As I put the finishing touches to my End of Module Assessment (EMA) for TM470 and in turn for my degree I couldn't help but feel slightly sentimental and reflective. Whilst it is only another EMA, one of many completed throughout the course of my degree, here in 60 pages of report writing and appendices lay the culmination of 6 years of hard work and life changing events and it felt like the perfect time to reflect on this journey.
Leaving school at 18 I attended the University of Staffordshire briefly before leaving after only a few months due to a number of factors but mainly my inability to finance myself and a gut feeling that I had not made the best decision for my future.
Upon leaving university I went straight into a paid employment with a position at a call centre where I remained for approximately a year. Knowing call centre work wasn't going to be for me I looked around for other opportunities, taking an office position for a major UK insurer. In this job I was able to show an aptitude for computing and I progressed into an IT focused team where I began to learn to program computers, specifically VBA and then onto VB.net. It was here that I realised IT was where I would like to spend the rest of my career and I wanted to formalise what I had learned over the years about computing into something tangible that would be recognised by future employers. This turned out to be the itch that needed scratching and it took me down the path to where I am today.
So what drew me to the open university? At the time I commuted to work by train and I was able to get to know a few of the regulars who shared the commute. One of them was studying for an engineering degree with the OU and would spend some of his journeys reading through course texts and proof reading assignments. One day I asked him what he was up to and he explained all about the Open University raving about the quality of study as well as tutor arrangements and face to face study time. He explained how a typical module operated and how it was amenable to his current work and life commitments. To me this sounded like the perfect way to complete a degree, after all my financial position was one of the reasons I had left university the first time around. The prospect of being able to work and learn at the same time was attractive to say the least! Armed with a fist full of motivation I visited the Open University website to explore the options for higher education study and the costs that may be involved. It was then that I took the decision to pursue a degree with the Open University.
When I set out to begin my degree in 2006 I had not long met my girlfriend. I was living at home with my parents (paying rent and bills) and as we've already established I had a relatively interesting job and a steady income that was suitable for my needs but in no way earth shattering. The OU offered fantastic support to me as a student, subsidising the cost of my first two modules and making me aware of other support arrangements that were available. I selected the B29 Computing degree due to the range of modules that were available as well as the BCS accreditation that it provided and enrolled on my first two modules of study with the OU. I created this blog with the hope of documenting my progress as it unfolded and capture anything potentially useful for others along the way.
From the outset there was no doubt in my mind that I would complete my degree and whilst 6 years seemed like a long time, the reality was that it passed swiftly. I eagerly watched the completed modules stack up on my student home record; each marking another milestone along my journey and bringing me a step closer towards my goal. I learned to anticipate the autumn exam season and work it into my family and life commitments and as someone who is always keen to learn something new, the prospect of hitting the books wasn't a particular issue.
So how has the experience been overall? Well I think it is fair to say that its been both hard work and rewarding. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every single minute of it. There have been many late nights, lots of occasions where I have had to say no to social outings in favour of studying and lots and lots of assignments. Would I do it again? Absolutely!
The OU has brought out the best from me and taught me a lot both academically and personally. I have developed great life skills and met a diverse and rich set of people along the way, each experiencing their own journeys in their own way but sharing the common desire to learn. That's one thing that truly stands out with the OU; when you're sat in tutorials everyone wants to be their and is motivated to be their. Each person has a different story and experiences that enrich the learning environment. The calibre of the people is exceptional! Some of my tutors were also tutors at red brick universities, others had incredible professional careers that have brought with them their own anecdotes helping to apply theory to real world examples. The breadth of people that the OU is able to attract really sets the university apart from the rest and is one of its biggest strengths in my eyes.
There have been a couple of hiccups along the way, I had a module where I was allocated a tutor a good 450 mile round trip away from me, so managed to attend a total of 0 tutorials and 0 day schools. I had a tutor who was surprisingly sub standard teaching M359. That is not to say he didn't know what he was talking about, he really did know it inside out; it was his ability to convey that knowledge in a meaningful way that was seriously lacking. This was particularly difficult for me as the subject was one I struggled to get to grips with. In the grand scheme of things though these were minor blips in what has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
To me the biggest strength of the OU has to be its flexible approach to study. This includes the ability to dictate the pace at which you work through each module and the overall degree as well as when you chose to study (at night, at work, at home, on the train). Its this flexibility that has allowed me to get to this point despite undertaking some serious life changes. Let's face it, life changes are something OU students will always face!
In the last 6 years I left my job in change delivery at a UK insurer and took up a graduate position with a large IT organisation where I have been progressing my career successfully ever since. All this despite being just over half way through my degree at the time of applying for the post. Slightly cheeky to apply for a graduate campaign but such is the respect given to an OU degree in industry I am where I am. The girlfriend I had met at the start of my degree has become my wife, we have bought our first home together and we had the joy of welcoming our first child into the world in June this year. As I write this I struggle to think how I could have done any of these things without the flexibility the OU offers. Being able to study on a train, in a hotel, in advance of a major event (or catching up following one!) the OU's approach to learning has helped me through every step of my degree.
Now it has not all been down to flexibility of the OU. Every OU student will know that its as much about their efforts as it is the people around them who support them and help them reach their goals. For me this has been in the form of support from my wife, family and friends without whom I would not have reached this point. Whilst studying is a truly rewarding and enlightening experience it brings with it stresses and strains that require dedication and commitment in order for you to succeed. It would be impossible to have made the commitment without the support I had around me. I can't recall the number of times I have had to say "no, I have to study" to my wife, family and friends. I have always tried my best to say yes but eventually you have to do the work and inevitably sacrifices have to be made. Whether it be an invite to dinner, a trip away, planning a holiday or planning a wedding there have been so many occasions that I have had to say no. In the vast majority of cases the response has been unconditional understanding. Recognising this support is important to me so I'll take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you even though you may never read it. I'll tell you all in person too...
Having my wife looking after not only me, but the running of our house and more recently our family whilst I undertook my degree has been incredible. There are times I definitely wouldn't have reached deadlines, ate or washed without that continual support. She has been a complete rock throughout my degree and if I pass this module, (which hopefully I will) and get to attend my graduation it will be as much about recognising her achievements in supporting me as it will be about recognising my degree.
So what next... My experiences with the OU have inspired me to continue down a road of life long learning and after a year out I plan to pursue an MSc in a Computer Science related field. Exactly what I want to study has yet to be decided. One thing this experience has taught me is that there is so much to learn and so many interesting things to learn about thinking about where to go next is all part of the fun. For now though I think both my wife and I deserve a bit of time where there aren't constant deadlines looming! Establishing ourselves as parents and taking stock of where we are today.
To wrap up, I started this blog with the aim of capturing my experiences with the OU in the hope that it would inspire others to study and act as a useful resource for students. I can only hope that it has achieved some of these goals. Through my interaction with fellow and prospective students, many of whom have got in touch with me as a result of this blog, I like to hope I have been able to share some of the inspiration I took from the commuter on the train who inspired me to turn to the OU 6 years ago.
This post has the title of the final chapter as this chapter of my life is drawing to a close, I like to think that there are a library of books yet to be embarked upon on particularly when it comes to learning.