Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, has caused some waves in the past few days with one of his personal pledges that young people should have to study maths until 18. As he said himself in his speech:
“Every opportunity I’ve had in life began with the education I was so fortunate to receive and it’s the single most important reason why I came into politics: to give every child the highest possible standard of education.”
Rishi Sunak, January 2023
While on the surface this may seem like a great idea, critics have been keen to pull apart all the ways that compulsory maths education is either a bad thing (from Simon Pegg’s passionate rant about lack of focus on the arts, many people saying how much they hated maths at school) or simply won’t work (lack of qualified teachers or investment in schools, or even children going to school hungry). All of these criticisms have merit and I’m a big believer in ideas being criticised and pulled apart to get to something that works rather than biased idealism.
It’s been seven years of studying while working full time (and in some cases nearly double full time hours!) and I’ve now finished the degree I started for “fun” because I wasn’t being intellectually challenged in the job I had at that time. I was sceptical of all aspects of the Open University but thought I’d give it a go, knowing that without a cost to me and an exam, I would never make the time to study. While I’ve been blogging about individual modules over the years I’ve had quite a few conversations with many of you reading this blog about the pros and cons of study with the OU and one of the comments on my last post was from Korgan, who suggested I do a post about this and I’ve combined their questions with all of the others I’ve had.
Seven years ago I was in work bored and desperate for a new challenge. My daughter had recently been born and I had decided to stop playing World of Warcraft. Needing a new challenge, I had toyed with an MBA but really wanted to do something for me. So I signed up for a BSc in Mathematics with the Open University, which I knew would take about 6 years part time while working. This week, I got the results for my final module and it was confirmed I had earned a first class honours degree. But why didn’t I do maths the first time round?
This week I was due to be sat in a large hall with about 200 other Open University students taking my exam for module M347, the last of the modules for the BSc in Mathematics I started for “fun“1. As with students in traditional universities, March 2020 gave a lot of uncertainty2. While some modules were switched to be coursework based assessment, mine was confirmed to be a remote exam with the originally planned exam paper. The paper would be accessible as a PDF on the day of the exam and then submitted in two parts: a multiple choice computer marked section and then a human marked second section. We would not be time limited (other than by the 24 hours in the day!) So how did I feel about this and how did it go?
I’ve recently submitted the first tutor marked assignment of M347, my final course in the BSc Mathematics I’ve been studying with the Open University. The third unit of this course was long and quite a slog to go through. While I’ve been using many of these equations over the past few years, diving deep into the theory and derivation has been fascinating, although frustrating due to the lack of practical application. If you’ve read my other posts then you may recall how frustrated I was with group theory and the early parts of complex analysis, while the quantum world was far more engaging from the start1. As with all my maths studies, this exercise of filling in the gaps has revealed that there are far more things I didn’t know I didn’t know than things I knew I needed to know.
I started this degree not long after my daughter was born, a choice between an MBA and a degree for “fun” (learning for me rather than for career reasons) and it’s strange that I’m so close to the end of it. I have one level 3 module left to take. 30 points (or a quarter of a full time degree) to fit in around work and family1. I wrote a post a couple of years ago on my choices for level 3 and looking back at it now, I’m not sure I feel the same way.
Complex numbers (M337) was far more interesting and practically useful that I thought it was going to be. While it was a little drudgey at the start, towards the end everything came together beautifully. Deterministic and stochastic dynamics (MS327) was dull, it was essential mathematics and really useful, but there was nothing to excite me. Maybe this was a product of trying to study alongside long hours at work at the time. I wish I started with M303, the pure mathematics course, and then done complex numbers and the quantum world (my favourite module so far). However, I now have a choice again and I’m finding it tricky.
This week I finished the last of the books in SM358 – the quantum world and am now starting two and a half weeks of intense revision to prepare for the exam. This has been by far the most enjoyable module to study in my Open University mathematics journey so far, even if it was also the first one without face to face tutorials.
While I am very happy at studying on my own, one of the aspects I have really enjoyed in previous modules was spending a few hours every month with fellow students. Not so much to solve problems (as I am always well behind where everyone else is!) but to be inspired. When work and family commitments get overwhelming, study is easy to put to one side, having a checkpoint in the diary helps prioritise and I always left tutorials feeling motivated. I’m not sure whether SM358 didn’t have face to face tutorials because it is a physics module or if it’s just a module that has never been successful with these. Online tutorials are just not the same. Partially because I don’t get home early enough to attend them, but also after a day at work, trying to switch to student mode and find a quiet corner of the house just isn’t possible.
