I’ve recently been sent an email by a prospective OU student asking a number of interesting questions about my experiences of studying. Rather than simply reply to the email, I thought the questions and answers might make for an interesting blog post and also allow others to talk about their experiences too. Please leave a comment if you’d like to contribute!
1. What made you want to pursue further education in the first place and why did you choose the OU?
I’d done an OU course in management in 1990, so this wasn’t my first experience of the OU. It also wasn’t my first experience of HE – I have a Computer Science degree from Warwick University from 1985. I wanted to do something that was going to stretch me outside of my comfort zone. Taking an arts course would have been too big a leap; taking a social sciences course was one I felt I could manage! Psychology felt comfortable too – as there is some (very small) overlap in the cognitive psychology field between neural networks and rules based systems with Computer Science. My wife had also completed an OU degree English Literature the year before I started again with the OU.
2. What other options did you consider?
None seriously. The OU seemed to be the obvious choice for me given that I worked full-time and often away from home. Distance learning was the only feasible option for me.
3. What are the best and worst parts of studying with OU?
The quality of the psychology course materials is excellent and I’ve been reasonably fortunate with the tutors I’ve had too. The worst experience was the DXR222 Summer school (but that wasn’t a bad experience, just not as good as other things I’ve done with the OU); the best experience was the DD303 summer school!
4. What was your impression of OU before you started a course there and has that impression changed?
My respect for the OU was pretty high before I started; but it’s only when you study with them you realise what a good institution it currently is. My fear is that the funding changes will inevitably change the makeup of both the courses and the students who take them. I fear that very few “personal development” learners will be left in future, especially those that already have a degree. The fee of £2500/course would have meant that I wouldn’t have started this degree, even if loans had been available, which of course they aren’t for ELQ students. This will inevitably lessen the sheer diversity of people you meet studying OU courses today. I think the OU will be all the poorer for it, although judging by his recent comments in the Guardian, the Vice-Chancellor doesn’t agree with me.
5. How have you changed as a result of studying with OU?
Yes. I have an appreciation of the social sciences, which I didn’t really have beforehand. It’s also been useful at work – particularly as I produce a lot of written material. Making arguments to length and to point through learning how to write essays properly for the first time has definitely improved the way I approach such tasks.
6. Even though you study on your own, do you feel a part of a wider community of learners?
Yes – although much of the virtual “community” has migrated away from the OUs own “FirstClass” forums environment (which they have recently replaced with the inferior Moodle virtual learning environment software) onto Facebook. The ability to meet people on the DXR222 and DD303 summer schools has been important to me (though many OU summer schools have now been pulled due to financial pressures). The OU Psychological Society revision weekends have been good for catching up with “virtual” friends too.
7. If you could sum up your experience of OU in 3 words, what would they be?
Valuable, fun, stretching.