It’s been a weird week for studying, this time around. I’ve been a bit all over the place mentally, so my studying has suffered a little.
First off, I got my first assignment back with a whopping 90% as my result. I am incredibly pleased with this result, and it’s given me a bit of a confidence boost. The comments my tutor made were very helpful and mostly boiled down to making sure I read the task carefully and made my points more concise. I think I can manage that.
Secondly, I’m actually behind on my studying for the first time since starting the course. I’ve done most of this weeks work, but after a rough couple of days, I never got around to finishing it so I will be trying to get that done once I’ve posted this.
Finally, the hustings period for applicants to the PLEXUS committee will be ending soon, and I think my chances of gaining a position are pretty good. If I’m honest, I feel a little out of my depth but I am hoping that is just my normal anxiety messing with me. Either way, it should be interesting to see what happens.
I feel like I only just wrote one of these, but I’ve checked and it really has been one whole entire week since the last post…and what a miserable week it’s been.
This week’s studying was dedicated almost exclusively to mathematics. Now, I quite like a bit of maths. Nothing too intense, but sort of GCSE level maths, I dig it. I like order, and rules and things that make sense. So a week’s worth of maths lessons isn’t something that should inherently upset me. However.
As you may, or indeed may not, know, I am currently studying an Access to Sciences course. If you don’t know what that means, it’s a course designed to help people who haven’t studied in a long while to prepare for study at the university level. Which means getting back to basics. Which means that this week, I learned how to use a number line.
Something else you might not know about me. I used to be a teaching assistant in a primary school, and I took maths for my A-Levels. I used to teach number lines to kids aged 5-11. I won’t lie, it was a little humiliating, I am trying to be charitable and remind myself that some peoples maths skills are not as sharp as mine, but it leads me to one of two conclusions. Either my degree is going to be absolutely child’s play when it comes to maths OR the poor folks who are just now learning about number lines now are going to be absolutely slaughtered when the course kicks in proper.
On a more positive note, I’m still enjoying learning biology, and I have been looking up the requirements for the Open University’s biology courses, just in case I feel like switching from computers. I’m feeling a real desperate need to learn everything there is to know about sharks, and a biology degree might let me do so.
Finally, my biggest competition for the trans officer position on the PLEXUS society (The OU’s LGBTQIA+ group) has withdrawn as a candidate, so my odds went up! Fingers crossed.
This week has been plain sailing, and hugely productive.
I am managing to maintain my good study habits, which frankly amazes me. Usually I start with good intentions then get bored quickly and give up, so it’s been a pleasant surprise. I’ve even managed to split my studying up into manageable chunks, rather than doing it all in one go, or working until I can’t stand looking at it any more. This is a massive improvement.
My important uni supplies turned up today – all the things I need to help me get round my disability needs. I haven’t the foggiest idea how to use almost any of it, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. I’m supposed to get some 1-to-1 training to use the specialist equipment and software, which frankly scares the heck out of me! Also my laptop now looks super swanky since I got it all set up and plastered it with cute stickers:
Needless to say I’ve removed approximately 400% of the resale value, but I wasn’t planning on selling it (I really need it) so who cares. It’s pretty and I love it. Also, please take special notice of the big Jodie Whittaker 13th Doctor sticker. Take even further notice if you are one of those people who hates 13 just because she’s a woman now. Take a good look at it and understand you are wrong.
Finally, I completed and submitted my first assignment this week. Compared to the assignments I’ve gotten used to working on, it was unimaginably easy (now watch as I get terrible marks), but it felt good to work on something like that again.
This has been a good week for study. I’ve been keeping on top of my workload, even though it’s half term and my sisters are at home, and I’ve been studying more effectively too. I’m actually writing down my answers to questions I’m asked, I’m highlighting as I go so I have something like notes, and I’ve even started on my first assignment. I’m definitely getting much better at the study skills side of things compared to during my last degree.
