Study J(OU)rnal

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This week can be summarised quite vividly. If you imagine being punched repeatedly in the face, for a whole week, then getting rewarded with a nice cake on the seventh day, you should have some idea of how my week has gone academically.

The big thing this week is that I have hit my first big issue with the Open University (shock horror). Now, I’m no stranger to being online – I have, in fact, spent most of my life on the internet, so the idea of having my study materials presented online shouldn’t cause me too many problems, right?

WRONG.

As it turns out, you break up my study into webpage size chunks and what you’ve given me is an instruction to switch off my brain. I take NOTHING in. I can pages and pages of websites and not have the faintest idea what I’ve spent the last hour doing! As search, I have had to spend a considerable amount of time working around this, which has been a massive pain in the backside.

I have figured out how to download each week’s worth of work into a PDF file, which I work from (which means I can take notes) and flick back to the webpage for any interactive elements. It’s a pain, and I absolutely hate it. So that’s fun.

I’ve also come across some accessibility issues. The course has started linking to videos on YouTube, which is fair enough, but I have found they don’t bother to provide any guidance as to how to find a transcript of these videos. I found one by accident, and after 20 minutes of searching, discovered the other didn’t have dialogue at all! I think it’s pretty terrible that this isn’t considered in the course materials, and it’s really annoying me.

Now moving away from the fury and on to the good stuff.

I have started doing OpenLearn courses on top of my regular uni work, and this week I began a multi-part course entitled The Life of Mammals. It uses the David Attenborough documentary and book of the same name as the teaching basis, and so I spent most of yesterday learning about marsupials and monotremes. It was AWESOME.

Finally, I have officially requested to change my degree pathway from a BSc Computing and IT, to a BSc Natural Sciences (Earth Sciences specialism). So that’s SUPER exciting.

Study J(OU)rnal, Week 4, Year 1

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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.

Study J(OU)rnal, Week 3, Year 1

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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.

Bring on week 4.

Study J(OU)rnal, Week 2, Year 1

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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.

Bring on Week 3!

Study J(OU)rnal, Week 1, Year 1

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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.

Bring on week #2!

Study J(OU)rnal, Prep Week, Year 1

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Tomorrow is the official start date for my new degree. The course I will be starting with is called: Y033 Science, technology and maths Access module (link to Open University).

Having just finished one OU degree (BA(Hons)) I haven’t had to do much prep to start with, since studying is pretty fresh in my mind. I have had a read through the assessment guidelines, and I may have lowballed the estimation of my abilities – it looks pretty easy, at least compared to what I’ve just done so that should be interesting. I was advised that it might be too easy, but I didn’t want to risk it in case there was some differences in study behaviour in the sciences that I wasn’t aware of.

What I have done is fished out the blog post I made, on Saturday the 11th, 2011, two weeks before my first degree started. Here it is in full:

There’s just over 2 weeks (or something like that) until the start of the course, so a blog post is in order.

I have no idea what to expect from this course, but needless to say ‘the arts’ is not my strongpoint. But if it’s required to get to the history side of things, then it shall be done.

In preparation for the course I have:

-Read most of Dr Faustus (which I intend to finish reading after posting this)

-Watced the DVD section on ‘Cleopatra’ twice, having read the question and thought about it

-Looked through the study tips but stopped when it tried to tell me how to use a computer.

-Been reading the topic forums for insights

I’m quite enjoying Dr Faustus. I’ve read through the Faustus thread on the forum but haven’t made any posts yet. I nearly did soon after the initial post was made but decided against it, unfortunately now everything I had to say seems to have been said, so lesson learned; Next time I get an opportunity, take it.

I have looked at the first assignment and am not too worried about it at the moment. The Cleopatra question I am fairly confident I can write 500 words about. The Faustus question I am less certain about, but hopefully I will be able to do it well.

It’s nice to have a view of my thoughts from before my last course. When I started that degree I had dropped out of Sixth Form, dropped out of Audio Engineering school and was feeling hopeless. I started with the OU with the intention of studying history. I was worried about the first course, AA100 The arts past and present (link to Open University) because it involved all sorts of disciplines: “art history, classical studies, English, history, philosophy, music and religious studies.” I had failed philosophy and classical studies at A-level 5 years previously and was scared to death of this. I hated English and religious studies and art, and ‘music’ involved opera which I really hated.

