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How the Open University created a hunger in a group of mature students

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Sitting in a lecture hall with 20 mature students … or rather during a half hour break I am sleeping along the seats in the back row …. I learn that 7 of the 20 are recent OU graduates. This includes me. 5 Are from History enthusiastically sharing stories of their favourite modules, while a 6th is from the OU Business School and I am from the MAODE.

Two things are agree on:

Never dish the OU platform until you know what others provide. Why can’t all universities be like this. They are not.

Why isn’t there a proper, catch all, induction to set usstraight on assignment writing techniques and process, so including references. Most of us said it took two or three modules before we understood what was required.

We’re someowhere other than the OU because the OU has failed to offer a module on the First World War. How come as the centenary approaches? Or will it all be OpenLearn with the BBC and Imperial War Museum?

Can a veteran’s story be believed?

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As the grandson of a veteran of the First World War I took my grandfather’s stories to be accurate to the letter – though how I visualised his antics as I grew up bore very little to the reality, but rather a boy’s perceptions from his surroundings, TV and books in the 1960s and 1970s.

As I study for an MA in British First World War studies the chance exists not only to entrench my research into his journey through the Machine Gun Corps and the fledgling RAF but to consider the accuracy of any veterran’s account – as the years pass their stories can be coloured by what they read and hear so that they may say what people expect to hear.

The opportunity may also exist to do some original research, even to be in touch with the relatives of those featured in his story.

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Is it possible, for example, to put names to the faces in a set of photographs of the RAF cadets who were barracked at the Queen’s Hotel, Hastings in May and June 1918?

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And where he marked the spot where he buried his mates Dick Piper and Harry Gartenfeld is it feasible to look for them or leave a permanent stone?

The nature of learning – through travel, online, face to face … and in your head

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I love to travel, not just on holiday with friends and family, but alone. Maybe this happens to you too, but I always find travel, especially new trips and destinations, are a catalyst to reflection.

All I did was take the first train out of Lewes to spend the day at the University of Birmingham.

Two things come to mind that shook my brain: St. Pancras International … and, sounding like a commercial, Virgin Trains. Although the train was quiet two people came through the train to collect rubbish … as bubbly as buttons. Four times. The toilets were spotless. All in very sharp contrast to Southern Trains out of London where everything was overflowing …

St.Pancras International reminds me of the first time I stood in Gar du Nords, Paris and looked up at destinations that included Moscow. Inside and out St.Pancras says that travel is a ‘grand adventure’.

I last studied ‘lecture style’ 31 years ago, yet I have signed up for one of these while I continue my learning journey online with the Open University through all the Master of Arts in Open and Distant Education (MA ODE) modules.

Learning is learning – it neither takes place online or off. It is in your head. It is what the brain is given a chance to do with it that counts.

I can now weigh up the two as I study in two very different ways in parallel.

There is of course ‘blended learning’ too that in a planned way mixes up both use of e-learning and face to face.

The key to successful use of elearning, offline or blended is the same of course – ‘planned’.

I met a fellow student on the MA in British First World War studies who, like me, has just completed a degree with the Open University (OU). He has a BA in History, while I now have the MA ODE. We immediately began to share notes on this ‘new’ experience of making our way to and now being physically present in the senior common room of a faculty on a traditional campus – Birmingham doesn’t look the way it sounds … (Forgive me Birmingham but you have a reputation, which isn’t for grand Victorian buildings and exciting architectural ‘super builds’).

The OU is of ourse ‘open’ to anyone – online learning makes formal learning possible for any of us who either need to stay in one place, or, by contrast, are always on the move. People who need significant flexibility in how they manage their time … and don’t want the cost in time and money to get to a place for a tutorial, seminar, lecture or conference. And people who ‘don’t get on with people’ – not just agrophobia … you know what I mean.

Nothing beats getting to know your fellow students than spending a day with them, during coffee and comfort breaks, at lunch, walking through the campus, in seminar rooms before a talk begins … and on the way home when you find part of your journey is shared. Online attempts to ‘get to know each other’ can be spurious exercises in sharing trivia about pets and holidays. Actually, you can get to know eachother by talking about what you are here to do – the subject matter.

Relationships formed online are akin to a long distance phone call, or letters to a stranger, even, oddly, having a chat with the postman or a builder … you let them into your house.

And your head?

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