I have also had some nice evidence that my new study skills are helping the material sink in. I am the first to admit that I know less than nothing about gardening. My granny, by contrast, knows a whole lot, and keeps a very tidy and pretty garden. But somehow I was able to explain to her some of the basic scientific principles of compost and compost heaps, as a result of studying it as part of this module. Needless to say the random knowledge impressed and amazed my family, and I was incredibly pleased to see facts sinking in, despite not being part of my preferred topics!
Finally, the OU LGBT society have re-advertised three of the committee positions for self-nominations. I know at least one person who has put in for the trans officer post, and since I’d rather do any role with the LGBT society, even if it’s not my preferred role, than I would to lose the chance to do anything I am now going to be putting my name up for some of the other positions just in case.
Week 2 is over and oh boy has it been a massive, MASSIVE week.
First off, I’m improving my method of study. As I said last time, I was a bit slapdash with study, particularly with notes. I’ve since figured out how to make notes electronically (which you would think I would have thought about at some stage during the last 7 years) and I will be trying to make notes digitally instead of on paper. It might help, or it might be terrible, I won’t know until I try. I’m also keeping on top of my studying comfortably, which is good. As an added bonus, I got my study area up and running and it looks like this:
If only the computer worked properly it would be almost perfect.
These are all big things for me. It’s a level of organisation I haven’t bothered to utilise before.
I’ve also made a decision. An Access Course is, not surprisingly, pretty easy going for me, since I’ve already recently completed a degree. I’m already used to university level study so I have a big advantage compared to many of my classmates. I had a big wobble during study time the other day because the questions I was asked to complete were so painfully simple compared to what I’m used to that it made me sad. But I fought off the anxiety and reevaluated my focus. I’m going to try and pick up new study skills from this course if I can, but mainly I’m going to be trying to absorb as much of the different STEM disciplines as I can. The first course from my last degree scared me, because I didn’t like “the Arts”, I just wanted to do history as I mentioned in my first journal post (Study J(OU)rnal, Prep Week, Year 1). But I didn’t like the history course, so I fell back on things I had (surprisingly) enjoyed studying during the the first course. So I’m doing the same here. I’m going to keep my mind open to all the disciplines in case I find something I think is more interesting than computers!
Finally, an opportunity fell in my lap this week. I have been wanting to take part in the non-academic side of university life for some time, and this week an email was sent out to all members of PLEXUS, the Open University’s LGTBQIA+ society, about elections for committee members. So I’ve self-nominated for the position of Trans Officer. It’s a scary thing to do, and I’m very proud of myself for putting myself out there, even if I don’t get the spot. But still, fingers crossed.
It’s the end of my first week, and I have very mixed feelings about everything. I’ve had a difficult week mental-health wise which has obviously put a damper on just about everything, but that’s not to say I haven’t been busy.
I’ve done First Contact with my tutor for the year. Our tutorials are supposed to be done via telephone, which I am unable to do, so I was pleased to see my tutor was accommodating to that and will allow me to make contact by email. Of course, I was confident this would be the case, because so far my experience with the Open University’s accessibility procedures has been really good.
I’ve also completed my first weeks study content. This week’s work was mainly about how to be an Open University student, which as an alumni I already know, but it has encouraged me to think critically about my approach to study. Over the last 7 years, my studying has been slap-dash at best. I took probably 3 pages of notes, total, I did every weeks worth of studying in one or two big chunks and when the time came to write assignments I stressed and wrote frantically for days, without much actual planning involved. As it turns out, I actually am quite effective with a fluid learning style (one of the advantages of the OU over a brick-and-mortar uni) but I can make changes. I’ll be going out an buying a cork-board and a whiteboard and I will try and combine my existing fluid style with a little bit of planning.
Finally, I’m pleased to see some changes to the way the study materials are presented. Each section is broken down with a guide saying how long it is expected to take. There is a study recap at the end of the chapter, and included in this there is a little box listing the things you have achieved by completing the chapter! I don’t know if it’s specific to the Access course (which prepares you for university level study) or if the features are new to the OU generally, but they were a nice touch.
