Saturday, 19 July 2014

Are the Open University degrees as good as traditional university degrees.

The start of July brought the exam results, and September brings the opening of the next course website, so with no Open University tasks time-tabled in July and August, I thought it would be a good time to tackle a question I have seen in many online forums which asks, "Are the Open University courses academically rigorous enough.", and the obvious connected question, "What is the value of an Open University degree compared with those gained from traditional brick universities".

As a bit of background to this, I started my first degree as a teenager quarter of a century ago. It was an 'ordinary' engineering degree, a 4 year sandwich course which mean I was working in industry for the three summer breaks, the long university breaks which other students usually spend inter-railing round Europe - although I may be showing my age saying this. With classes, assignments and lab work this was a 9-5 Mon to Fri with extra study required in the evening and it was a real struggle, both to keep up with the work and to pass the exams.

Much later in my career I was lucky enough to be sponsored for an industry part-time MBA. This took four years of pretty constant work in the evenings, similar to that required for the OU, but also one weekend a month in class and a residential course/project one week a year. Again, it was a struggle to keep up with work and pass the exams.

In comparison to these previous courses, the OU PPE courses so far have been less work and easier assignments. Although this judgement may be tempered by the fact that I am doing the course for fun - really as a hobby - not to start or advance my career. Therefore the pressures are different, as is my knowledge and world experience, so if I went back to do my previous degrees again I may find them easier - who knows.

The conclusion that I am left with, considering these facts in isolation, is that this OU PPE degree can not possibly be equivalent, in course content or academic rigour, to that of my past courses or to degrees taken at a traditional university.

 I know a lot of people will disagree with me on this subject, but I can't help feeling that the Open University would increase the rigour of the course assessments and the quality of learning experience for their students (or client-learners as we are now) if they only revealed the TMA questions at the start of the scheduled 'TMA week'.

I say this because there are two methods of approaching the learning and study for each section of course material,
    Method 1. - To learn and gain as much knowledge as possible,
     Method 2. - To do the minimum required to pass the TMA.

In these times when everyone has got so much going on, especially those who juggle family, work (full, part-time or voluntary) and also study, it can be sometimes be necessary due to constraints of time and choices regarding quality of life, to study purely to pass the TMA.

It was certainly possible on A222 Philosophy to write all TMAs having only read only a quarter of the course material, and I think this was pretty much the same on DD203 Politics - however, you obviously had to read further for the exams on both courses.

If the TMA questions were only revealed at the start of the TMA week it would certainly motivate me to put the work in to cover all of the required reading before the TMA week started, and this would surely be a better learning experience and increase the perceived rigour of the course.

I would also suggest that because there seems to be such a variation of tutor interest and help across the courses, that as soon the TMA questions are revealed tutors should not be helping students any further, and that TMA extensions should not exceed two weeks, effectively all TMAs shoud be submitted before the original deadline for TMAs to be returned is breached.

Which leads to then other bug-bear I have that of TMAs coming back from different tutors at different times. They should all be returned on the 14th day, except those who have the two week extension.

The three exams I have sat so far seemed on the surface to be sufficiently taxing, but there does seem to be a real element of chance involved with 'spotting' possible questions, especially in the Philosophy course where the books are so compartmentalised.  While in the recent economics exam the fact that some questions were, to all intents and purposes, identical to example exam questions in the only example exam paper the OU had produced for that course, surely casts major doubt on the veracity, fairness and outcomes from that exam.

Having said all this, the OU does a very necessary job of opening up degree study opportunities for those who through choice, life chance or circumstance were not able to go to university straight from school. Effectively the OU is democratising further education. It is not necessarily the brightest in society that go to university straight from school, it is usually those with better financial resources and life chances who get this opportunity, and therefore those who seek education through the OU as 'mature students' should be recognised for the sacrifices (financial costs, family time, etc.), drive and commitment required to pursue a degree as a more mature student while juggling family, career and whatever else life throws at them.

