I have never studied with the Open University

October 18th, 2008

Well that’s not strictly true. During my first year of employment with the Open University (OU) in 2002-2003 I undertook a 10 point course on web design which was being piloted. I think it might have evolved into Design and the web. It wasn’t really my bag as it was pitched at a much too low level for me (I’m a professional don’t you know?). The course introduced me into the world of OU study which had been a bit of mystery to me up until that point.

I did my first degree at Coventry University — Communication, Culture and Media — which I really enjoyed but the social aspect was a really big thing for me. I could never really understand why people would want to study alone, at a distance, in their own time. I wanted to get a feel for it all as I was designing websites for people who this kind of study appealed to. So I learned more about all the support the OU gives to students than web design. It was intriguing meeting other students online who proudly listed all the courses they’d studied in the email signatures.

The course was assessed by a number of electronic assignments and I didn’t really have interaction with the course tutor but it all rolled along nicely and I got a certificate at the end to add to my portfolio. I’ve been tempted to take a few courses in the last four years but have never got round to it. We have course materials for everything in the OU library and I’ve leafed through endless excellently produced materials just for fun. The OU lets it’s staff do courses for free. So why don’t I just crack on and do some study?

Well.. I just feel I’m too busy. I find I have little free time as it is to socialise and enjoy my new son. Oliver. Maybe when things are less hectic I’ll dive in to the veritable glittering delights.

I do have one big advantage over other people in my team though — I approach each new project from the point of view of someone who is new to OU study, rather than a seasoned OU pro. So for my latest project — Student Induction and Orientation — I’m forced to do some proper research (focus groups, user testing) with Students to find out what both new undergraduates and new postgraduates need when they are wondering what the OU is all about.

So maybe you have considered studying with the OU. What has stopped you so far? And maybe you have recently begun studying with the OU? What would have made it easier for you to get started? What support and advice would you have wanted to receive that you didn’t get? I’m very keen to hear.

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One Response to “I have never studied with the Open University”

  1. Phil

    I think it’s really valuable to find a perspective that thinks of the new student. In my former life (in Learning and Teaching Solutions, the publishing arm of the OU) we regularly ‘opened the box’ – that is, acted as if we were a new (or continuing) student opening the course material box for the first time. It can be a bewildering process (we had in mind the balance between homogenisation of the look and feel of materials; and the tension between that the inevitable desire for a new course to make its individual mark).

    I’m the complete opposite in terms of OU student experience – I’ve done what the full monty, from first degree to PhD with the OU and I’m doing my second masters now (MAODE, after a career change!). I also know what it’s like to study as a more ‘conventional’ student in a campus university.

    Reading through your post reminds me of something I think frequently about: experience. When we think about educational technologies do we think carefully enough about what students from non-edu tech courses want and need? Do we lose sight of what it means to undergo a student experience – in its rawest form, from page to screen to audio to tutorial to tutor?

    I try not to forget the basics: but hearing of how your perspective informs your work remains reassuringly student-centred, and there’s no reason it should follow the orthodoxy of only experienced OU students making valuable OU student experiences.