Who is an OU active student?

Open University Student Association

Open University Student Association

Are you an active student? What do you think an active student does? In your mind who is an active student?

When I tell people, subtly, I am part of the Open University North West Regional Assembly Executive they look at me with confused and dazed expressions. ‘Oh right. What is that?’ they say.

Let me tell you, it’s a great title and it is a great role. There are so many ways you can get involved with student life, even though you are probably a million miles away from campus and fellow students. Well not entirely. In fact some of your fellow students could be right on your doorstep.

For me, I wanted a challenge. Take a role and stick at it. I have done so far. Plus why not make the most of the distance learning experience by going beyond studying. Effectively, the Regional Executive is a group of elected students that helps in running the region. Whether it be the North West or East Midlands, there are groups across the UK and the world.

It can be a little daunting at first, getting involved and not quite know what you are doing. Getting your feet under the table is step number one. Step number two is knowing what to do. Maybe I haven’t quite mastered the latter just yet.

In the few months I’ve been in the role, I’ve held an online meeting, welcomed students to a face-to-face meeting, set up the @OUstudentsNW Twitter feed and things seem to be taking some sort of shape. There are lots of exciting things ahead – consultative meetings where the student voice is heard; training sessions; and some more social events and discussions.

How can you get involved?

You can do anything to become an active student. Writing for the OU magazine, coming along to a meeting or posting in the forums, engaging on Twitter, helping out at graduation ceremonies or even volunteering to help other students.

There are societies and groups at http://www.open.ac.uk/ousa which you can join. If none take your fancy then why not set one up yourself. You never know, it may just catch on.

Your ideas

To me, the student voice is very important. I enjoy reading comments on the forums about ideas and suggestions for the region. Better still it’s great to interact with some of the OU’s newer students and show how anyone can get involved.

If you have any ideas about events, groups or ways to raise money for charity then feel free to contact me or the OU Students Association.

Interact online

You may not want to meet face-to-face or you may simply not have the time. Head over to the online forums at http://www.open.ac.uk/ousa and you can chat with students from your area, take part in lively debates, or even just say hello in the Welcome thread.

On Facebook, there is a great presence as well.  http://www.facebook.com/OUstudents is the place where you can interact with the student association. A simple Facebook search can reveal lots of groups set up by fellow students where you can chat  in a less formal set-up. You may just find groups for your local area, some online clubs or people from your own age group.

Head over to Twitter where you can simply be overwhelmed by the thousands of students who have an online account. @OUstudents is the one to follow if you want all things from the OU Student Association. There you may also find others interacting and following. Why not give them a follow and build the student community.

You’ll also find dedicated accounts to certain subjects such as the arts faculty and the sports department. The Open University Student association in your region also have accounts. @OUstudentsNW, for example, is OUSA in the North West.

What next?

For you – why not visit http://www.open.ac.uk/ousa for all information on getting involved or simply say hello in the online forums. You can also follow the Twitter accounts and Facebook to join the growing OU community.

For me – I’ve got a newsletter to plan, students to listen to and ideas to gather.

If you have any ideas or thoughts please contact me.

Twitter: @JackJevo

Student Email: jack.jevons@my.open.ac.uk

Facts about the OU you may not know

Source: The Open University

Source: The Open University

I am proud to represent and promote The Open University. Why? Because the institution is becoming somewhat of a phenomenon. Shadow Universities Minister, Liam Byrne MP, described The Open University and it’s learning and research as a vital part “of the future of Britain.”

So, here are a few of the facts you may or may not know about The Open University.

SIZE

The Open University is in fact the largest university in the UK. With over 200,000 students learning at any one time and 4 in 10 of all UK part-time undergraduates choosing the OU, the university is actually larger than any of the mainstream, campus universities.

AGE

FACT: The average age of a new undergraduate is 30. With over a quarter of students aged between 17-25, it is clear that flexibility and opportunities to earn and learn are some of the factors that are influencing younger students.

SATISFACTION

The National Student Survey (NSS) ranks The Open University in the top ten for student satisfaction. In 2013, the OU came eighth. Student experience included working at their own pace, access to online materials, social networks and facilities in each region. In 2012/2013, the university had a 92% satisfaction rating.

EARN WHILE YOU LEARN

Over 70% of students are in full-time or part-time employment and four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored their staff to take OU courses.

QUALITY OF TEACHING

The UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise ranked The Open University in the top third of UK higher education institutions. More than 50% of OU research was assessed as internationally excellent, with 14% as world leading.

ONLINE COMMUNITIES

The OU is seen as Britain’s most important e-learning institution, with research and development in technology to increase access to education. Materials are available through iTunes which has recorded over 60 million downloads. The university emphasises and utilises social media, alongside promoting opportunities to get involved through the student association.

YOU CAN USE ANY UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

The SCONUL access scheme: this allows students from The Open University to use any university library in the UK, whether to have a place of study or simply to borrow a book. I think this is simply a brilliant idea.

