I started with an Access Course 2 years ago, which ended with me getting a Distinction in Science, Maths and Technology. The course was interesting in parts, boring in others, which I can imagine is the same as normal university.
The fact I could study at home was brilliant for me as a single mum. I don't have a lot of time to myself and this meant I could do it when I was ready, not when they needed me. The phone calls from my tutor were scary at first (I was talking to a stranger about how much I knew/didn't know!)
I have just started my Bsc Hons in Computing and Business. The tutor is yet to contact me even though I am three months in...so that's not gone too well. But I have found my way around myself. Thankfully I am good with computers anyway. There is a lot of support on the forums and on the web too.
If like me you need a new start then I fully recommend the Open University.
I started the access course back in February. I am signed up to start my degree in October, but as I have not studied in a long time I decided the access course would be beneficial to me.
So far I have found it to be great. I have a very helpful tutor and online groups. Especially the face book group made up of fellow students! There is also student support team who are great but sometimes take a while to get back to you.
My course books are fantastic. I received a box with 4 books and a lot of very helpful information (and a free bag!)The first book really eases you into distance learning and different learning techniques. It will be extremely valuable for when I start my degree. My tutor is patient and understanding. She responds quickly to any issues I have. The only problem I have had is the setting up of my student finance loan but that was due to some confusion over start dates. I have not done distance learning before and found it initially hard to motivate myself. But, again, this is where my facebook group have been brilliant. As we were all in the same boat we tend to encourage each other.
As well as studying from the books, you also study from a DVD, online, news reports, and online lectures. The marking system is very easy to understand and feedback from my tutor has been very helpful. I would highly recommend the open university to any one who wishes to further their knowledge and gain qualifications!
I started studying with the Open University in 2005, and completed my Masters in July 2013. This review will cover my experiences as a student with the OU, organised into sections which I hope will be helpful to anyone considering signing up as a student.
***Website and course search***
There are several ways of using the OU website to find suitable courses. You can browse the online prospectus for undergraduate or postgraduate study, can click on quick links to fields of study (eg social sciences, arts and humanities) from the main page or, for those who know what they want to study, can perform a direct search for a topic. The OU provides many different undergraduate and postgraduate courses; for example, I've just finished a Masters in Psychological Research Methods and my partner has just signed up for one in improving healthcare practice. Unfortunately, with recent budget cuts, some social science Masters have been withdrawn (including the one I've just completed), but there is still a huge range of courses on offer.
***Prices and funding***
To put it bluntly, studying with OU is not a cheap option. To give an example, the last part of my Masters, which was a 60-point course, cost around £1400. However, the OU website does give lots of information on funding options including available grants. As there was no funding available in my case, I took out an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA), a payment arrangement that lets you pay in monthly installments. Spreading the cost of my course over a year only added around £30 to the total, so it was worth doing. One obvious benefit of OU study is that you can combine work and study - this was the only way I'd ever have been able to fund my way through a Masters.
During my years with OU, I noticed a definite move from printed study materials and physical copies towards online-based materials. During the last year of my course, I received only a basic study guide in paper form, and everything else was available online; this included copies of papers I needed, the OU online library and all the forms I needed to submit my coursework. I'd go as far as to say that it would be extremely challenging now to undertake OU study without having access to a computer and the internet. However, the real beauty of OU study is that everything you need is at your fingertips; there are no library trips and no hunting down important papers - it's all provided. Most courses do have textbooks that you need to purchase, and these can generally be obtained from places like Amazon or eBay.
I'd say that the tutor support provided by OU is variable. Some tutors seem to go the extra mile and encourage lots of contact with their students, while others do the bare minimum and take ages to mark assignments. This became an issue during my last course, when the assignments were 6-8 weeks apart and my tutor was taking 4-5 weeks each time on marking (I needed the marked assignment each time to proceed with the next one, so this made for a more stressful study experience than I would have liked). I think OU needs to do some work to standardise the tutor support and turnaround times.
Of course, OU study is fundamentally different from real-life study in the sense that you can't chew the fat over a drink with your fellow students. However, the courses do provide forums for students to discuss relevant issues, and these are generally moderated by course tutors and can be a handy way to get any questions answered. On my last course, some of the students also set up a private Facebook group, which has been a brilliant avenue for socialising and letting off steam, and I have come out of the course with a few interesting new friends.
There seem to be two schools of thought regarding OU study. I get the sense that some universities in particular look down their noses at the OU (I was asked at a PhD interview, and not in a very nice way, why I'd chosen to study with OU). Thankfully, I think the majority opinion is actually the opposite - that OU study demonstrates that you're able to keep yourself motivated and organised and work independently. I got a lovely reference from my local OU office emphasizing the challenge I'd taken on in doing a Masters while working. I've read that lots of employers will favour an OU graduate because of the qualities you need to have to succeed at distance learning.
I'm glad I studied with OU, and would recommend it to anyone who's determined to complete a qualification but can't afford to be a full-time student. It is expensive and sadly the sources of support for students are declining, but I found that the OUSBA account helped make the cost just about manageable. Distance learning isn't for everyone and you need to be fairly resilient and self-motivated to keep with it, but the OU is a great resource for making qualifications just that bit more accessible in this challenging time when few of us are able to go off and study full-time.
I left school at 16 with only 4 C + GCSE's and worked in a local nursing home. I very quickly realised the error of my ways and started night school in order to have sufficient qualifications to enable entry into the school of Nursing.
I consider myself fairly career orientated and have always looked at the job description of the next grade in order to decide what I need next. On qualifying as a nurse I therefore did a teaching certificate and this enabled me to successfully apply for that grade. The next grade up had a desirable criteria of a degree and therefore I realised this was the next step, as I had already gained a diploma in Nursing and knew I needed 120 credits to make it a degree.
