iCMAs throughout the year, but they’ve never caused me to rush in the past. There’s a near miss in weeks 9 and 10, but they’re first TMAs, which tend not to require as much work as later assignments. Finishing two EMAs and revising for an exam all at the same time does seem like a crunch, so I’m glad I’ve got about two months to sort that out, along with studying the final module units.

At some point there will also be a residential / day school for TM257. It will probably be around the Easter break, and there’s an evaluated network configuration task that’s worth 30% of our EMA, and an exam on the day which I think is worth another 30% of the EMA. (I don’t have access to the assessment strategy, yet.) Revising for that might be very, very tight on time, so I hope it goes alright.

I won’t officially have my results back for M250 for another five weeks or so, but the exam question paper’s been released, so I have a pretty good idea of how I did. I’m not 100% sure if I missed one of the sections. I practiced my exact answer to that exact question so many times, that it’s difficult to remember if I actually wrote the answer on the answer book, or am just remembering one of the times I practised it. Note to future self: If you gotta visit the loo, visit the loo. Don’t rush to finish early and decide not to double-check that you’ve answered all the questions.

Anyway, if I answered that question, I’ve definitely got a distinction. If I didn’t, I think that I probably got between 86 and 90 (possibly even 94) marks, and still got a distinction. (I definitely dropped at least two marks, and six if I didn’t answer that one question part.) The worst case scenario is that if I’m very harsh in marking myself, and I assume a few mistakes I didn’t realise on the day (like reversing a greater-than sign, for example), I mark myself an 84, which makes me an edge case that the results team will have to consider. Considering my OCAS is 100, I feel I’d do pretty well in such a circumstance. So it’s a very, very narrow path to me not getting a distinction, but it’s possible, and I guess I’ll see.

How do I feel about the course itself? First, it’s very well laid out. Rather than subdividing every section as much as possible, they break the learning into two-week chunks, and allow the students to manage their time appropriately. This is much better than smaller one-week chunks, as it gave me the ability to focus on my other module (while I was still pretending I cared about it) when I had to without feeling like I was slipping behind.

Having also taken Helsinki University’s Object Oriented Programming with Java I & II, Harvard’s CS50: Introduction to Computer Science, MIT’s OCW Introduction to Computer Science and Programming Using Java 6.00.1x, and UBC’s Software Construction: Data Abstraction (we’re going to ignore Microsoft’s shambles of a DEV276x Java offering), I have quite a few OOP study introductions to compare M250 to.

It compares very favourably. Most importantly, this is the most academic offering of the lot, which was surprising with so many universities in that list. However, aside from UBC, the others are all introductory level courses, whereas the OU module is for second year university students who are in the habit of studying. While the Helsinki module is very good at teaching coding skills, and both the Harvard and MIT offerings take the red pill and show the maths and memory calls that make this stuff work, M250 is the best at explaining logically (as opposed to physically) how this stuff works. It borrows the concept of message sends from the Smalltalk programming language to explain how objects interact to form complex code. That one tiny way of looking at objects shifted my entire approach to the OOP paradigm, and it’s much, much more natural for me to use than it was after the previous courses. Whereas before I was following rules I was told to follow, now I’m letting my code communicate using what feel like natural tools. The instruction is absolutely rigid in definitions and boundaries between any two related principles (for instance, between data hiding and encapsulation, between substitutability and polymorphism, etc.), and this gives a much better language for discussion about how and why OOP works.

Previous courses I’ve taken haven’t all been exclussively about the OOP paradigm, but some have. While I’ve been able to use OOP better after each one of them, M250 is the first time that I really feel like I get it. It’s an excellent course, well structured, plainly explained, gives both academic and practical views of the subject in an understandable way, and is fairly assessed (despite finding an impossible question on an OU exam for the second year in a row). It is the exact antithesis of TM254.

Beware that it is not a coding module. It is a module about Object Oriented Programming concepts, and happens to go over how to use Java as an example of how OOP works. If you want a Java coding module, I recommend the excellent course mentioned above.

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.

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.

The school I work at is in its second week of the year, things are held together with Sellotape and bailing wire and just about functional, so of course I spent most of my morning dodging in and out of the new module sites for TM129 and MST124.

The nearly-default Moodle theme I familiarised myself with last year has been reskinned with a flat theme.  It’s easy on the eyes and extremely usable on mobile platforms, so thumbs up from me.  (Actually, the high level of usability makes the rest of the OU site a bit embarrassing, really.)  Great UX planning.

MST-124 is about what I expected: A solid university course translated to an online medium.  TM-129 is also about what I expected: Chaos and insanity doled out as if to children.  Well, no, that’s what I expected.  It seems to be more like watered down squash.  It’s what you asked for, just less of it in the same sized glass.

MST-124 (Essential mathematics 1) isn’t bad.  It’s an obviously mature module which has honed its methods over decades.  There’s just the right amount of hand-holding (to me) for things like preparing assignment formatting, progressing from unit to unit, checking knowledge, and asking for help.  The ragged screams and buckets of tears from students in years past have obviously not gone unnoticed, and the result is a very logical, almost soothing trip through intermediate maths.