So, while the OU's courses may not be as academically rigourous as traditional universities on a absolute scale, I think there is a very credible argument that for many there is an 'equivalent' level of rigour, given the many student's past opportunities and learning experiences. You'd expect somebody from a wealthy background, who had been educated at a private school, to get into a top university and attain a good degree - after all it is what their parents have been paying for. So for those without these life advantages to self fund and commit to studying for a degree is certainly a statement to this person's character and ambition.   

For these reasons, and indeed others, should I finally be awarded an Open University degree in two years time I will be very proud to have it on my C.V., and if anybody asks if an Open University degree as good as traditional university degree I will have to ask them to clarify what parameters they are using to measure this value against, because in some ways, possibly in more important ways, the Open University degree carries more value.

Monday, 14 July 2014

On to the Level 3 Courses then.....

So, in terms of courses and time to complete the degree, I am now two thirds of the way through the course, 4 course completed, but with the two level three, and therefore hardest and most demanding, courses to coming up.

And it would appear from the degree classification calculator that I have my work cut out if I'm to get a First, the calculator recons that.....

For a First ,  I need a Distinction and Grade 2.

For a 2:1,     I need a Grade 2 and a Grade 4.

For a 2:2,     I need a Grade 3 and a Grade 4.

So, is is really all about getting a distinction somewhere.

The level three courses DD309, A333, DD313 and DD306 have no exam, instead  there is an end of course assessment in the form of a dissertation/project.

These projects are extremely important to the end module result, the downside is that  these sorts of things can be very unpredictable and depend a lot on the quality and level of interest of your tutor. On the up side it means that the vital part of the course assessment is not done over a couple of hours on one day with a Russian roulette set of questions, but is something that you can work on over a period of time and hopefully the result will reflect the effort expended.

I'm quite looking forward to the start of the next course...... but first the summer.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

DD209 Running The Economy : Course Result available earlier than expected.

It was a bit of a surprise to find that the course results are out today, and a lot earlier that expected.

I ended up with a not entirely unexpected Pass 2, the exam result was petty much as expected and not high enough to get me into the distinction grade boudary.

The exam had some surprises in regards the marking,

Q3 Multiplier Question -  75% to 100%, pretty much as expected.

Q4 Real Interest rate and IS Curve - 50% to 74%, this is a big band, but even so I thought I had aced the question and would have expected above 75% - oh well :-(

Q9 Apples and Hats - 50% to 74%, pretty much as expected.

Q10 Game Theory - 75% to 100%, pretty much as expected

Q14 Interest Rate Targeting Model, 85% to 100% - very pleased with this, as I thought I had done well.

Q17 Terms of Trade, 55% - 69%, I was not sure about this question and the mark is a big disappointment, but I don't know if it was because I missed what the question was getting at, or because I just got things wrong.

It is a shame they don't give you a better idea of what your actual mark was, but this is at least useful information.

They do however tell you that 318 people sat the exam and also the exam break down, which is not necessarily the same as the overall module result as the grade boundaries can be shifted and there are bound to be more distinctions than just 5%.

                             A       B        C        D        E       F       G     Total
No. of students     16     109      87      69       21     11      5     318
% of students         5%    34%     27%    22%       7%    3%    2%

Part 1
It also shows that of the many people who did Q9, 42% got an A, which really shows how badly I did this, I got a C.

Part 2 List A
Q14 was a reasonable choice with 17% getting an A, only Q11 was done better with 20% getting an A.

Part 2 List B
Q17 appears to have been one of the hardest to either answer or understand as only 6% got an A, compared with 33% getting an A for Q16, which was the question I should have done.

So some good, some bad, some disappointing and a feeling that if I had chosen a different question on List B things may have been a bit different.

I am, I suppose, content with a Pass 2, but I am disappointed that I didn't do better in the exam - I had hoped to have had a reasonable chance at a distinction after the excellent TMA and iCMA results.  The trick then is to turn this disappointment into 'study motivation' for next year and try for a Distinction then. Although there is no exam next year but some sort of project and I am a bit worried about that as these types of project can be difficult to control and it can be a situation where having a good and interested tutor makes a world of difference.

If anybody is to get a First Class honours degree you need at least one level 3 course result to be a distinction, so from the respect of the final degree classification this course result has not really made that much difference - so no real damage done.