At that time (in 1998) I chose to self fund my degree and it cost just over £1000 for both years, as generally speaking that type of course wasn't easily to access within my work place and I chose the Open University as now I was married and wanted a family and I felt the distance learning would be the best option. I needed 2x 60 credit modules and doing 1 a year took 2 years to complete. It is generally recommended a 60 credit module is about 10-14 hours study a week. The first year I was fulltime, but was pregnant for most of it, I gave birth within a week of starting the second module. This worked well as I was able to work at my own speed and I ensured I was well ahead before returning to work (it was 18 weeks mat leave then). I found the modules well organised, they both had group tutorials as well as a Day School.
Scroll forward to 3 years ago, and again aware that now for my current role, a Masters is now a desirable criteria and I have been putting off for several years but felt that perhaps now is the time so I started a 3 and half year masters programme. Fortunately times have changed and I have been virtually fully funded, I had to pay £250 towards this last year as they would only pay a maximum of £1000 per module. (I clearly can not complain!). My Masters is in Nursing Leadership.
So with just 2 more assignments to go (EVER!!), what is my experience of the OU.
I have really enjoyed being able to go at my own speed. I have an assignment due in August but intend to get ahead so that it doesn't "ruin" my school holidays, this control has been really useful. The assignment criteria and information about their marking criteria has made writing them easier although I don't consider myself a natural scholar and have really struggled, so I need all the help I can get.
In previous years the materials arrived printed but now its all online (with a self print option) I have found this much harder, as tended to grab my OU stuff to read next to the swimming pool or outside music lessons and I now have to plan better what I need to print to take.
My first experiences were sending in assignments recorded delivery but now everything is sent electronically and takes seconds. I did send one assignment in over 4 weeks early and "failed" the course through my none submission but they did "find" it, however was quite traumatic at the time receiving a failed letter.
Distance learning needs a lot of self motivation, there is no one but yourself to prompt or ensure the studies are done so if you prefer classroom learning this is definitely not for you.
I have been very lucky with funding, although did have to write a business case for the last module due to funding issues, but I know the OU is a much cheaper way of gaining a degree or masters than most universities.
Its getting a 4 star, as I had to jump through an awful lot of red tape last year due to funding changes they had made and I ended up started the course late due to their administration errors. However overall the OU has been a positive experience.
Apologies if this review is rambling, sometimes its difficult to decide what to include.
When I was 17 and ready to leave school, I was strongly advised by my school to go to University. At 17 I had no idea what I wanted to study or what career I wanted to eventually have and I had a fear of committing to a course that I might not enjoy for the next 3 years of my life. In contrast to my view of a traditional University, the Open University is a lot more flexible in it's approach to studying and it is allowing me to get the degree that I know I am clever enough to hold.
With the Open University a degree can be studied in a period of 3 to 16 years, with students deciding the pace that they would like to study at. Modules begin in October, February and May allowing students to tailor their studies to a timetable that may suit them better than a traditional academic year and the distance learning structure of the courses allow students to study at a pace and time that suits them. This flexibility has allowed me to work part time while studying.
My tutors are always at the other end of the phone or email and while I have not yet needed them for anything major it is comforting to know that they are there should there be a need. Study materials include a mixture of textbooks and online materials which are then reviewed at tutorials (which can take place both online and in person with other students). This independent way of learning is one which I enjoy immensely although it is not everyone's cup of tea.
The cost of learning varies depending on location. As a Scottish student my fees are reduced dramatically in comparison to my English counterparts, however without financial support I am still paying somewhere between £1500 and £1750 for each year of my course. For my undergraduate degree I am charged seperately for each module that I select and there is a variety of payment options available to students. I personally use OUSBA (Open University Student Budget Account) to pay my fees, where I am loaned the funds at enrollment and I pay back monthly installments for the duration of the module in order to settle my debt. The English fees system quotes the price of a full degree (at todays prices) at the cost of £15,372 however additional Government support is available in the shape of tuition fee loans to make it more affordable.
Overall my experience with the Open University has been very positive so far, with all services proving to be efficient and helpful. The sky's the limit with the Open University, opening doors to the people who previously would have been shut out.
I have spent the last 8 years studying through the Open University and have passed couses in several different subjects - my first qualification with them was a Diploma in Classical studies and this year I completed my courses with a BA(Hon) in Humanities with Classical Studies.
To start studying at the Open University you may need to have already attained certain qualifications dependent on the course that you choose. In the Humanities, the subjects I chose, you can start by taking a foundation course which teaches several disciplines but within the context of a particular time.
Mine by chance was the Victorian era and I studied Poetry, Literature, philosophy, history and art history within that time. I found this a fantastic approach to learning having never studied in this way before. The first course was a level 1 course which only came with a pass or fail.
Each course you take has separate criteria on how it is marked, some are through "TMA's" Teacher Marked Assignments and then an exam when you have finished all the course work. But don't be put off by the thought of an exam; the Tutor is there to guide you through this.
Each course is worth either 30 or 60 points (with some exceptions) and you need to do courses totalling 360 points to be able to apply for a Hons degree. What you do each year is entirely up to you and the information they provide on their website gives you a good understanding of the subject matter that will be discussed.
The modules as they are known get harder as you progress through to level 2 and level 3 however you only have to do two modules at level 3 and by then you will be used to the requirements of the OU and what is called for within the essays that you write.
The Essays or TMA's can be submitted on line so you get to write them up to the last minute - as long as your computer works. You will get your own individual page within the OU website which allows you to have your own calendar and join discussion groups on the subjects that you are having difficulties with.
