Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Life? Don't talk to me about life....

As Marvin, the paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy said, 'life, don't talk to me about life'. But one has to rise above it and blunder on regardless.

My Open University study has turned out to be anything but straight forward, as life in all its beauty and ugliness has combined in recent months to try to scupper everything. But while I had to defer study of the 30 credit 'S142 Topics in Science' until next year, at least 'S141 Investigative and Mathematical Skills in Science' is nearing a successful conclusion. Just the final end of module assessment, due in on May 14th, remains. 

This turn of events has at least made my choice of which Level 2 module to try first a whole lot easier. It had turned into a straight choice between Astronomy and the new Earth Science 60 credit module due for its first presentation in October this year. But first presentations seem to experience a few teething troubles which makes me hesitate. But now, with S142 deferred to next February it is only going to be practical to attempt a 30 credit Level 2 module alongside it. So S282 Astronomy it is then from October. Should be a nice challenge I think.

First things first though. I will have lots of feedback to give the good old OU regarding S141. The Maths, the part I feared the most, was great. Loved it in fact, which just goes to prove how important it is to have a good teacher at school. I had the legendary (for all the wrong reasons) Mr Wells and the net result, a grade 'f'. Differentiation was a complete mystery to me back then thanks to that clown's hapless teaching skills but in fact, there's nowt to it! So I have proved to myself that I can do maths. Rather well in fact as a 95% iCMA score confirms. So 'up yours' Mr Wells!

As for 'Understanding the Weather', the main thing I now understand is that weather forecasts cannot be relied upon for 'owt, but at least I now know why that is the case which is something I suppose. This module relied on us students setting aside time to do some basic weather observations.  That's fine but given that many OU students work, that restricts this kind of stuff to weekends. The idea was to choose a nice approaching frontal system and make observations as it passes over. Sod's Law dictates therefore that the weather will be inactive and dull all weekend, giving one beggar all to report on, as did I. Hey-ho, such is the life of the scientist, I guess.

The most annoying part of S141 has been the online collaboration for the Scientific Investigations part, covering the design of experiments. Oh Lord, this has been a challenge of restraint! My fellow students, bless 'em, seem to have the habit of over complicating just about  everything. For example, in the final experiment, to study the effect of an additional substance, say salt, on the growth of cress seedlings. Various students start asking about the difference in hardness of water in different students localities, when as long as we use the same water for our individual test and control experiments it simply doesn't matter. Seems obvious to me, but clearly not others. But I suppose working with others of, dare I suggest, lesser intelligence and working out an agreed methodology, is a necessary skill to acquire. So maybe that is the overall aim.

Anyway, with the EMA nearly done, the goal is a distinction. With a continuous assessment score of 95% already in the bag, I need 85% from the EMA to get that. Considering the way life has panned out since October, it would be a bloody miracle!

See ya next time, 

Sunday, 29 September 2013

On your marks, get set. . .

Right on cue, on Friday September 20th, my S141 OU course materials arrived. Exciting stuff! Having said that, excitement was dampened somewhat when I opened my package to find two vital items missing - the 'mugmat' (a piece of plastic to be used in an experiment) and the pH paper. An email and phone call followed to 'dispatch' to get the missing bits posted. Well they are going to have to get their skates on because the 'mugmat exercise'  takes place on Week 1, as a sort of ice-breaker exercise to get us using the tutorial technology and communicating with fellow students online. So without this piece of plastic I am going to struggle a bit!

Anyway, no panic just yet, I will trust in the OU to sort it out. Meanwhile, my tutor is called Dr Victoria Nicholas, who will hopefully prove as good as the excellent Gordon Woodhead who was my tutor for S104. I've already made a start on the 'Maths for Science' book by whizzing  through the first couple of chapters of basic maths skills revision. Nothing too demanding there but useful revision nevertheless. 

Today, around lunchtime I joined a 'drop-in session' designed to check that the technology involved in the on-line tutorial sessions was working and that we were okay with using it. From my perspective, I had no experience of the OU's previous online tutorial system, which apparently has more than a few glitches associated with it. The new system, 'OU Online' seems pretty good if today's short taster is anything to go by. How things go with about ten students and a tutor all trying to converse at once, I'll find out on October 8th. Should be fun, provided of course that I receive a bloody mugmat!