TM-129 (Technologies in practice) is like someone had a dream about being taught the perfect module, but got it a bit wrong when they woke up and tried to write out all the details before the dream slipped away from memory.  I’m sure somebody thinks it’s highly logical, but it’s really a bit weird.

There are three blocks in TM-129: robotics, networking, and Linux.  The only other organisation to the tutelage is by breaking it into weeks.  So there aren’t units, sections, or sessions, as such.  Just Robotics week 1, Robotics week 2, etc.  It’s my first day with it, but it seems difficult to learn the concepts in a flowing way.  Concepts appear to be explored and limited based on time, rather than a balanced or comprehensive understanding of it.

Thankfully, I’m not here to get an understanding of the topics.  As with TU100, I’m here to gain practice in learning.  I can’t see the networking information, as that’s entirely in a Microsoft book that has yet to be shipped (I hope Microsoft Press isn’t as bad as their edX team), but I don’t see any glaring omissions from the other two topics.  They’re only meant to be introductions, so it’s possible they’re as useless as OpenLearn MOOCs, or they could be dead useful.  I probably won’t be able to offer much of an objective view even after the module’s over, due to my familiarity with all three topics already.

Mostly I’m excited that I can study again.  I enjoy the process.

After five days of websites, phone calls, and emails, I’m finally enrolled on my next modules for Q62.  I’m finishing out Stage 1 with TM129 (Technologies in practice) and MST124 (Essential mathematics 1).  Enrolment for October 2017 opened on the 9th, and it finally got completely sorted this morning.  The website wouldn’t let me register on the first day, because it thought I was trying to take the modules in America from a UK address.  I don’t even know what that means, but I had to call the next day to sort it out.  Once they corrected that issue, they said I hadn’t sent in proof of residence in the UK.  Finding it pointless to argue what had or hadn’t been done, versus what had or hadn’t been lost by their IT systems, I sent in more proof.  The next hurtle was that they registered me on the phone for the modules, but didn’t tie those modules to my degree, so they wouldn’t count toward it.  (In the long run, this isn’t an issue, but it would have required more fuss next year, since my Stage 1 wouldn’t be cleared, even though I’d taken all the required modules.)  Student Finance England should start taking applications for part-time studies in the 2017/2018 academic year in around mid-May, but putting my SFE CR number in now switched me from just reserving the spot in the module until 20 April to being fully registered in it.

As with TU100, I will be on one of TM129’s final presentations.  The module’s final run is October 2018, but I think it has a February 2018 run before that.  It covers three main areas: Networking, Linux, and Robotics.  I’m glad that the degree is rounding out the ICT experience of its programme with these areas.  I’m extremely familiar with the first two, and a very poor hobbyist in the third.  My six year old son helped me build little toy robots last year, and this year he’s been working with a brilliant snap-together circuitry kit his auntie in America got him for Christmas.  Even though the practical portions of the robotics section is entirely virtual, I’m certain he’ll enjoy sharing those parts together.  It also comes with a copy of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, which was one of my favourite books in seventh grade.

MST124, I’m not ashamed to say, is a bit outside my abilities.  I will not be receiving a distinction on this module.  As only a bare pass is required and the specific outcome does not impact my degree classification in the slightest, I’m using this to full advantage and studying something I know I’ll only do about average on.  The trade-off is that I should learn and grow the most with this module.

I’ve finally found the block descriptions for MU123 and MST124, so here’s what you learn:


  • Basic maths review
  • Vocabulary and notation
  • Types of numbers
  • Statistical summaries (types of averages, significant figures, etc.)
  • Algebra
  • Graphs
  • Inequalities
  • Geometry
  • Advanced algebra
  • Quadratics
  • Statistical pictures
  • Trigonometry
  • Exponentials
  • “Maths everywhere” (which I’m guessing is making it practical, which means story problems)


  • Algebra review
  • Graphs and equations review
  • Functions
  • Trigonometry review
  • Coordinate geometry and vectors
  • Differentiation
  • Differentiation methods and integration
  • Integration methods
  • Matrices
  • Sequences and series
  • Taylor polynomials
  • Complex numbers

Now, why the OU can’t just put this list side-by-side someplace and let people choose is beyond me.  Looking at this, I can see that I had cleared MU123 by the ninth grade, including the level of trigonometry taught there.  I’m about halfway up the MST124 list, having done some differential calculus, but in dire need of a refresher.  I would be bored to tears on MU123.  So even though I’m quite certain I’ll get toward the lower end of between 40% and 84% on my end-of-module exam, MST124’s my route.  (I’ve heard the exam is multiple choice, though, so anything’s possible.)

It also has a revise & review site that opens up next week for early registrants to prepare them in case we’ve forgotten as much maths as we’ve learned.

The module website opened two days ago, and wow, what a difference between expectations and reality.