So, two level 3 courses to go and the target is one Grade 1 and one Grade 2 - or better. Seems like a bit of a tall order..... we shall see.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

DD209 Running The Economy : Course Review

Time for the DD209 Running the Economy course review.

Firstly, I really enjoyed this course and I think I did learn a great deal about economics. Certainly, headlines about interest rate changes, the dangers of inflation and the problems of world trade and tariff all make a lot more sense now. I would recommend this course to anybody with an interest in economics and it will improve as they iron out the wrinkles.

As the first run of a new course there were always going to be good points and bad points.

The good thing was that the material is pretty topical and was written specifically to look at the 2008 recession, so interesting from that point of view, as the previous course was apparently still talking about the end of boom and bust.

The downside was there were many errors in the course books and the website, and the course team seemed slow or disinterested in fixing these or communicating them. It should have been absolutely instantaneous that when they found an error they fixed it on the website or issued errata information, but the first communication we got on errata on Book 1 was the day we started Book 2 (?) and there are still further errors discovered in the book that haven't been communicated. This should be better for future courses, but maybe not the next one :-(

However, having said that I thought the online tutorials were excellent, a really good additional teaching environment and experience and a real enhancement to just reading the book. In fact unlike A222 or DD203 if you miss out on the online tutorials you miss out on a great deal of the course.

The face to face tutorials were the same as ever, poorly attended and of questionable academic value, really more of a social event and a chance to ensure that your tutor actually exists and is human. The way the OU is moving virtual reality tutors can only be a couple of years away.

There were also some online tutorials and the web conference system they used with this course is so much better than the Eluminate nightmare used with A222.

There was a Tutor Group Online Forum which was pretty moribund, to be honest the Facebook group galvanised and organised by Sheona was a far better forum for support, help and advice and one of the few groups I have seen in which there was a real feeling of support and a complete lack of friction or one-upmanship.

If I take the course TMA by TMA, Part by Part.

Part 1 -TMA 1: The crisis of 2008
This was a fairly good start to the course, quickly into important terms like GDP, the crisis, circular flow diagrams, public sector deficits and loads of graphs and tables.

The TMA at the end was a fairly short one broken into separate questions worth only 7% of overall score. It was probably of more value to the tutor than to you, as it would have let the tutor see what sort of level you were coming in at in terms of understanding the calculations and maths.

Part 2 - TMA2, iCMA41: Keynes and unemployment
Spent a good part of the first week trying to work out the iCMA numbering system and failing - why is it iCMA41?

Proper economic theories by somebody you have head of, with loads of graphs, tables and formula. Consumption, propensity to spend, Aggregate Demand, IS curves, fiscal and monetary policy, a really meaty 4 chapters with good supportive online activities.

If you have not done much maths or are not confident with graphs and simple algebra, I would strongly suggest some pre-study. Nothing too onerous, the main problem formula is on this blog somewhere if you can do that you are laughing. And if you understand the differences between upward and downward sloping lines and the effect that has on altering the vertical value then again this will be easy.

The TMA is a big 15%, and 1600 word essay. The iCMA is a open book online test which you can do over the whole 4 weeks and should be 7% in the bag, but careless mistakes cost points.

Part 3 - TMA 3, iCMA42: When Inflation Matters
For me this was the most interesting part of the course, and I really enjoyed seeing how the previous MEC, AG and IS curves worked with the Phillips curve to model inflation and plan actions to combat inflation. There was also a week online describing economics data which was a bit neither here nor there. Of the 4 chapters, the first three were really full and new stuff and the 4th was a bit of a recap.

The TMA was worth 20% but only because there was a very odd requirement to interface with the course tutor forum which was worth 5%, so the essay was just worth the normal 15%. The interface with the forum, in my experience, was not entered into with any sot of enthusiasm by anybody and the bare minimum was done to achieve the requirements of the TMA.

Part 4 - TMA4, iCMA43: Regulating Markets, promoting growth
This section and section 5 were micro economic modules.

Again this was very interesting with the supply and demand curves, and the problems of price capping or minimum wages. It was however quite complicated with the long run cost curves, and although it all made sense at the time, I didn't feel this was worth taking into the exam - a mistake as it turned out.

