Open University Study

Studying with the Open University (O.U)

About 3 years ago I decided I wanted to rectify a bad decision from my youth and complete a degree. I looked around at some of the part time degree courses available from local 'traditional' universities and decided that The Open University offered the most flexibility for my circumstances. I have worked full time throughout my course, doing my 'homework' in evenings, weekends and lunch breaks. I chose an arts foundation course called An Introduction to Humanities (A103) which is recommended as the starting point for anyone going on to study a humanities subject.

How does the OU work?

The way the O.U. works is really pretty simple - to complete a degree you need to gain 360 points with a minimum of 120 points coming from level 3 courses. Each course is given a point's value and a level, A103 being level 1 for 60 points. I think most people would probably do 1 60-point course per year, which works out as the equivalent of doing it at about half the speed of a traditional full time university but you can, of course, work faster or slower. Each course can be done on any subject you choose but if you want them to go towards a degree you should look up which combinations are suitable. This kind of flexibility is really useful - as you study you do find out more about what you like and dislike and you will probably change your mind about which courses you want to do as you study. For example when I was studying A210 An Introduction to Literature I soon discovered I really don't like studying the more extreme feminist theories so instead of doing whichever literature course I had been planning to which I thought would almost certainly contain feminism, I chose a nice safe, feminist free Shakespeare course!

Managing Your Time at the Open University

Time management is probably the biggest issue for anyone trying to study and work at the same time. The Open University does offer guidance on time management as well as a wealth of other potential problems; writing essays after a long time out of education, studying on your own, using the various course materials and a whole lot of stuff I can't remember! There is a lot more to the O.U than just the courses. But for all the help they offer there is no one who can help but yourself. It really does take a lot of self-discipline and organisation and to be honest there is no simple answer - everybodys circumstances are different so no one can tell you what to do or how to do it. I know it sounds quite lonely but you do have a great support structure behind you. Of course, it does really help if your family and friends understand your situation and don't try to make you go out for an evening when you have an essay due!

I remember getting the first posting of course materials through and feeling slightly overwhelmed and excited at the same time. Course materials from the O.U. usually consist of something like a heap of books (containing the equivalent of lectures I guess), some booklets, videos and cds. Having lectures in books is a mixed blessing - it is great to have them to hand for reference and re-reading but I think you do miss something not actually hearing them with an auditorium of students. You do have the option of attending tutorials (about once a month) which is great - it is good to talk through thoughts with students in the same boat - but there is usually someone there you will find a little, well, irritating!

Residential Courses at the OU

Some Open University courses offer a residential school. This is a week of intensive lectures, tutorials and some kind of practical study - laboratory time for science courses, theatre trips, whatever. I attended a residential school for my first course and I was a little worried at first but it didn't take long to settle down and by the end I wasn't sure I wanted to go home! We were studying from about 9am to about 10pm (with breaks!) and everyone I interacted with was studying the same course as me, they knew what I was talking about and had an opinion on it. Despite a large proportion of the students being 'older' we behaved like the unruly student rabble we would usually complain about! After lectures we went to the student bar, drank, danced and made merry - not everyone of course, but myself and the friends I made certainly did. I would strongly recommend you make every effort to attend your residential school if you have the opportunity.

I love my Open University studies. There have been many troubled and stressed times but returning to study is one of the best decisions I ever made. I have been getting good grades and although I don't think my studies will make much difference to my career, the boost to my confidence and self-esteem has been worth it alone. It would not have been the same without the enormous support from my friends and family and in particular my partner but I had no idea how they would react at the time. I would recommend the O.U. to anyone wanting to return to study.

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