On the 6th of October I will be starting work on my next degree withe the Open University. The aim is to earn a BSc(Hons) Computing and IT within the next 8 years (part time, obviously…)
When I started my previous degree in what…2010, I made a blog post about it, with the intention of writing about how my studies were going. I would be able to look back when it’s all done and see – in my own words – how far I’ve come and what challenges I’ve faced (and hopefully beaten). Then, as it turns out, I completely forgot about it.
BUT I didn’t have a shiny website to write it on last time, and now I do, so guess what somebodies – now you’re gonna get a more-or-less weekly post about what it’s like to study with the Open University and such. Won’t that be fun!
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an archaeologist. I used to watch Time Team with my mum and say “I’m going to do that when I’m older!” We went to museums and places of historical interest, watched documentaries – I even went to see a Time Team dig!
As I worked through school, the plan was to focus on history and take a related subject at some university or another. The desire to go to university was kindled when I attended a taster week at Girton College, Cambridge and fell in love with the possibilities.
Then, at secondary school, I discovered physics. All of a sudden I found myself wanting to study astrophysics or some equally difficult sounding subject. This feeling became stronger when I realised that the schools only wanted to teach me ‘Early Modern history’, something I have next to no interest in.
At Sixth Form, I was split down the middle – Humanities VS Sciences. I took Classical Civilisations, Philosophy, Physics and Maths.
Then disaster struck…
I had been depressed for a long time – I was bullied a lot – and I fell into a deep depression, causing me to fail my AS Levels (and making me hate all the subjects) and drop out of Sixth Form after my first year. They tried to persuade me to stay on and do retakes but I couldn’t see the point. My university dreams went up in smoke.
I did very little for the next year. I worked a bit, and mainly just sat around feeling sorry for myself. Then my mums friends introduced me to musical theatre. They got us tickets to a show they were part of (Monty Python’s Spam-a-lot) and took my family for a tour around the theatre before the show. I’ve always been interested in music – but suddenly a new path opened up for me – I wanted to be an Audio Engineer and work in the theatre.
I found a private college, the SAE institute in London, and signed up for a diploma course. The plan was to complete the diploma within a year, then see how I felt about the degree.
Then disaster struck…again…
After a few months of commuting – ever day – between my home and London I found myself depressed again. I was exhausted, I hated the travel and the noise and the crowds – I hated London in general. I was doing worse and worse in my assessments and I had to leave the school. Once again I found my university dreams, and indeed my life plans in ruins.
I don’t actually remember what I did for the next year or so. It was that kind of misery.
Then came a light in the black…
My mum had done an Open University degree herself and she encouraged me to look into it as a possibility – anything, she said, would be better than sitting around being miserable.
So I looked, and discovered AA100 – The Arts Past and Present. A bit of all the arts subject just called to me – reminded me of my old dreams of History and Archaeology. It wasn’t long before I had signed up.
AA100 was a great course. It was really broad in what it covered – we looked at art, poetry, philosophy, music, history, religious studies…some of it I loved, some of it I wasn’t so keen on (I’m looking at you, Opera). But for the first time in years things were looking up.
Next up, came A200 – Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900. That was a tough course! I don’t think I had ever had to work quite so hard at anything in my life before. Sometimes people say that distance learning isn’t the same as real brick-and-mortar university – and they are right, just for the wrong reasons. People often think distance learning is some how less than in person, but it isn’t. You have to be motivated, and hard working – you have really work at your research, finding your own answers. You have to make get used to getting help and helping others using an online portal rather than face-to-face. It’s hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
At this point my life took a bit of a wild turn. History was not looking like the path for me. I tried to love modern history, but I couldn’t do it – somehow, my mind thought back to AA100 and screamed out “You’re doing a religious studies module!”
This was totally unexpected for me, as (at the time) I was one of those staunch anti-religion folks.