You also get assigned a tutor for each module that you do which will give you some face to face time with them and others taking the same course. I have been lucky in that the centres I have had to go to for my courses were relatively close - however talking to others this isn't always the case.
The cost has increased as of this year and all courses come with different price tags, business and law modules are more expensive than others. However the material you receive through the door is second to none and you normally only have to purchase 4 or 5 set texts before the course begins as everything else is supplied either in book format or DVD or CD.
This is a fantastic institution and I have met some wonderful people while going through the last 8 years and I would recommend this to anyone that is thinking about it. I believe there is also financial help for those that require it. Check out the website www.open.ac.uk
I've been studying at the Open University since 2007 and am 2 course away from getting my degree!
I have studied a selection of courses from different subject areas, as I love learning and enjoy the challenge of starting something completely different.
I have done:
Death and Dying
Investigating Mental Health
and currently Exploring Philosophy
The courses are not cheap, at around £500-700, but if you take into account the ridiculously high University fees, they really are good value as they come with most of your books, your DVD's, CD's, access to the website and tutorials both online and in person.
Ease of use
Each course is normally worth either 30 points or 60 points and you need 360 points to get a degree, which have to be taken from various different levels - 1, 2 and 3. But can be taken from any subject for an Open Degree.
The courses come with several books included in the price. For a full course, each book is usually for one month and one assignment. This means a lot of reading and a lot of dedication to make sure you get things done.
The website clearly lays out what you are supposed to be reading when, and when assignments are due. Along with quizzes, forums to discuss things and access to the online library.
You submit most assignment using the online ETMA system, which is easy and simply to use.
Compared to a University Course
The Open University is very reading focused, so if you are a visual learner like me, you will find it easy enough. But as some people are auditory learners or kinesthetic learners, some people might find the high reading requirements very dull and the material very hard to learn. Although there are some DVD's, CD's and online things to do, for the most part it is all reading, and although I do like this, it can get a bit boring.
I've been to University before and part of me enjoyed being in a class, and discussing things with others. But I also like how flexible this course has been. If I'd been studying at University during the last course, where I ended up in hospital and when my son died, I would have had to defer a year. Whereas I was able to continue my course and still pass despite my absence.
I have had very different experiences in each course with tutors. I found in exploring psychology, the tutor was being overly strict with the marking throughout. I was sure she was marking me down, but wasn't sure why. I was getting on average 50-60% on my coursework, then I took the exam and got 89% so I knew I was right, she was marking me down as the exam is marked independently.
During Child Development I got ill and sat the exam in quite a state, but still passed. I enjoyed the course and found the marking to be fair and the tutor to be reasonable.
During death and dying, my father died just after I started and it took a lot of effort to persuade myself to continue with that course, especially considering the course content, but I did. The tutor was very understanding and gave me extra time to complete.
During Investigating Mental Health I ended up in hospital and my son died. For about 10 weeks I did nothing at all, and my tutor did everything in her power to help me complete this, and although I missed a couple of assignments I actually did manage to pass with a grade 4.
My current course I have not been so happy with. My tutor has continuously marked me down for minor grammatical errors and openly declared that he does not like my "writing style." I do not think that he should be able to mark students down for their "writing style" and I have been forced to keep my writing free from creativity and flourish in order to pass the assignments. As a writer, I have found this hard, but I have done what is needed to get this far.
Considering the problems I've had year after year while doing the courses, I am happy enough to recommend them to friends and family. It's cheaper by a long way than going to University and I hope that in a couple of years I will proudly have my Open Degree. Although goodness know what will happen in my life in the next couple of courses.
As someone who is already a self taught professional programmer I decided to take some OU courses with the intent of completing the degree in computing. The first course I took last year was M255 (level 2) which I thought was an average at best introduction to basic OO programming. I felt a lot of the material on the course was dated contained too many long winded explanations for simple concepts. I didn't really bother contacting the tutor much so I can't really comment on that. I ended up getting around 90% for most of the TMAs and 76% on the exam. I started studying TU100 this year which is a level 1 course, however so far i've found this to be the worst programming course I have ever taken. If you have any experience programming whatsoever their sense graphical interface will drive you absolutely nuts, I don't feel this is the right way of teaching programming at all. Why they can't use an industry standard language like python or ruby or something is beyond me. I haven't really learned anything from either course and feel like I am just wasting my time. I would recommend just buying some programming books from amazon and using the internet you will learn far more.
Deciding what to do with regards to careers and qualifications isn't an easy matter, less so with the whole 'economic crisis' jazz going on and the fight for jobs. After college a lot of my friends went to Uni and I felt pressured in to doing likewise. I opted instead to work for a few years, save money and then realised I still wanted to study. Not wanting the debt from living away, I stayed with my parents to undertake a degree with the Open University; it hasn't all been a positive experience, but I'm still glad I chose this as an alternative option that suited me and my circumstances better than a 'regular' uni experience.
... What Is The OU? ...
The Open University was born in 1969 and since then it has continued to expand and develop in to a huge alternative higher education hub that sets the trends and keeps up with modern technology in the quest for better 'distance learning'.
The OU describes themselves on their website as 'a world leader in modern distance learning, the pioneer of teaching and learning methods which enable people to achieve their career and life goals studying at times and in places to suit them'.
... Where & Who? ...
The OU attempts to aim for equality and diversity, offering most of their undergraduate courses without formal entry requirements, such as A-Level qualifications. I find this to be a really positive thing and provides another avenue for those who may have missed out on such education or grades.