I intend to use this next week to work through a chapter or two of Understanding the Weather and try to get ahead a bit. I found when doing S104 and also the short ten point courses, that it is always a good idea to give yourself a bit of a buffer just in case life throws a spanner in the works, stopping you studying for a week or two. 

So initial impressions are very good. I've taken a couple of years break from OU study and while a multitude of changes have taken place and are indeed still ongoing, my instinct says that ultimately things are going to be just fine. I find myself really excited about study and testing myself. There's nothing riding on it really. I will be studying stuff that excites me and I am studying because I want to and that ladies and gentlemen, is what education should be all about!

See you next time,

Monday, 9 September 2013

Fourteen days and counting. . . .

So, this is it. Game on! After what seems like years of planning and with two unconditional offers from two universities reluctantly turned down, it's back to the Open University, to recommence what I started in 2008. 

On September 26th the website for S141:  Investigative and Mathematical Skills in Science opens for business. Building on the 60 level 1 credits already achieved with the science foundation module S104, this 30 credit course adds some experimental design experience plus meteorology and a whole lot of serious maths!

Strangely enough it is the maths that I'm looking forward to the most in this course. I think it is with maths that I have most to prove - to myself at least. Way back in 1978, I failed my 'A' level maths spectacularly with a grade 'F'. But I have always  believed that that failure was more down to the inadequacies of Mr Wells' teaching than any inability on my part. Well now I have the opportunity to prove myself right and Mr Wells wrong. 

I have never forgotten the day when Gary Bennett and I, desperately struggling with a particular maths problem, went to the staff room together to ask Mr Wells for some extra help. His response was thus:
"Are you lads going to throw the towel in? If you are struggling it means you need to work harder"! 
No extra help was offered and from that point on I did indeed 'throw the towel in'. I simply gave up on maths and concentrated on trying to pass Geography and Physics which would be enough  to do the Geology BSc course at Oxford  Polytechnic. An offer of two 'D's was more than achievable!

Alas it was not to be as a narrow fail in Physics sent me to Luton College of HE to do a Geographical Techniques Higher  Diploma instead. The rest as they say, is history!

Well now is the time to 'right a wrong' and study the subject closest to my heart plus other areas of science as the urge takes me as I journey towards an Open Degree. I'm sure a bit of astronomy will get in there somewhere in all probability. 

For now I will be pondering the weather, trying to ascertain why the forecasters get it wrong so often. Alongside that will be a multitude of mathematical problems to wrestle with which is designed to set you up for the level of maths required at higher levels of scientific study. S141 rounds off with experiment design, which might be useful for Geology and maybe even astronomy.
Should be a laugh and a challenge and I will keep you posted.

Cheers for now,

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Eight weeks and counting. . . .

Greetings one and all!

With funding from the Student Loans Company in the bag, it's all systems go for the re-launch of my Open University study in early October. After several years of sheer frustration in having to turn down unconditional offers from Leicester University and then Derby University the recent changes to the funding of university study has strangely worked in my favour.

Alas it was to prove logistically and financially impossible to achieve full time study at either university. An alternative was perhaps doing the Geology BSc at Derby Uni part-time but that needed payment of fees upfront - under the previous system, student loans mysteriously did not apply to part time study,  That meant that University study was just not viable for me so my dream of studying for a geology/earth science degree in any form seemed dead in the water. Then came the controversial changes instigated by the then new coalition government. Up shot the level of fees to previously unheard of levels, but on the plus side, the unfair discrimination against part-time study was to end with potential part time students able to apply for student loans to cover their fees.. This was to be applied to the Open University too, opening up all manner of new possibilities for me.

However, there was to be nothing plain sailing about choosing to take the O.U. path. These dramatic changes seemed to trigger a chaotic  scramble to restructure the entire working of the O.U. One of their big selling points has always been that virtually anyone could sign up to a course and study simply for the joy of learning. Not everyone studied for a degree with many people studying year after year, doing course after course with no real aim other than 'learning'. That approach seems to have been completely taken away now as fees shoot through the roof.

However for me and my situation, as long as I study for a qualification higher than I have achieved previously (HND), I can study for a minimum of 30 credits per year and aim to complete the remaining 300 credits of my degree within 10 years, then I can fund it by a student loan. Actually, I aim to complete my Open Degree in 5 years. Starting in October this year I will hopefully polish off the remaining 60 Level 1 credits by August 2014, tackle 120 Level 2 from Oct 2014 - 2016 and then the Level 3 credits between  2016-18. Sounds feasible?