There was again a 1600 word TMA worth 15%, and another iCMA worth 7%.

Part 5 - TMA5, iCMA44: Global inequity in human well-being
This part was very interesting, especially global trade, absolute and comparative advantage and game theory. There was quite a lot of text (2 chapters) given over to game theory which seemed too much to me. All in all this was a big section in which they seemed cram everything they couldn't get in anywhere else.

There the now standard 1600 word TMA worth 15%, and another iCMA worth 7%.

Amount of Time Required
This course did require quite a lot of study, especially during the TMA weeks, probably 7 - 10 hrs a week, so the Christmas, Easter breaks plus the odd study week was really useful.

Continuous Assessment
So as far as the assessments go,
4 x1600 word essays at 15% each = 60%
4 x iCMA online tests at 7% = 28%
1 x short TMA essay at 7 % = 7%
1 x online interactive forum thing at 5 % = 5%

So, the traditional and more academically rigorous essays were only worth 60% of the mark, the rest was pretty poor and everyone should be getting pretty close to 30 to 35% out of the possible 40%, which makes the 40% overall pass mark pretty redundant.

Final Exam
The final exam, was for me, just do-able in 3 hours. Ideally another 30 minutes would have helped enormously. The questions were exactly what was expected for Parts 1 and Part 2 List A, but not at all expected for Part 2 List B. I guess this is the same as for DD203 which my tutor for that course said they made a "real pig's ear" of the first exam in an effort to ensure it was difficult enough and went a bit overboard.

If this exam hasn't been set at the appropriate level the bell curve of results will show that and hopefully we can all be edged a bit higher in the results.

So that is that until the results come out, then DD309 in October.

Friday, 6 June 2014

DD209 Running The Economy : Exam Paper Available Online - the dust has settled.

The exam paper is now available on the website, so what can you do but look at it.

I think it was an odd exam in that some of the questions were similar or bang on the questions from the example exam ?

Part 1:

Q4 - IS Curve, not an identical question but the theory is all there in the example exam's explanation.

Q7 - Long Run cost curves - not an identical question but the theory is all there in the example exam's explanation.

Q9 - Absolute and Comparative Advantage - bar the numbers was pretty much identical.

Q10 - Game theory, bar the specifics of the game was pretty much identical.

Part 2 A:

Q11 Aggregate Demand and equilibrium - not an identical question but the theory is all there in the example exam's explanation to get some points.

Q14 Inflation Targeting Model - pretty similar.

Part 2 B:

Q16, Market supply and demand - pretty much the same theory and answer as the example.

I think anyone given a week or so to really study the example exam answers could have sat yesterday's exam and chosen Qs 4,7,9,10, 14 and 16 and come away with a pass.

I on the other hand.........

Q10. Apples and Hats. This was the first question I attempted, as I was most confident with this part of the course. I rushed to find the answers, struggled with the arithmetic, panicked, struggled again, became confused, found an answer and omitted to add much of what I knew about the answer as a written narrative which I should have done. I'm pretty sure I have the answers for comparative advantage the wrong way round, so this is pretty much a car crash for me and I am not expected any marks from this question.

Q9. Game Theory. This was a welcome relief, back on solid ground and I think I have pretty much nailed this question and given added information about how to overcome the prisoners dilemma, so hopeful of a good mark.

Q3. Multiplier. Knew the multiplier, knew the AD graph, explained the formula and operation of the multiplier along with its problems. I left space to go back at the end  derive multiplier the from the AD formula (the explanation full of errors from the text book - remember that), but I ran out of time :-(

Q4. Real Interest Rate and IS Curve. This was pretty straight forward, I mentioned the MEC curve and r = i - pi, lower real interest rates leads to increased output. I started to draw the three graphs that show how MEC, links to AD, links to IS, but it started to go astray and after the problems with Q10 I ditched this part as I thought I had enough anyway.

Q14 Interest Targeting Model. This seemed too good to pass up. Similar to the TMA and the recession explanation case study in Book 1.Knew about Lower zero bound and a bit, probably enough, about QE and its problems to answer this and I hope pretty well.