To study at the OU, you can be in the UK or abroad because it's all done from the comfort of your own home. The hub of the OU is in Milton Keynes, but there are various ways for contacting the OU that are closer and more convenient. For example, there are regional centres and universities you can utilize for things such as tutorials and exams, details of which are sent to you closer to the time. They do try to ensure it's as close to you as possible, and with the popularity and expansiveness of the OU there should be something within reasonable distance.
There is also the option of transferring credits; I'm not entirely sure how this works but it allows the possibility of moving to the OU elsewhere if, for instance, you decide a bricks and mortar uni isn't for you.
... Bricks vs Distance...
There are a lot of positives and negatives for both options, so it really does depend on your circumstances, personal preferences and what you want to gain from it. In favour of the distance approach is : Lower fees if living at home (no Uni accommodation, which is a big bonus if you want cleaner study space!), organise your own time, save money on uni 'outings' and typical regular socialising, learn new skills and develop on current ones (such as time management, self-motivation). For me, the biggest thing was the money. I didn't want to gain a qualification only to gain a huge debt. Living at home meant I wasn't spending the same sort of money, and I was able to receive some financial help that I'm not sure I would have necessarily received otherwise. I also didn't really feel the need at the time to go to a 'real' uni. I wasn't in the stage of wanting to socialise lots, get drunk every other night, to feel like a student in the stereotypical sense. Basically, at the time I didn't think I'd miss these aspects.
The drawbacks are as numerous: Less support, less socialising if any at all, less opportunities to 'get involved' (such as uni events, helping with a uni magazine or whatever else), less feeling of being 'a student' etc. This is just to give you a basic idea, but they're the type of things you need to weigh up and it's not always an easy choice.
... What's On Offer ...
The Open University specialises in degrees, and they have a good range of undergraduate degrees in various subjects. Details of all courses, as well as ideas of career paths, is on the website.
I studied Psychology at undergraduate level to end up with a BSc Hons degree. I considered the OU in part because I knew they offered accredited and recognised degrees (such as by the BPS) so it counts as a 'good' and 'real' degree, for those who may wonder about this.
They did offer a good range of postgraduate degrees too, however this seems to have changed. Once the financial debates started to arise and pressure was placed on students and Universities, the OU had to cut some of their courses. This is something that really got to me because I was never made aware of this. Not until I wanted to look up the start date for a Postgraduate Occupational Psych course to enrol on that is. Many of these have been suspended until further notice, though if/when they will be reinstated is something they don't seem to know yet. The crux is, consider the OU for undergraduate but probably not postgraduate. It's a shame, even though I understand the financial 'crisis' is screwing a lot of things up, I would just have liked to have known this a little earlier or have been made aware this could happen; I'd planned my route and now I can't complete it, and I can't afford a postgraduate degree in a 'real' uni unless I want a bank loan, lots of debt from renting accommodation nearby etc. Alas, all good plans and all that!
The OU also has an 'Open Learn' facility which offers free courses. These aren't really qualifications as such, but they can give you a taster in to different topics and brush up your knowledge. I've started looking into or two HR-related free courses, and although I can't say I've 'achieved a qualification' at the end, it's stimulated my interest, given me an idea of what to expect, and improved my general knowledge within this area. It's also going to give me something to put on my CV anyway as a small note and is something to talk about in an interview when you lack a formal qualification or experience. Every little helps, right? ;)
... The Steps I Took ...
After deciding to start an OU degree, I was a little concerned that the process would be convoluted and difficult. Although some aspects were a little tricky to get my head around, signing up for courses once you know roughly what you're doing is fairly straightforward.
I knew I wanted to study Psychology and wanted it with Honours, so I worked out a study path. To get this qualification I'd need 360 points, but these needed to be taken from different 'levels'. The Psychology pages describe the types of courses offered and give you an idea of where to start, suggesting you ease yourself in with a taster or lower level at first. There are some compulsory courses you need to take for this qualification, and others which you can choose yourself from the relevant levels in order to make up the points. So, each course counts towards your qualification, and each course has a level and number of points attached to it, either being compulsory or optional. Once I figured out what was what I could build a path to this; I wanted to study full time and complete in 3 years, so I tried to put myself down for 3 courses each year and mix the higher and lower levels so I wasn't stuck with, for instance, 3 incredibly difficult and time consuming ones in my final year!
There's a time frame in which you can sign up for each course depending on its start date, and once you sign up you opt for your payment method. It's here where I requested more information because as I wasn't in work and was instead now a full time student, I was told I should be eligible for some support. You're given a booklet to fill in, which was tricky in parts because there's a lot of detail required that I had to find out. However, after completing this for each course it got a little easier, and it was worth it for getting a little financial help towards the costs. I was given a grant towards some costs and used my savings to cover the rest. Unfortunately, by the end of the three years all of my savings had gone and I was in debt to my parents having been turned down for a bank loan, so looking in to a student loan is definitely something I would advise! I didn't want to at the time, not liking the thought of debt in the slightest, but if it would have taken away the stress of the past year I would definitely have considered it. There's a lot of information you need to gather whilst choosing and signing up for courses, but the good thing is that there is help available for this, both on the website and through asking questions online/over the phone.
A few weeks before the start of the course you get through all the relevant confirmation letters regarding the course and finances, and then you get a nice big delivery in a box of all the books you need. Unfortunately, because I studied quite a few higher level courses that lasted the year's duration, these required a couple of deliveries. At the end of the three years I've still got all of my books and materials from the OU - they're taking up a LOT of space in the garage! So be prepared, but don't be overwhelmed.
... Financing ...