As it turned out, AA100 was probably the best thing that had ever happened to me until that point. It opened my eyes to so much. I moved away from this strange idea that I couldn’t do, or didn’t care about the arts. I moved away from a pure history degree, and wound up taking a Religious Studies and Philosophy degree instead!

I remember being worried about starting the course now. I had forgotten how scared I was. It was all new, and big and daunting. But I managed it, and did pretty well. Hopefully I’ll do the same this time around!

Personal: Graduation

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So, yesterday I graduated…

After 7 years of hard work, I finally graduated from university!

I studied for a BA(Hons) Humanities with Religious Studies and Philosophy specialisms, for which I received a 2.1.

I have been dreading this day…

I have been saying for years I didn’t want to attend graduation. It’s too many people, it’s lots of pressure, smart clothes…all things I struggle with. I wouldn’t say  I was forced to attend, but I was very strongly pressured into it. I’m really glad that I attended.

On the day…

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The ceremony was held at Ely Cathedral – an absolutely beautiful building about 6 miles down the road from me.

The sun was shining all day (until literally the second we got in the car to come home). As you can see, the place was packed out, and it’s not even half full in that picture.

First, I had to get my robes. It was about a thousand degrees in the Lady Chapel of the cathedral where the robing happened – I genuinely thought I might die. It all felt a bit weird, and I really wasn’t into it until I got outside with all the other graduates in their robes.

I have never really felt much university pride, what with the Open University being a distance learning provider – but suddenly I was brimming with it. I felt so proud to be walking around in my robes with my fellow grads. It was awesome.

We had to sit through a great deal of organ music – which I’m not a fan of at the best of times, but it was certainly loud.

As an autistic person with a serious anxiety disorder, I find change and the unknown impossible to handle. As such, I was incredibly fortunate to have the support of the Open University staff in order to get me through the ceremony.

They organised it so my mum and dad could sit next to me – on the front row no less – then they ran through exactly how things where supposed to work. When it was my time to hit the stage, a staff member came and found me and took me to where I needed to go, reminding me exactly what was going to happen.

They took our pictures of us shaking the hand of the pro-vice chancellor of the University as he handed us our certificates – I’ve only seen such a genuine grin on my face a couple of times in my entire life.

The awards went on for ages. There were just so many graduates – every one looking so proud and happy.

IMG_2374.jpgSomewhere in the middle, they awarded Baroness Rebuck ‘Doctor of the University’ (I think). She has worked really hard to stress the importance of reading and literacy and to encourage people to read – especially those who can’t or don’t – I really respect that and was inspired by her, as reading has been such an important part of my life. I had a bit of a chat with her afterwards which was pretty cool (I never strike up conversations with strangers). To the left is a picture to prove it actually happened!

To close the ceremony, the pro-vice chancellor gave a speech about what the Open University means, and how we should be proud of our hard work and proud of our University. At this point I was absolutely overflowing with University pride and it felt amazing. I felt part of something bigger, something precious. Something I didn’t want to let go of. Something I want to be a part of for years to come.

When the ceremony was finished, all the graduates and collected staff had a procession through the cathedral. Since I was at the front, I ended up second in the procession after the staff and such – if I felt important swanning around in my robes, it was nothing compared to that procession. It was awe inspiring. There I was, in the midst of my fellow students, parading through a sea of well-wishers. It was easily the most incredible experience of my life.

Afterwards, we went through to the garden of the Old Palace – I have no idea what that building actually is or indeed was.

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This was a really beautiful moment – just to sea so many of us in our blue and gold robes. A display of hard work and dedication. Champagne was kicking around, although I don’t drink so I had apple juice.

It was a truly spectacular day. I feel proud of what I have achieved. I feel proud to be an Open Universty Alumnus, and I hope to be able to play a part in the universities Alumni Association. I cannot wait to dive right back in to my next degree with the OU – a BSc in Computing and Information Technology.