Choosing a New Path at the OU

Recently, I was mooching about the Open University’s revamped study pages, when I stumbled across a widget that lets you plan out your future module choices. This got me thinking more in-depth about what path I wanted to follow.

monitor-1307227_1280As I’ve said before, I’m doing an Open Degree, which gives me plenty of flexibility, but I’ve chosen to follow, more or less, the Computer Science route, but with the two Creative Writing modules thrown in. But the question was, what Computer Science route? The OU provides lots of different ICT modules. Some big (60 points), like the now dearly departed My Digital Life (TU100) was, and others small (30 points), like Technologies in Practice (TM129) is. Luckily I had a vague notion of what I was interested in, namely web page design, and as it happens, the OU has a path for that.

For the Open Degree, the OU helpfully provides lots of different study plans based on possible routes of interest, as (and speaking from experience) choosing what to do when given free module reign can be fairly daunting and confusing. I happened to have a bit more of a direction in mind, as I wanted to make a bespoke degree that would help me with web communications, but I still wasn’t sure what modules to do. However, one of the routes created by the OU happens to be Web Development…

This route provides an insight into the internet technologies required to design and create web, cloud and mobile applications and services together with an appreciation of both technical and business perspectives. [OU website]

Stumbling across this has made me completely rethink what I was going to study in the second year. I had planned on doing Communication and Information Technologies (TM255), which (while it contains the word communications) focuses more on data sharing, wireless networks, online collaboration and the like, which, if I’m honest, wasn’t really the path I wanted to take. But thanks to the route map, I’ve shifted focus, and plan to do two half-modules in its place, namely Object-Oriented Java Programming (M250) and Web Technologies (TT284). This, in turn, led me to think about my third-year modules, and given that some of the modules I want to take will be ending during my duration of study, I had to plan carefully what I wanted to take and when.

Subsequently, I made a thing…..

Year/ Term Course no. Course title Size Oct – year May/June -year
1b TM129 Technologies in practice 30 2017 2018
L185 English for academic purposes online 30 2017 2018
2a TT284 Web technologies 30 2018 2019
M250 Object-oriented Java programming 30 2018 2019
2b A215 Creative writing 60 2019 2020
3a A363 Advanced creative writing 60 2020 2021
3b TM356 or TM352 Interaction design and the user experience 30 2021 2022
Web, mobile and cloud technologies 30 2021 2022
TM470 The computing and IT project 30 2021/2* 2022/3*

*I May have to wait until I complete the previous IT module, or I may be able to start it at the same time

I’m undecided between TM356 and TM352, but I should have a better idea of things once I’ve done the second year modules. TM356 has an exam as part of its marking process, and I don’t do well in exams. Being able to do coursework, and having time to consider my answers, is way better for me. Conversely, TM356 ends in a project, which is a bit impractical, seeing as my final module is also a project. Which means, if I do the modules simultaneously, I’ll be having to work on two projects simultaneously (unless I can do the same project for both). It’s a lot to think about, but thankfully I have a few years to go before I have to make a hard and fast decision.

Plus, during the holiday between the first and second year, I can do a free Java course to prep myself.

Actually, doing all this has got me quite excited for my future studies. Knowing what I want to study, and when it’s coming up, has got me quite invigorated. Kinda makes me sad it takes so long to complete a module, and then wait for the next to start.

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Summer of Code, aka Computer Says, “No”

coding-1841550_1280

So I thought I’d test myself with the Open University’s Summer of Code. Each day, a new problem is set, requiring participants to write a script to solve it. It’s mainly for transitioning second to third years, but as I’ve done a bit of coding in my spare time in the past (using Python) I thought I’d give it a shot.

For my uni course, I’ve been using Sense to do assignment scripts, though not by choice. Sense is a basic programming language using command ‘blocks’, as opposed to having to write out the commands yourself. The OU uses this programming language to teach coding. Sense is ok, but it does ignore certain principles that Python uses, such as the first character in a string in Sense is at position 1, not 0 as it is in Python. It’s also pretty limiting … as I was to find out.

I managed, with a few hiccups, to do the first two day’s tasks using Sense. However, the third task highlighted how basic Sense is. There’s no easy way to convert from letters to the equivalent alphabet numbers. Or rather, not without using a hell of a lot of if-elseif-else blocks that would grind my laptop to a halt. It also didn’t help that it took me half an hour to actually figure out what the problem entailed, as it was written in a rather unclear fashion. After two hours of struggling, and realising I’d left my Python course notes several 100 miles away in Amsterdam, I had to give up. I was rather irked, to say the least. Especially, considering I’d aced the previous two tasks.

Day four wasn’t much better, but by this point, I was getting the impression it was because the questions were overly complicated, rather than the coding itself. If I couldn’t figure out how to do them on paper, how was I expected to do them in code? The tasks were supposed to take two hours to solve, but most of that time was taken up with me going, “WTF??” It also didn’t help that the questions would sometimes have mistakes in their convoluted explanations, making things even less clear.

giphy-downsized

I gave myself a break from day 5, and tried afresh on day 6. This time, I did progress a little further in answering the question than I had the previous couple of days, but again, I got stymied, so I decided to call quits on the whole thing.

It wasn’t an entirely defeatist move. As it is, I’m also doing a free Open Learn badged course on “English: skills for learning“, which is designed to help “develop the English reading and writing skills needed to succeed” with university work. As I have my final module assignment to do (it’s a doozy), and as one of my next modules will be “English for academic purposes online” I prioritised, and figured out of the two time-sinks, learning how to write a proper assignment was more important than goofing around with unintelligible questions, and contrary scripts.

The past week or so has also made me realise I’ve pretty much forgotten all the Python I’d learnt. Though, in fairness, I haven’t touched the language since 2015. So it looks like I’m going to have to shoe-horn in some refresher learning. Codecademy do a lot of free programming courses, and I’ve already covered jQuery, HTML, CSS and Java with them. However, I did my Python with Coursera (when it used to be a good MOOC provider), which means I can do some Python refresher with Codecademy. I just need to find the time!