As I've said, you can apply for financial help with undergraduate courses. It depends on your circumstances (ie. If you're working, claiming benefits, what you have in savings, who you're living with etc). You get a pack to fill in and they'll let you know if you're entitled to receive a grant or support payment towards the cost of the course you're applying for. When I studied, it was a case of there being certain amounts allocated per year, though things may have changed with the 'financial crisis' and changes to Uni fees recently.
... Support ...
The OU boasts about it offering great support because, obviously, you don't get the same sort of atmosphere or real-life interaction as a bricks and mortar University. I wouldn't say I've been too impressed by the 'support' offered, which was a downside when struggling through courses.
For each course you are allocated a tutor, who you can contact usually through email and phone. There will be details of tutorials on your student home page, which range in frequency. Some of my courses had just one or two tutorials, others had them, for instance, every month or two. You should be allocated one nearest to you within your regional area. I only ever attended two tutorials, both of which were a 40 minute drive from where I was living at the time; it was nice to see a few other course buddies, though there were only 4 of us there. Unfortunately, aside from the 'social' aspect, I found them to be a waste of time. I didn't learn anything and the activities during the two hours from 7-9pm weren't helpful to me. I never went back. If I had questions I'd rather just email my tutor, and felt okay in learning everything myself from the textbooks and online.
There are also some tutorial type days, which take up around 9-5pm of the day. For me, that would have been just over an hour's drive and I wasn't convinced it would be beneficial, having attended two rather pointless tutorials, so I never went to a day school. However, that's not to say that some people won't find this useful, so it's good to have the option.
As for the tutors themselves, they can be quite hit and miss. I've had one or two that have been lovely; quick to reply, give useful feedback and generally be pleasant. I've had one that was awful and had to request the OU to swap him for someone who actually marked my assignments on time, responded to emails, and gave responses other than one word answers. I've not really found any, except perhaps for one, that
... What You Get ...
A huge brown box arrives before your course is due to start, hopefully giving you at least a week to familiarise yourself with what you've got and what you need to do. For my course, I received a lot of text books and some DVDs, which usually contained activities and recordings that either went with the reading or were used as part of an assessment piece. I also received a standard OU DVD with some software on and another with a specific piece of statistics software that I needed for my course (which worked well and I was very pleased not to have to pay extra for this!).
The textbooks themselves are good quality, however they're not perfect. I've noticed some errors, some omitted info like references, and some aspects that weren't explained very clearly. On the whole, however, they provided very good resources to use, and they had to be used a lot because each assessment piece involved their use.
The DVD with general software included a StarOffice package, which is a free alternative version to word. So if you don't have standard MS Office, or lack, for instance, Excel or Powerpoint, you can use this version rather than have to fork out for Microsoft. I wasn't very keen on StarOffice, and although some people find it suits them, I guess I was just too used to Microsoft to use it because it just didn't seem to be as easy to use or effective.
I also received a timetable for each course outlining what materials should be read and when, and when assessments were due. There was also an assessment booklet and check sheet to ensure I'd received everything in the package I was supposed to get. When using it for the first time, you also get information on signing up to use their online system, which includes an online library, mailbox and forums.
Further materials are available on iTunes and also YouTube, illustrating that the OU is firmly footed in modern technology and trends.
... Online ...
The OU website is always changing and developing, but it roughly offers a hub to everything a potential and current student may need. If you want to find out about the types of courses, financing options etc when looking at signing up for the OU it's all on there, as is information on who to contact with any queries. For students, it offers a specific student homepage which you will need your username and password (you get this in the post) too sign in with.
The studenthome area gives you access to each of your courses so you can get online versions of everything you get in the post (ie. PDF copies of the textbooks, an online version of the timetable etc) as well as access to the course forums. There's a newsfeed you can keep an eye on, and you'll also need to keep an eye on the tutorials information section if you wish to attend these as not all tutors seem to keep you informed of them!
I found the forums to be a bit hit and miss. Sometimes it was nice to speak to others on the same specific course, to share our thoughts and concerns. Other times, it was just a mess of confusion. With the assessments, there were many instances where a question wasn't very clear, for instance, and we weren't sure what was being asked of us. I'd speak to my tutor and she'd say one thing, then other people on the forum would talk to their tutors and they'd all say something else! The key is just to focus on what your tutor says, if it's them that will be marking it. I don't like that there was often so much confusion and contradictory information; I like things to be straight across the board when it comes to what we all need to do and what is actually being graded etc. I also found there was a lot of censoring going on, with forum 'moderators' often taking away posts that they thought were too closely discussing the assessments. Most of my assessments were long essays rather than short answers, and discussing these and what the question was asking for was what I thought the forums were designed for. I understand not giving 'answers', but simply discussing what was being asked of us shouldn't cause a problem because we wouldn't have had to do it in the first place should the questions and the materials have been accurate! Anyway, rant over.
... Exams & Assessments ...
This part varies depending on your chosen subject. For the courses that added up to my degree, some involved exams and others didn't, all involved several assessments throughout the course and one involved just one online submission at the end because it was a short course. Details of what's required come in the post and can be found online.
I've already briefly discussed my annoyances with the assessments not always being clear and getting contradictory information on what was being asked of us, so I'll leave that there. Exams for me tended to take 3 hours but enough information was provided so that I felt confident in knowing when it was, where I was going, what facilities were there etc. They ranged in distance from me, one being a 1hr drive, another being only 5 minutes up the road after I moved to a different area. They seemed fairly well organised (though not with the seating arrangements in the hall!) and quite formal in the sense that you know you're sitting something important as you would at a 'real' university.
... Grades & Qualifications ...
