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  A £30 book which is pretty darned out of date.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  Several students found it difficult to complete the module because the tools referenced in the module were so far out of date.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.


  1. I found this whilst researching TM129. I switched degree half way through from BEng to BSc Open STEM because it turns out engineers can make the most exciting things in the world as dull as you could possibly imagine.

    I’m just finishing TM111 and found it a bit light. But I’ve used up 2 of my Stage 1 slots on useless engineering modules and only have one spare, so skipped TM112 and moved to TM129. Sounds like it’ll be easy but a bit pointless. I’ll be following your progress in future modules, especially 250, the Java module.

    Similar to yourself, I found most Udemy courses terrible. I have finally found one decent Java course that takes you through everything properly which is nice, but most are somebody in an accent I can’t understand, rattling off a PPT and not explaining anything.

    1. I hope you enjoy the module. I did, but for entirely personal and non-academic reasons. It’s quite a bit of fun if you’re not expecting too much of it and you ignore the price tag.

      1. So I’m into Block 3, and to be blunt – TM129 is crap. It barely qualifies as a module. I wish I’d found your blog earlier.

        Block 1 – Play with a Lego Robotics program that was designed in the early 2000s and hasn’t moved on since. Read some fiction about robots. Learn some basic programming concepts.

        Block 2 – Here’s a Microsoft Networking Book. Enjoy

        Block 3 – Here’s some Linux. Except it doesn’t really work, so this module is all about Google.

        Honestly, TM129 is crap. Block 1 having us read short stories was insulting. If it wants to teach basic programming concepts, then give us a really basic programming language and teach us using that. Doing it in a VERY badly made program doesn’t help. Block 3 needs more information for non-Linux users. This entire block is just learning to Google and try and work out which person in the resulting forum thread is not an idiot. Block 2 isn’t worth mentioning.

        I get the reduced rate Scottish price for the modules (~£450), and I feel ripped off. If that is split between the blocks, then I paid £150 for a £30 Microsoft book. £150 for a broken Lego program and some short stories. And a further £150 for a Linux guide full of broken links.

        1. I’m towards the end of TM129 and agree. It’s just terrible. It’s my last module of Level 1 and it’s such a shame we have to take it. I’m shocked at how little actual OU content there is and the tutors are so unhelpful with questions, just google is about all we get plus the eportfolio is a joke. It’s such poor value for money and such a missed opportunity to prepare for level 2 modules. Just have to get through it to move on and try and not think about the money.

  2. Dear Mark,
    I found your blog by searching on Google as I would like to start Computing and IT at the Open University. Congratulations as I have found it great! My plan is taking TM111 and TM112 (Introduction to computing and IT) this year but I am wondering if it would be wise adding TM129 as I have a full time work. Do you believe that this workload would be manageable? Thank you in advance for your comments.

  3. Dear Mark,
    Thank you for your blog. A brilliant a very informative effort! As I am starting the MSc in Computing and IT this year my plan is taking TM111 and TM112 (Introduction to computing and IT). My question is on whether to add TM129 (Technologies in Practice). I work full time in a busy job in finance and I am wondering if the workload will be too heavy. I would really appreciate your comments please. The deadline for the application is tomorrow and I need to make a decision urgently.

    Thank you in advance for your comments 🙂


    1. I’d say that if there’s any three modules that are good candidates for a 90 credit academic year studying part time, it’s those three. The effort and time required are substantial, but TM111 and TM112 can be staggered, and I was able to do TM129 at a faster pace than the recommended one. Additionally, as Stage 1 modules, your actual result won’t impact your final degree classification: Any pass is treated the same as a distinction. Good luck in your studies!

  4. Hi, I’d just like to thank you for maintaining this blog. I’m starting my first year of the same degree with 120 credits (which means TM111/TM112+TM129+MST124 for me), and the details in your earlier posts were significant in convincing me to go ahead with it. In particular thanks for the detailed info on the MST124 exam- still a long ways off for me, but it was somehow still reassuring to read. I have it slightly easier than you in that regard, since Unit 11 has been made optional this year for some reason (still available to read, but won’t be assessed).

    My opinion of TM129 so far is that it’s neither useful nor enjoyable, and I decided to leave out the details of it whenever I talk about my course with anyone. Science fiction robots and James May DVDs are a pretty cringeworthy way to start off a computing degree, and make it hard to take the whole module seriously!

    1. You’re welcome, Jon! That’s pretty big news about MST124 dropping assessment for Taylor polynomials. My FB group for that module is still fairly active. I think I’ll lob this bombshell at them and watch the group explode … Yup. 12 responses in just 5 minutes.

      I’m struggling to enjoy TM254 right now. It’s the first module I really haven’t clicked with in any way. I hope the other blocks are more enjoyable for you … But … Erm … Good luck on your current modules and your degree!

  5. Hi Mark, this blog is super helpful!

    I have been wondering, do the OU issue you with a certificate upon completion of the first year of study? I see they offer certificates and diplomas along the same study pathway as the final honours degree, but wasn’t how they are issued?

    Kind regards

    1. Hi Jack,

      That’s a good question. Receiving a lower award than the programme you registered for is known as an “exit award”. Prior to 2015, you were able to collect exit awards along the way to your honours degree. For example, if you studied at part time intensity, you could receive a CertHE after two years, a DipHE after four, and your full BSc/BA (Hons) after six. Heck, you may even have been able to claim an ordinary bachelor’s in addition to the honours degree.

      The rumour I heard was that there were a lot of people puting all three on their CVs as though they were different qualifications, making themselves look silly and the OU look unprofessional. So they shifted this to only giving you an exit award if you went a year without further studies toward your undergraduate degree.

      If it’s something you really want to do for some reason, you can continually change your course, so long as your financing is in order. Navigating part-time/distance student finance laws is excedingly confusing compared to OU policy, though, and I’ve only managed to successfully find an obscure answer twice. But in theory (financing aside), you could sign up for a CertHE, then a DipHE, then an Honours programme, but you may have to wait until after you’ve accepted the lower award before applying for the next higher programme, adding up to a year between each stage. If you sign up for the higher programme before accepting the lower award, they may just roll it forward. And employers aren’t going to be more impressed with someone who has a CertHE than someone who’s on their second year/stage toward a degree.

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