When I was looking at the level three maths modules for my Open University degree, one of the ones that really drew my eye was SM358, the quantum world. I decided to only do a single module this year as I’d committed to a lot of speaking engagements in October and, in addition to my day job, I’ve been spending time on another project that I’m really excited about for the start of 2019. From past experience, if you fall behind on OU modules at the beginning, it can be very hard to catch up. This was really noticeable with the complex analysis and stochastic dynamics modules I started in 2017. Rather than taking on too much, I decided on just one level 3 module. Given my progress so far I’m only about a week behind and I’m pretty happy with that. Continue reading SM358 The Quantum World 25% in…
It’s been a crazy month. From the lead up to the product launch at work to know it seems like I’ve been doing nothing but back to back assignments for my Open University maths degree. So much so in fact that I’ve not had time to study, but only focus on the assignments themselves. It all started back with the second TMA for M337 (Complex analysis), which was a rush job and I got a much lower score on that than I would have liked.
I then had two weeks until a computer marked assignment for MS327 and was going into this without having looked at any of the material in the book. As usual, I spent my commute trying to get through it, but barely made it a quarter of the way through before I realised I’d have to start working through the questions for the assignment. Computer marked assignments are very different from the tutor marked ones. You either select an answer from a choice of 4-6 potential results1 or by typing a numerical result. Therefore your answers are either correct or incorrect. There are no marks for method.
If you find yourself in this position, my best advice is always to do the unit quizzes. These are usually in a similar format and will get your brain in the right place for the assignment itself. In combination with the handbook and text books you should be able to follow how to get the answers from the questions, although please make time to go back and fill in the gaps as soon as you can.
With the iCMA out of the way, I then had a week for the third TMA of MS327. Fortunately on the same topics as the iCMA, but much more involved questions. This was a lot trickier to pick up. With the usual standing room only on the commute, I’ve had to spend a lot of evenings trying to do this around family time and study in the excessive noise of soft-play centres… not a great environment for thought!
So I’ve just submitted the MS327 TMA online and I’m pretty happy with it. Now I have two weeks to get the M337 TMA3 done and I’m a little more nervous about that. There isn’t time to go through the study materials and answer the questions, so I’ve given myself a week to get as far as I can and then I’ll dive into the TMA and see how far I can get…
On the plus side, the OU offers substitution on your assignments, so it’s okay to have a bad one and you’ll be allocated a score that’s the average of the other three. So I can still pull up my average for M337, as long as I do well on this TMA.
I’m really hoping that I can get time to get these to 100% before the exams in June!
Breaking discipline with my Open University studies is never a good thing. Once you’re behind, it’s so difficult to catch up, especially with a full time job and a young child. It’s been a crazy few weeks at work too, we’ve had a major launch event and lots of projects with looming deadlines.
It was in the days leading up to this launch that I had a TMA due for one of my level 3 OU modules, M337 Complex Analysis.
What a day! OU TMA on complex maths first thing, full work day with a break to #Giveblood then @StoryStreamAI ‘s fantastic #aihype demystify event. Fantastic speaking to everyone, but happy to be heading home.
With all the other deadlines I’d only done half of the study necessary for the TMA. This is never a comfortable position. I got away with it at level 1 and mostly got away with it at level 2 but you really can’t do this at level 3. Especially when the focus is calculus of complex functions. I made a start in good time, but without the time to really get my head into the topics, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to make the intuitive leaps necessary at this level to determine the correct method.
In the days leading up to that TMA my sleep profile was pretty awful. I can’t remember what caused it, but I had so many nights in a row where I got very little quality rest. This isn’t great. It impairs judgement at the best of times. I could have asked for an extension in good time, but that would just compound the problem with the MS327 assignments in a few weeks1.
When you’re sleepy, it’s easy for “i” to look like “1” and “z” to look like “2” particularly in equations where there are other terms with these numbers. One of those days I found myself working on problems from the wrong module (MS327) and just looking at my notes it’s pretty obvious that I nodded off in the middle of writing these2. Maybe it isn’t that obvious, but trust me that this level of spider scrawl is not representative of the handwritten work I normally submit!
The results of my assignment are back and it turns out I can’t do calculus in my sleep, let alone path integrals of complex functions. I really do need to up my game and attribute more time to this degree3.
On a side note, I’m really pleased that my presentation at the launch event was recorded – I was a little light-headed after giving blood on top of poor sleep. I presented for 5 minutes and couldn’t remember a thing I said immediately afterwards. I got some great feedback, so there’s definitely a learning there for being relaxed, not overthinking what you’re saying and also speaking about what you know! I’ve only heard the audio so far, but will post the video when I have it.
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