The grading system for the OU seems to differ from 'real' Universities, but I can't really comment on the divergence as I don't know too much about either! I can say that for assignments marked by your tutor (which is most except end-of-course assignments and exams), he/she will have her own preferences and style whilst sticking to marking what's in the marking scheme. You usually get feedback online, so you'll get the Word document back with comments all over the place. I actually quite like this because I can see specific areas that I've done well on or that I need to improve. You also get an assessment sheet with your grade and general comments. Some of my tutors haven't been that helpful in terms of constructive criticism, other have been and I've been able to take what they've said and use it for future assignments. One guy insisted on doing it by hand and posting it to me, and it always seemed to arrive far later than the 2-week time frame for receiving assignments back; I couldn't read any of his scrawl and when I was able to decipher it (by asking someone else!) it wasn't helpful in the slightest. Needless to say, this was the tutor I asked to swap for someone else!
You can keep track of your grades online and also use a prediction tool that takes your previous overall grades and asks you to predict what you'll get on your next courses to give you an idea of what your overall Degree grade will be. At the moment I'm just waiting for my last course grade back, then I'm all finished and due to graduate in a few months. I used the prediction by hand calculation which tells you what grades they take and how they use the scores to calculate an overall grade. I didn't find this easy to do and I'm not convinced I've done it accurately, but I've been predicted a good grade - fingers crossed I haven't miscalculated the prediction too badly!
As for the degree ceremonies, I can't comment too much as I haven't been to mine yet. I do know that you get a choice of different locations that you can (and should because there could be lots of people applying for places) pre-book your place a few months in advance. Each region has a different number of specified guests per person. For instance, if you want to graduate in Cardiff, you can take up to 4 guests and pay £16 per person you take. I don't like the whole price-per-person thing as paying for transport there is going to cost enough for the three people I'll be taking, but I'm still really looking forward to the day. You can hire your gown online and pick it up from the graduation place, which I still need to do but have been avoiding as I think this will cost around £50 to hire. Yet again, more additional expenses. The downside, from a personal point of view, is that they don't do the whole mortar board part! I was really looking forward to having a cap and being able to throw it in the air like you see in the films. But alas, it's not part of their normal dress code. I may be the only one there wearing one, as my boyfriend has offered to lend me his for the day (possibly because he knows how ridiculous I will look being the only one there with one!). We'll have to see how that goes...!
... In A Nutshell ...
The Open University is strong competition to a bricks and mortar University, offering a reasonable alternative for those whose circumstances and personal wants and motivations are suited to it. It's got its positive aspects, but it also has, from my experience, its not-so-good points that can really cause frustration and a sense of being alone and quite hopeless. Having said that, if you're passionate enough about doing the course, which I was, the end achievements and sense of accomplishment will hopefully be worth the hours of hard work and frustrations!
I came back to further education at the age of 31after dropping out of college when I was 19. I had heard of the open university through tv adverts and from word of mouth. I decided to start an open university course last year and I originally wanted to study history. When you initially make an inquiry about studying with the open university they send you out the latest copy of the prospectus. This is duplicated by the website which is an excellent website by many any standard, easy on the eye and simple to navigate.
Once you have decided upon a course through reading the prospectus or speaking to one of the advisors over the phone you are sent the course materials in the post. For my course AA100 arts and humanities it was a large box with 4 big books and a study guide. Its quite intimidating when you first take a look at the material because you think you will never be able to get through it all. But one of the great things about OU study is that there is a study calendar provided which guides you through a week by week schedule of study. I followed this to the letter because it was my first course and found it worked really well.
You are assigned your own tutor who you can email or phone if you have any problems or issues. They are very experienced and used to dealing with issues mature students have who work and have families. The assessment for my course was through electronically submitted assignments and I found that this system worked well. Typically from submission to getting it marked was about two weeks.
Through my course I studied a wide range of topics from Stalin, art history, African art to study of the British seaside culture. I felt it was a good introduction to study and has given me confidence to continue studying with the ou toward a degree.
I am just about to start another two courses this year after completing three others. My aim is to get a Open University Mathematics Degree.
****Why Open University?*****
When I left 'normal' school, I chose to go on and complete my A-Levels. I did very well and it was almost expected of me that I would go on to University. I stomped my feet and said I was going into the world of work and a bank cashier I became. A few years down the line and I began to crave more learning and obtaining further qualifications. I went online and found the Open University website.
(www.open.ac.uk) There are a whole host of different courses that you can take ranges from simple 'getting-back-into-the-swing-of-education' courses to 'i-can't-even-pronounce-the-name-let-alone-study' courses. That's one of the first things that I loved about this way of learning in that there was a lot to sit and read and decided what I wanted to learn.
All the course materials that you will need are sent to you in plenty of time for the start of the course. There are often DVDs, CDs and also text books and workbooks. Everything is in a very professional and clear many and very well organised. I haven't had a problem with receiving anything late or disks not working. The materials are then yours to keep after the course has finished.
Open University is all about learning in your own time around work and family commitments. I work part-time at the bank and also I'm a single mum to 2 small children. Most of my learning is done in my lunch hours and when the children are asleep and I manage just fine. The courses are well laid out and a time table is given in order for you to progress through the course at the right pace.
****Fees and funding****
This will depend entirely on what courses you are studying, over what length of time and also your personal circumstances. Some people are eligible for funding towards courses. I have done this in the pass and the process is quite straightforward to complete. The staff are very helpful and will guide you where necessary.
It is important that you have a computer and printer for studying in this way as you will be needing it for all the courses. Lots of support is given on online forums. There is also a grant available for this so it is worth investigating this further.
The tutors that I have had for all my courses have been fantastic. There often give their contact details at the start of the course and will give times when they are available to even talk on the phone to help you with any questions you may have. (Obviously they can't do the work for you but sometimes just a general conversation about the subject with them will point you in the right direction. ) E-mail is also another great way of communicating with your tutor. They are there to help so never struggle through when you can send them a quick email.
