Being an OU student: the highs and lows

Mark Ouzman

Open University student
(AA100, A105, U214, and Designing Online Learning for the Future Hack Day 2016 participant)

Since beginning my Open University studies, I’ve experienced some highs and some lows as a distance learner. I began my OU career by tackling AA100 (The arts past and present) and A105 (Voices, texts and material culture) concurrently. I’m now studying U214 (Worlds of English), and was recently a participant in the Designing Online Learning for the Future Hack Day. It was a fantastic experience, with my fellow students and I sharing challenges raised together with OU staff to problem solve within a controlled environment.

It was bold to take on AA100 and A105 at the same time. The OU’s student services team did try to counsel me against undertaking too much, but being a stubborn personality I knew best! I was wrong – getting a high mark was only just achievable.

It was truly hard work, keeping a (40 hour per week) job, friends and family happy, while having to complete two modules, the required reading plus their TMAs, EMAs and Exams. I found this to be very stressful – it was a slog and a battle to undertake the two modules at the same time. As such, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, unless they live entirely in isolation!

My tutors on these modules were as different as chalk and cheese. One tutor I found to be ‘student driven’, while the other appeared not to offer their support in a ‘student friendly’ way.

So it is incredibly important to have a support group forged from within your family, friends and fellow students. I have found the OU not always supportive of the new student. Tutorials can deliver very little, just enough to help pass your TMAs. It was hardly the stuff of ‘Educating Rita’, and can leave you as a student wanting to disengage from the whole process. But my experience does get better!

My lesson learned, I am currently only doing one module. U214 so far I have found is a very capable module, covering the academic structure of English and its globalisation. By undertaking just the one module I am finding my experience with the OU more relaxed, less stressful and very enjoyable. My marks are higher and it reinforces to me that – given the time – these modules can offer the student a very decent grounding in English at degree level.

Overall the OU offers the student a chance to improve academically and if you don’t rush the experience and hold back on any desire to do everything at a break-neck speed then the module materials and your relationship with fellow students and tutors become totally engaging.

When I recently attended the OU’s Designing Online Learning for the Future Hack Day it made me feel included as a student in the OU’s thought process to provide a better type of experience to us. It was an opportunity to work with my own peers as well as academics.

As students we were treated as equals, and this ensured that we all felt part of an inclusive process rather than just some academic experiment. I enjoyed this experience and this has added to the positive feelings I now have towards ‘my’ university.