A217 – Introducing Religions blew my mind wide open. I discovered a subject I now have a passion for and a religion I didn’t know I needed (I’m now a practising Buddhist). We studied the “Big 6” of religions in this country – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. I really cannot stress strongly enough how influential this course has been in my life. This course brought back my love of philosophy and shaped the course of the rest of my life.
From this point on, I was all about religion and philosophy. I took A222 – Exploring philosophy, A332 – Why is religion controversial? and A333 – Key questions in philosophy, to finish my course – ending with a BA(Hons) Humanities with Philosophy and Religious Studies. I worked harder than I ever have before and I loved every minute of it.
But that’s not the only thing I loved…
The material I studied over the course of my degree has been amazing. I have loved studying it immensely, but the course content is not the only thing that makes the Open University a truly special institution.
I need to talk about the staff – both tutors and support staff alike.
I’ll start with support staff.
2013 was a time of massive change for me. During the first few months of the year I realised that I am transgender. Transitioning to become ‘Holly’ and live authentically as myself was a monumental task – and this was not made any easier by the response I got from almost every institution I have any contact with.
The government, my doctors, all the people I needed to inform took forever to make the change. I had to fight tooth and nail to get my GP surgery to change my name and title in their system. The DWP still haven’t fixed it in theirs. This caused me a great deal of anxiety and misery for a very long time.
Enter the OU.
I was assigned a specific staff member (whose name, alas, I cannot recall), who was in charge of making all the necessary changes. I had a number of conversations with this person about exactly what my needs where and what I expected the OU to do. She was incredibly friendly and supportive. I said that I needed my name, title and gender marker changed everywhere and she explained exactly what was going to be changed, who would be aware of it and when it would be done by. The whole process was extremely easy. It made an impossible situation infinitely easier.
At no point have I had any trouble from the university about my gender – something I cannot say about any other organisation I’ve been involved with. The whole thing was organised quickly and discretely and I will never stop being thankful for that experience.
But it wasn’t just gender issues. I also have had significant mental health problems during my course of study – issues I still struggle with.
This time I have to praise my tutors – many of whom sometimes received emails explaining that I was circling the depths of misery and devoid of all hope. The response I received from my tutors was overwhelming. Without exception, my tutors provided me with reassurance that I was not alone in this and that support was available. On one occasion I had to defer my study for a while at the suggestion of my tutor. Along with the suggestion, I was reminded that this wasn’t a the end of the world, and that my study could continue when I felt up to it. I was reminded that this wasn’t a failure – it was part of life, and the university was there to support me.
On another occasion, I was greatly stressed, as I had read the content of an upcoming TMA, which involved reading about the value of life. This didn’t feel like a possibility as I was already convinced that life had no value at all, and I din’t want confirmation of this. My tutor went out of his way to make sure that this assignment did not cause me undue stress, offering multiple solutions to the potential problem. I would never, and I mean never have made it through the year, let alone the course, without my tutors support at that most difficult of times.
At the end of my final tutorial of my degree, our tutor took us out to a cafe nearby and we had a long discussion about our plans for the future. It was wonderful to see that even though we didn’t see each other daily, as you might in a brick and mortar university, our tutors still cared about us as students and as people and was really interested in our well-being and our plans.
Then came graduation…
I have written in detail about my graduation day here (Personal: Graduation). It was a wonderful day, that I never thought I would have seen.
The Open University and it’s staff have been a beacon of hope, and a trusted companion in what has been a very difficult, and often hopeless seeming life.
I never really realised until I was sat watching my fellow graduates cross the stage, just how much pride I felt at being a member of this fine institution.
The Open University has supported me through some of the most difficult times in my life. It has provided me with and opportunity to study – which I couldn’t have done at a brick-and-mortar university. It has given me something to belong to, and something to be proud of. It has given me a chance to live a life I genuinely thought was lost to me.
I am a proud Alumnus of the Open University. I will soon, once again, be a proud OU student – I am (hopefully) starting a BSc this year.
The motto of the University is Learn and Live. The Open University has given me a chance to do both, and for that I am forever grateful.