Many courses also offer tutorials in your area. I have never been to one personally as I can never find the time but I would strongly suggest that you do try and go as many other students have found them to be helpful.
With my course, I have to post my TMAs (tutor-marked assignments) to the tutor via standard post.
Handy hint : never leave things to the last minute and ALWAYS get a proof of posting.
**** Results ****
Your results are posted out to you when your TMA is reurned to you and also they are recorded on your own personal file online. There is also a clever tool on the OU website whihc you can use to predict your overall pass mark judging on your previous results.
***Take a look into it ****
In summary, if there's a course that you are considering then I strongly recommennd you take the plunge and go for it! You won't regret it.
As I work full time in a job I don't really like I decided I wanted to do something about bettering myself but I couldn't afford to give up work and go to university properly so I thought no problem I'll find another way to do it.
That's when I came across the Open University and I thought this is fantastic I can work and study all from the comfort of my own home. I have to admit I was severely disappointed with what I got and ended up having to drop out of my course as I found I wasn't learning anything.
I choose to do a degree in Psychology and the mini course I started off with was the SK125 Introduction to Health Sciences which seemed like a good place to start and I was quite excited about it. I received my course material conveniently through the post and it arrived within plenty of time before the beginning of my course.
To my dismay I found the rather big box only included about 8 books, a DVD and 1 assignment (I was going to have to print off the rest of them). The books weren't that thick and contained around 300 or more pages and each was accompanied by a question book that was very thin, but I thought it's a science course so what else was I going to need?
I was assigned with a username and password and I had to log on to their website to talk to the course leader and other members of my course as well as receive further work, I found the layout a bit confusing and difficult to actually find anything on there but the forums I could send messages in was easy to use and read. I found that I didn't receive much support from the tutor and I was basically on my own, as I was finding it hard I felt I had nowhere to turn to, to help with my questions even though she was just an email away.
The seminars that I was supposed to go to were so far away I couldn't actually reach them so I felt I missed out on more learning, it would of been easier if that could of organised them a bit closer but I know that's sometimes not possible but it just made me feel even more pushed to the back.
The Points System~~~~
This is what makes the OU different from normal universities, the points system I have to admit I found it a bit confusing by the way it was laid out on the website but after explained it was quite simple. To achieve a degree you have to a series of "mini" courses that are all worth credits ranging from 15-120 points.
You have compulsory courses you have to complete and optional ones to fill up the rest of your points required to obtain a degree, each course lasts about a year so sometimes in my opinion it can take a bit longer to get your qualification than if you were going to a "normal" university.
Now don't get me wrong the Open University is a fantastic idea and people that don't need as much help with learning as I do will probably find it enjoyable and easy, it's also great from people who work full time or a full time mother because you can go at your own pace. I just thought it wasn't for me and had to drop out so I still had to pay the remainder of the fees. So I think the moral of that story is when in cost money don't jump in with two feet like I did.
After a few years away from studying I thought it was about time I got myself together and completed my degree. I had studied at university level years ago and decided to transfer my credits to finally get a degree. Mainly to prove I still had it in me but also so the phenomenal amount of money I spent all those years ago was well worth the debt I had for the effort.
After great research into which university would accept my credits and give me the best deal I finally decided on the Open University. It sounded ideal, I could still work and study at the same time, surely I was onto a winner here, I mean how hard could it be?
The staff at the Open University were fantastic, really helpful and knowledgeable whenever I contacted the office, and if that person couldn't help with my query they promptly transferred me to someone who could. I really couldn't fault the service they offered.
After transferring my credits over, it was time to decide which course to start with. It all seemed a bit daunting at first, many times I wondered if I was being crazy attempting to finish my degree, but the decision was made so I needed to get on with it. I accessed the Open University website to browse through the courses they offer. For those without Internet access the Open University also offer a prospectus, which shows all their courses, and this can be posted to you. The site was really well organised and mapped out with courses categorised under the subject titles, for instance all business courses under business and management etc.
For a newbie like me this was a godsend as I soon managed to find the subject areas I wanted to study and then pick a course at a suitable level to start. The Open University offer courses at undergraduate and post graduate levels, with the undergraduate ones at what they deem level 1 - this is their entry level, equivalent to year 1 at a bricks and mortar university, level 2 and level 3. As I had transferred previous study, I was told I needed to start at level 2. This then allowed me to whittle the courses down to the one I wanted to study.
After choosing my course it was simple. I registered online to say I wanted to study a specific course. Within a few days a confirmation letter arrived through the post, all I had to do was fill it in and sign to hold my place on the course. After deciding how I wanted to pay (the downside) - cheque, monthly payments and also sponsorship from your workplace, I was ready to rock and roll.
Nearer the time of the course starting a nice big box arrived. The size of it was slightly daunting, what had I let myself in for flashed through my mind. This pleasant gift was with love from the Open University - a great big box full of books and study aids to get me on my way to degree heaven.
I was given a student log-in to their website so you have your own homepage to keep track of your progress on the course and also community information such as forums where other students can post messages to fellow students.
I was allocated a fantastic tutor (this was pure luck he was fantastic, I didn't specifically demand this) and was given a schedule of day schools and tutorials which I had the choice whether or not to attend in my area.
I really enjoyed getting my teeth stuck in to studying again and the Open University really made it easy to do. The course was interesting and challenging at the same time, giving me an ideal platform to progress and increase my knowledge. Luckily my boss was pretty good and let me do any course work at work when it was quiet. This was a great help, as I had chosen a 60-point course, which meant 16-20 hours study a week was needed.