What isn't quite so clear is the content of my degree. With all this restructuring has come wholesale changes to constituent modules. Some much loved short courses have disappeared completely, while others have been rewritten and others merged to form longer 60 credit modules - Geology being one such course. As I write, Geology S276 remains as a 30 credit Level 2 course, but undergoes its final run in 2014. However, S209 will start in October 2014 as a 60 credit course apparently incorporating an element of fieldwork, which sounds good, but is all yet to be officially confirmed. And this I have to say is where the OU has got it horribly wrong.

Communication of their plans has been nothing short of abysmal at times, but I guess their silence has been to a degree understandable given the extent of the changes thrust upon them. But, existing students have had their study plans torn asunder with little or no details of replacement modules forthcoming.

Having said all that, I still find it difficult to be too critical of the OU. They have had to react rapidly to quite massive changes that really needed years of planning. So why not give them a break eh? I sense now that things are slowly coming  together and students are at last becoming able to plan their future studies with a little more confidence.

I am now psyching myself up for an October start of 'S141: Investigative and Mathematical Skills in Science' followed by  'S142: Topics in Science'. These two modules will build on the science foundation course S104  completed in 2009 and round off level 1. It will be hreat to get my teeth into some meaty maths so should be good and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Bring it on!

Cheers for now, Alyn.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Goodbye Derby Uni, Hello Open University

Life I am sure you will agree has the habit of throwing proverbial spanners in the works at regular intervals. As an unfortunate consequence, one's hopes and dreams can be thrown asunder. But where there's a will there is invariably a way.

My last post to this horribly neglected blog celebrated my unconditional place at Derby University to study for a BSc in Geology. That place was deferred until September 2013, but it is proving virtually impossible to get into a position where I can realistically take up that place.

So if I can't get to Uni, the next best thing is to bring the Uni to me. So welcome back Open University! I've done several courses at the OU already between 2008-10 so know what it's all about and my previous study should count towards an OU degree.

Ah now, this is where it becomes a bit more complicated. Since finishing the short 10 credit module on Volcanoes, Earthquakes and Tsunamis in 2010, things have changed somewhat, not just at the OU but in higher education overall. Uni fees have shot through the roof with funding being provided by huge loans through Student Finance England. While the ultimate debt amassed may seem huge on completion of the course, the debt is paid back slowly and only if one is actually working. In fact any balance outstanding after 30 years will be written off.

The good thing is that the course finance rules can now be applied to part-time study and thus study with the Open University becomes more of a viable option. This means I can now fund my study the same way as I would've done if I had gone to Derby Uni, but be able to take a lot longer to complete my degree. To qualify I must be studying a course at a higher level than I have ever studied previously and complete a minimum of 30 credits per year, both of which sit quite nicely.

So what of the course? Named degrees are pretty much a thing of the past now at the OU. I could aim for a BSc in Natural Sciences and give it either a Geology or Astronomy emphasis. The downside of this is that my choice of modules is a bit more regulated, so after much deliberation, I have opted to study for an Open Degree. This allows me to study pretty much whatever I like. The degree will then become either Ba or BSc, depending on the mix of modules that I choose to do. My degree will include science modules exclusively, so will be a BSc. This seems perfect for someone like me who wants to study for the pleasure vof learning rather than have a specific career path in mind.

Some changes have made the timing and planning of modules things a little awkward though. Alas, my 10 credit short science modules already completed will not count towards my Open Degree, but the 60 credit Science Foundation course definitely will. That leaves a further 60 credits needed for me to complete Level One.
S141: Investigative and mathematical skills in science will do for starters as it is the recommended follow-up to S104 and covers some essential maths that will help the Astronomy modules at Level 2. Then I hope to do
S142: Topics in Science. The problem however, is that S141 starts in Oct 2013 and S142 starts in Feb 2014. If I do them in that order it means a 5 month overlap when things might get a bit busy. Or, I do S142 first and S141 second, giving no overlap but about 17 months continuous study and a wait until Feb. 2014 to get started at all. I really want to get Level 1 finished ASAP so might have to steel myself for some serous study. At least these two don't include examinations so may be do-able, but I will wait until the OU 'Module Choice Adviser' phones me back in a day or two to advise.

So it should all make for an exciting era of study and rather more regular blogs here at the new look 'Holey Schist'.

See you soon,