Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Open University Q&A

Open University Q&A

After the overwhelming response to my previous blog post regarding The Open University, I have decided to do a collaboration with Christine Grant from We both have very difference experience with the Open University. Christine studies Science and is nearing the end of Level 2. However, I study English and I am half way through Level 1. There is also an age difference and a location difference between us.
We will be focusing on our experience of work load, discipline, how we spend our assigned “breaks”, social life and our experience with tutorials/day schools. Hopefully this will be of some help to students who are unsure about beginning with The Open University, or with students who are already members but need some advice.

Q. What is your experience of work load?

Christine = All my OU materials are online, which makes it feel more intensive. I’m studying S215 which I started then deferred, so my workload consists of 13 topics, 6 TMA’S, 2 iCMA’s and a 3 hour exam. I also have a practical block along with a residential school which you have to pay for separately, on top of other fees. However, this wasn’t a viable option for me due to my location, so I attended the online interactive version which, although is designed specifically for this purpose, made me feel rather isolated as I wanted to get physical hands on experience. My work load is intense, but some of the topics are split into parts, for example, Topic 5 is Chemical Kinetics which is split into 4 parts. I usually have a week to do each part, so every week, you’re working on something new which means if I get stuck on something, it’s very easy to get behind. This work load doesn’t lay off for TMA’s, so the week a TMA is due you still have an entire section to go through.
I loved Level 1 – the amount of work as a lot, but more manageable. It seemed to be more widespread. I studied S104 which was 8 topics and I managed far better. Level 2 was a sudden increase in difficulty and work level, which may just be for the sciences

Hannah = I have a very different experience, compared to Christine, when it comes to work load. As I’m only 6 months into Level 1, I haven’t experienced the sharp increase in difficulty or workload yet. In terms of part-time and full-time study however, I can shed some light. I began in October 2015 on a part-time course, only picking up 1 module. With this option, I found I had too much free time on my hands and ended up with the feeling that I felt I SHOULD be doing something more. Because of this, in February 2016 I chose to pick up my second module, therefore becoming a full-time student. In the first few weeks, I have noticed a large increase in my work load, as I am studying 43 topics, with a combined 13 TMA’S and one 3 hour exam. But, I’m finding this amount of work still manageable providing I stay organised and continue studying, even when I don’t want to! Before starting a full-time course, I think it’s important to fully understand the commitment you are taking on, as although manageable, if you don’t feel you have the adequate time to accommodate your studies, you will fall behind. I study at a rate of 2 chapters per week, sometimes more if it’s an “assignment week” and I have submitted my TMA’s, or if the chapters are fairly simple and short.
Q. How do you manage to discipline yourself?
Christine =If I’m honest, I do struggle as I am naturally scatter brained and unstructured – the master of procrastination! But I just have to tell myself, tonight I’m going to study 10 pages, and sometimes once studying, I find myself doing one more page and keep going. However, other nights I will sit down after making myself a cup of tea and cleaning the house, having avoided studying. I also use a time-management app which you can set for an alarm to go off every 15 minutes. So will study for 15 minutes, have a 5 minute break, and continue in this pattern. In terms of my study space, I am very organised. I use lots of colour coding and I use yellow coloured paper, with my fianc├ęs dyslexic over-lays to help read print outs – this helps me study for longer period of times.
Hannah= Again, I am in complete contrasts with Christine. I find my brain is fairly ordered and structured, making life simpler when it comes to studying. Of course, I have those days where I don’t want to pick up a textbook and procrastinate, but I find these are few and far between. I am very organised in terms of head space and study space, needing to compete the tasks I have set myself on time. I set my own deadlines for my work, in-keeping with my study planner on the OU website, to ensure I complete the necessary work on time. I usually work in larger chunks compared to Christine, as I find I am more able to focus that way. I may work for an hour continuously, before having a small break. Overall, I think creating my own deadlines has worked well in keeping me disciplined in my studies.
Q. How do you spend your assigned breaks? (Spring Break, Winter Break, etc)
Christine= I have a meditation room in my house where I go and listen to music quietly when I need a break from studying. I also do regular Yoga as I find certain poses help when I am stressed out or finding something particular troubling. Over the assigned breaks, I usually find myself catching up on my studies, but I’m getting married next year so I am already planning my summer holidays! At Christmas I usually give myself a week off to tidy all my stuff away and make sure I am prepared to start again. Through Easter and October I just keep studying so I have a safety net in case something doesn’t go to plan.
Hannah= In terms of my assigned breaks, I tend to find myself in the same boat as Christine. I use my breaks to catch up on missed chapters, prepare for assignments and have a general organisation of study space. Although I am less worried and focused on studying, I do find myself itching to pick up a textbook by mid-week! For the up-coming Easter break, I will be spending my time prepping and writing TMA’s, as I have 4 due in April. I find the breaks perfect for this, as they are a chance for me to get ahead, leading to a less stressed-out Hannah in the long run.
Q. What do you think of The Open University’s social life?
Christine= I’ve found that although there is an OU Scotland and OUSA page, there is little done for anything North of Glasgow, which is a 6 hour round trip for me via train. So as a North Scotland student, I find it isolating. Sometimes I find a great group of students who don’t mind skyping and having “revision” sessions, but in my last module, I posted on the forum asking if anybody wanted to get together for a meet-up and gained no replies. I did have the chance of attending a residential in Brighton for a week, which was amazing because it included night classes to aid you in maths or things you were interesting in. I also had the chance of meeting fellow students.
Hannah= I live in the South of England, in Oxfordshire, putting me in the perfect location to London and Milton Keynes. This means I have plenty of meet-ups and study sessions near me, and nowhere is really too far to travel to these. I’ve also found the Facebook groups invaluable for my social life. I enjoy being able to interact with the other students on there, posting questions and receiving answers very quickly. I have met two of my closest friends via the Facebook groups, which I am very thankful for. I don’t find myself isolated in one bit, but I think the socialising aspect of The Open University depends on your location, even though the OU try their best to accommodate everyone.
Q. What is your experience of day schools/tutorials?
Christine= For tutorials, only my first module had physical ones where I went to Aberdeen University (a 3 hour round trip) for an hour. Since then, everything has been done online through illuminate/blackboard, where the tutorials are 1-2 hours, usually at night, and record so you can go back and listen to them as often as you want. There has never been any day-schools that I have been aware of. Sometimes people will organise an informal get together but due to distance, I’ve never been able to go. Revision weekends are also arranged, but again, they are all based around Milton Keynes.
Hannah= Again, due to my location, I have had a different experience with day schools and tutorials. For my first module, I have a 2 hour tutorial at Oxford Brookes University (only a 20 minute drive from my house), every month. My second module however, only has 3-4 tutorials in the whole course, but more online interactions. I have only been able to attend one tutorial and it was so worthwhile going. It enabled me to interact with other students and meet my tutor, whilst also receiving extra help on my module content. My local day school is in Reading, (45 minutes on the train) which I haven’t been able to attend, but it’s great I have the choice to as it’s fairly close by.

Big thanks to Christine for collaborating on this with me! Please check out her blog!
Love, Hannah


  1. This is a great write up! Very insightful and can't wait to get started myself :)

    1. I'm glad it was useful! Good luck with the start of your journey with the OU, its been fantastic for me so far!