I really would recommend studying with the Open University. I was nervous to begin with and unsure whether it would suit my needs, but I can honestly say it's the best decision I've ever made and I'm now well on my way to completing my degree. I have enjoyed it so much that I am now on course number 3! Don't be afraid, take that jump and you'll soon join the thousands worldwide studying with the OU.
I've been away from Dooyoo for a while now, I've been getting myself an education with the Open University and getting a divorce. Sweet.
So, I've seen the adverts on the overground and on the TV for the OU and considered the notion of actually furthering myself in the most difficult way with some home learning and maintaining a full time job. That's a freaking challenge there.
I applied online to start a undergraduate course and received the forms promptly and filled them out with my financial details and then applied for a grant. So far so good; a few weeks passed and the start date loomed ever closer. I came home from work and found I'd received a parcel from the OU - It was 95% of my course materials (I had to go out and buy a book and a DVD myself to have all the information I needed to start) and the OU was paying for my fees. That was an incredibly pleasant surprise.
It's tantamount to a free education, well, a part of it anyway.
I'm impressed with the quality of the materials and the promptness of the materials arriving.
I'm impressed with the tutor and the quality of the lessons.
I'm working very hard at it and have contacted my tutor for support and guidance and even been on the website to talk with the other students, it's not easy but it is something that I want to do and something I want to be proud of.
I think the OU is fantastic, I had no preconceptions and plenty of worries when I started and I'm enjoying it so far. I can not stress enough that it is not easy, it's less easy being a 'mature' student and my highest previous scholastic achievement being a grade D in media studies for GCSE.
It's like anything you really want, you'll work hard if you want it and if you're not that into it then you'll probably still pass, a 3rd class is still a pass.
The courses vary in cost and length, my particular course which will take me at least four to five months to do cost's around £600. This isn't bad. Your BA grade is determined by the points that you accrue doing the various courses - i think generally you need 360 points for your BA. Most of the courses translate to 60 points and the course length reflects this.
You can even go to special week long events depending on your course, it's pretty awesome.
I'm looking forward to the next unit and I'm enjoying going to 'school'. I recommend the OU to anyone that's prepared to work hard and study harder!
My journey with the Open University began 5 years ago now when my company at the time offered to pay for me to do my Certificate in Early Years Practice this was 2 one year courses which would give me a level 4 qualification in Childcare. Having already got my level 3 in Childcare I thought that this would be a great opportunity to improve my knowledge and myself as a practitoner - my bug bear here is that staff who had not gone through the level 3 process for 2 years were allowed to do this course also, meaning they jumped straight into a level 4 qualification. I am afraid I have to ask is this really fair? Should the Open University be offering people the choice to jump straight into a level 4 course with no previous training? I don't know it might just be me but I feel it's a little harsh.
Anyway my first two years with the Open University were paid for by the company which I worked for at the time which in turn meant I had to stay there for 3 years or pay back the cost. I didn't stay there and ended up paying them part of it back - I basically never got my last pay cheque but oh well that was my choice to make.
The course itself was called E123 and E124 which were Early Years based courses each around 10 months long. At the beginning of each course I was sent my course material which consisted of a file of information about Early Years a dvd of case studies and the assignment questions which I needed to answer in the form of an essay in order to past the course. The first to years consisted of 3 essays and one Final assignment. I had around 2-3months in order to work through the material and then send it off to my allocated tutor in the post. For each year I had a different tutor and half way through they swapped as well. Each tutor does run work shops which you can go to if you wish for support. Personally I did not have time to attend these as they started at a time when I was finishing work. I did however manage to pass my course using email support and working at my own pace.
Once my level 4 was complete I decided to continue with my studies and work towards a Foundation Degree in Early Years which is another 3 years worth of work.
The next course I tackled was called was called U212 Childhood where I learned about children from around the world this course ran in the same way as the others except this time I had to write 7 assignments and then had to go and sit an exam so this was a variation. For this course I was also able to email my assignments to my tutor which I found was alot more convienient than having to print everything off and visit the post office to send.
For the final 2 years of my course I have been doing E115 and E215 these course were more based on what I was doing at work and required the support of my manager in order to allow me time to do case studies in work time this was not always possible but I hopefully will get there in the end. For these years I had to go back to printing off all my work again and going back to the post office to send.
As far as tutors go I feel that most have been helpful some I feel take the hump if you can not attend there sessions and I sometimes felt that this was reflected in my marks I found that a quick call to the OU solved this though and my tutor was swapped and my marks imroved.
The work you do with the Open University is time consuming and you have to be commited you need to do it for you. I have sometimes though I have all the time in the world and then panic written at the last minute when I realised an assignment is due. The other thing I should say is that the Open University do offer funding options which I found were strangely available to me when I lived at home with my parents with no bills to really pay however the support was not there for me when I moved in with my partner who had just lost his job which meant to continue my studies it had to go on my credit card, it may just be me but I feel thats a little unfair - but thats the way they do it, its worth trying for financial support though because the courses don't come cheap mine are averaging £700 per year and I am going to have to stop now because I am trying to save for a house and can not afford to put anything else on my credit card!
Once you are part of the OU community you are given an Open University code which enables you to log onto their website browse information on the course you are doing, contact others who are studying the same course as you, browse what to do next and keep in touch with your tutor.
My experience of the Open University has been a bumpy one and expensive but in the end I am hoping it will be worth I hope this has been useful for anyone thinking of taking on a course. They have many on offer not just Childcare thats just my experience they also do Arts, Business, Law, Languages and Science to name but a few pretty much something for everyone. There website address is www.open.ac.uk which can give you more information courses start at various times of the year so take a look there might be something for you.