Although the OU website feels cobbled-together from a lot of different initiatives over the last several years, the individual componant parts are usually quite high quality.  For example, the OU online library is a thing of absolute beauty.  The ease with which I can come up with nearly any peer-reviewed study is astonishing.  (Not to mention so interesting that I’m seriously looking at the cost of 10-credit modules to retain access to it after I finish my degree.)

The module website for TU100 is likewise high quality.  Though some things are a bit difficult to find (normally because something has been renamed since directions to it were created), it’s over-all a great way to organise the huge amounts of data I’m going to have to assimilate this year.

The best news is that I don’t have to wait for any of my materials to arrive before my soft start.  All texts are available online, as well as nearly every other resource.  There are only two things that are not entirely available online: the SenseBoard itself, and some full-length TV episodes from an OU/BBC collaboration.  The Sense software, however, has a virtual SenseBoard so that the actual one isn’t strictly necessary, and there are clips of the TV episodes relevant to our studies online.  I could do the entire module with what’s available now.

The module site is broken down into three columns: Assessment and Support information, the planner, and resources.

The most important of these is the planner.  It defaults to showing 5 weeks ahead, but can also show the entire module, broken down into a week-by-week guideline of what to study when.  In addition to being a to-do list, it also has tick-boxes to track your progress, and links directly to the relevant resource for each step.

The assessment and support information column has the names, due dates, and results for the various types of assessment: TMA (Tutor Marked Assignment) and iCMA (Interactive Computer Marked Assignment) are the only two for TU100, but TMA6 is also an EMA (End of Module Assignment).  Contact information for your Tutor (and tutorials information) or Student Services is also displayed.

The final resources column is almost as invaluable as the planner.  It has any news relevant to the module, discussion forums, and then links to pages where resources have been grouped by type or use.  So what’s a resource?  It could be an online or eReader book, a diagram, a questionairre, a hand-out, software download, or basically anything else you need to get your module done.  Obviously as one of the things we’ll be studying is the Internet and accessing things there, you’ll have to visit other sites for that, but otherwise, it’s a great self-contained collection of information.  It almost wouldn’t require you to leave the site to complete the module if it wasn’t specifically teaching you about other parts of the Internet.

Also, I found out that my materials were shipped out yesterday, so even though I don’t technically need them, they should be here shortly.

Technically, the first module for my degree course will start 1 October.  But that’s a Saturday.  Who starts anything on a Saturday?  Heck, even weekends start Friday night.

So there are realistically two other dates which combine for a ‘soft start’ to the module, ahead of the 1 October hard start.  These dates are the Module Website Live/Open date, and the date materials are received.  One might think that this would be one or two days after the Materials Despatch date, but often materials seem to be received the day before this date, so who knows.

The website open date for TU100 this year is 6 September, and the Materials Despatch date is 9 September.  Since that’s a Friday, I expect that the materials will probably show up the following Tuesday.  So I’m going to call the Soft Start date for TU100 this year 13 September.  We’ll call that three weeks away.

So what’s happened lately, and what’s going to happen?

Yesterday, our Introduction Forums opened.  They’re rather hard to find, though.  The site they’re on is called “Student Support Forums” allegedly under the Student Planner.  But I can’t actually find a link to the Student Planner anywhere.  That’s one of the major flaws of the OU: They keep coming up with great new ideas, but they don’t remove all the old ideas, so it’s kind of like trying to find your way through a really old London hotel that’s been cobbled together from a few other buildings.  You can’t necessarily get to the next room by walking in a straight line.  It may require you to go back up the hall, take a lift down, over a hallway, take a half flight of stairs to a mezzanine, and then swing across a chasm to the room.

Anyway, don’t lose your link, or you’ll never find your way back to the Student Support Forums.  I think it’s because they’ve opened them before opening our website.

The Introduction Forums have been positively flooded.  There’s several dozen posts already for Computing & IT, and only the Psychology forum comes close to the same number.  And the Psychology intro forum looks like someone’s kicked over an ant hill.  There’s hundreds of conversations all over the place, so I don’t know if it’s lots of different people talking, or the same three creating a new thread every time they have a new thought.  I suspect the former, however, as I’ve read that Psychology had the largest intake of new students every year.

This kicked off a new spate of new Facebook groups. I think that’s really a good thing, though.  Because if each of these groups has a slightly different flavour, it’s going to be easier to find one that works for me and my specific needs.

It also brought up a topic which had been brought up a few times in the past couple of weeks: Sense.  Once again, Sense is the customised version of Scratch developed specifically for TU100.  Our Introduction Forum moderator sort of warned everybody that they’d damage their brains if they downloaded Scratch, and that they’d be risking eternal damnation if they downloaded Sense from the OU before the Official Grand High Link from the Module Website opened.

Which is rubbish.  Download Sense and play with it.  It’s not as good as modern Scratch, but it’s fun.  If you want a more useful language that’s still exactly as simple, download Scratch or use the cloud version.  Heck, download Scratch 1.4, which is nearly identical to Sense except for TU100 specific things.  If you want to know what to do with Sense, search for tutorials on Scratch 1.4.  Or, y’know, wait for the soft start.