Part 2 B was a bit more of a problem, nothing I really wanted was there..... 2 question I had pretty much ignored through not revising Part 4 and Q18 I could not understanding what the question was looking for so with little choice, Q17 it was then.

Q17. Terms of Trade and benefits of international trade. This could have gone very wrong....... and I don't know if this is right, but in an act of unbelievable courage I stared with  two countries that made Cars and Bananas and had to work out production values that gave one absolute advantage over both goods, but each an advantage in one good.  This is not as simple as you first think, and I can assure you that the values chosen were far, far, far simpler than were 'used to confuse' in Q10. I could then show the benefits from trade, additional consumption, added the product frontier graph, talked about exchange rates and the Hechscher-Odlin model and how this produces inequalities in-between and within countries. Talked about dominant v subservient partners and inelastic and elastic goods...... I have no idea how relevant all this was, but I feeling better about today than I was after the exam.

It is very difficult to know how this has gone, but I have my fingers crossed for a solid Pass 2.

But if I can suggest 1 thing, just one thing to the OU regarding the exam. In order to simplify the instructions rather than have 4 question from part A, then a question from Part B list 1 and a question from part B list 2 - why not have three parts, 4 questions from part A, 1 from part B and 1 from Part C - simples ! ! !

Thursday, 5 June 2014

DD209 Running The Economy : Exam Completed, mission accomplished.

Well that was an emotional and long day........

Third OU exam, third venue, found it easily enough, but the lunch time traffic was a bit of a nightmare and when I got there I didn't recognise anyone so I wondered if I was in the right place, but luckily my name was on the board, so all good so far, I'd found the venue.

The exam was in three sections, first part was 4 short questions from 10 - seemed to be 2 from each part of the course. I had pretty much decided on going for questions from Parts 2, 3 & 5 and in being pretty wed to this strategy I may have passed up some easier questions from Part 1.

Anyway, 3 of the 4 questions were pretty much bang on what I had expected, but the Apples and Hats comparative advantage question may have gone a bit astray. Apples were in tons total output, Hats were per person per year, so an anomolly here..... However in getting to the absolute advantage calculation I was dividing (if I remember this correctly) 200 by 30,000 to get a very odd 2/3 divided by 100 - a mixture of fractions and decimals that ended up as 0.0067 ? This does not seem difficult now but in the high stress environment of the exam I nearly asked the chap on the next row who looked equally perplexed with his maths exam paper if I could borrow his calculator. But no, I continued to carry out arithmetic functions on a mixture of very large and very small numbers, some decimal, some a variety of fractions ( I think there was a vulgar fraction employed at one point), in the hope it would all come good - it didn't.

At this point you start to doubt your ability to count, to apply reason, to understand the question, but for some inexplicable reason I blundered on. They only wanted to know who had absolute and comparative advantage on two products, so only 4 answers required which were either A or B. so I may have none, some or all right, but whoever marks it is going to wonder how on earth I came the conclusions I did without the aid of a mystic, some chicken bones and a prayer mat.

The next part was the bigger essays with 1 to be chosen from 4 questions on Book 1 macro. Two of the questions were on the inflation targeting model, so pretty much what I wanted. I can't remember what the other questions were.

The last part, 1 question from 4 on Book 2 micro. The questions were not as expected. I should have stuck to revising Part 4, one question was fairly simple on price ceiling, and I should have done that, the other was  pretty much a carbon copy of a question in the example exam.... doh! it could all have been so much simpler.

The two from Part 5 were oddly worded and it's such a big subject I'm not actually sure if I answered the question. I obviously thought I did at the time, however with hindsight...... Oh well it is done now.

And that wasn't the end of today's trial, rush hour traffic on way home, took sodding hours, not sure why this exam centre was so far away from home, but I guess they only have so many places and you get what they can give you.

So, all-in-all I'm pretty confident of a pass, but I'm not too sure I'll get the high 70s I hoped for in an attempt and forlorn hope to be sucked up by the variable band boundaries to get a distinction, which is a shame as there was no lack of effort on my behalf to study for this and it may simply end up being about poor question choice - gutting!

Right, books away and life can get back to (ab)normal again, now where did I put that wife of mine, sure she's around here somewhere :-)