MEETING NEW PEOPLE

The Open University runs special events and meet-ups, face-face tutorials and the OU conference allows students to be involved at the Milton Keynes Campus or online. Utilising social networks and online forums can be very helpful and the SCONUL access scheme allows you in to any university library, so it may be new people from further afield who you meet.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

Or so to speak. There are hundreds of free courses to try on OpenLearn which give a flavour of what being an Open University is really about. The OU prides itself on being a world leader in the development of Open Educational Resources and is always trying new ways of teaching and learning.

OU AND BBC

A 41 year partnership between two great institutions. Programmes include Frozen Planet, Bang Goes the Theory and The Money Programme.

CAN YOU DO IT?

Yes. Anyone can. With the support The OU offers, to anybody with any ability is incredible. There is great career guidance and plenty of support from the student support team and tutors. It is an incredibly different and refreshing way of learning.

WANT MORE?
The place to visit for all things Open University is http://www.open.ac.uk.

What’s so different about The Open University ?

OU

The time has arrived for many college students across the country to start seriously knuckling down and learning. Why? Because university is probably the beginning of taking life seriously. Obviously, there are many routes students can take but how many have considered The Open University as a viable way to study?

Certainly when I look back a few years, there was much emphasis on mainstream universities whilst those who wanted to work or go in to apprenticeships appeared to be quietly segregated from everybody else. Even I hadn’t really heard of The Open University until I discovered a style of learning and earning that would suit me.

What do you think is the stereotypical OU student?

Someone old? Someone mature? Someone who’s hit 40 and decided to change their career? What about a school leaver?

Interestingly, the prior stereotypes are being eroded from The Open University. Today, over a quarter of new students to the UK’s largest university are aged 18-25.

As a student that fits those figures I can vouch for why so many are turning to distance learning. Certainly, The Open University has undergone a transformation over its forty-five year history.

Today it is technology that dominates OU learning. Study materials are available at the end of a mouse click as are tutors, learning support and a host of online communities. To me, this is distinctive and solid evidence that The Open University is ahead of the game when combining the need for learning and the ease of using the internet, computers and online resources.

Helen Vesty, Assistant Director of Student Services in the North and Midlands, explains why technology is so key to the OU’s success: “OU materials are high-quality and students learn in a variety of ways, from face to face tutorials to video conferencing.”

“The OU has always used cutting-edge technology to deliver courses, to ensure students can learn when, where and how it suits them, and we are the first UK university to make all undergraduate materials accessible by mobile phone.”

The extensive use of technology is certainly attractive if considering The Open University. Also appealing includes the lower tuition fees; a student with the OU will fork out £4,000 less (when studying full time) than a student attending a mainstream university. There are no costs for course materials as these are sent out well in advance, and as 70% of students are in employment, distance learning encourages an earn while you learn scheme.

Teaching is also outstanding. Face-face tutorials, high quality textbooks and a range of online videos and audio materials create an engaging and exciting learning attitude. As a result, The Open University is ranked in the top five of UK universities for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey.

Obviously The Open University is not for everyone. To study through a distance learning course requires great dedication and motivation as there are no strict timetables to meet and deadlines for assignments are monthly.

Learning away from a campus based university can, at times, be lonely. However, engaging on social media, the OU’s student platforms and communicating with Open University events reminds you how many students are sailing the same ship.

I suppose what is best about The Open University is the opportunities to earn whilst learning. The flexible study means you can study when you want to, as long as you put enough effort in. But that is like anything in life.

Whilst I can go out and work, I also thrive on learning something I am genuinely interested in. So whilst it may be difficult to tie down a job and university work at a campus institution, it can be much more flexible balancing working and studying with The Open University.

Liam Byrne MP, Shadow Minister for Universities, Science and Skills, visited the Milton Keynes campus in April and spoke of how the OU’s flexible approach must be a part of the “future of Britain”.

He said: “Our country needs an ‘earn while you learn’ revolution – combining work with study.”

“Combining work and study allows students to develop personally and professionally at every stage, earning whilst they learn.”

“Student experience is vital and having seen first-hand the technology that the OU is developing and enhancing, it is clear that student experience is at the heart of everything it does.”

Back to the initial question. What is so different about The Open University? Well, at the same time that the OU is very unique in its approach to learning, encouraging a flexible lifestyle that combines work and study, and really pushing modern technology, there are some similarities to campus universities.

Deadlines still exist, alongside an excellent calibre of tutors and teaching materials. There is great learning support and opportunities to meet other students in the same boat.

Perhaps some of these facts will help digest the brilliance of The Open University:

– The OU is rated in the top five of UK universities in the National Student Survey.
– More than 1.8 million students have been taught, including 15,000 overseas.
– The OU is the UK’s largest University.
– 4 in 10 of all UK part-time undergraduates are studying with The Open University.
– Four out of five FTSE 100 companies have sponsored staff to take OU courses.
– Over 70% of students are in full time or part time employment.
– The UK’s latest Research Assessment Exercise ranked The Open University in the top third of UK higher education institutions.

Intrigued? Find out more at http://www.open.ac.uk

A week at the Liverpool Echo

liv echo
As one of Britain’s most popular regional titles, the Liverpool Echo is far from simply a local newspaper. It is an institution and is regarded highly amongst Merseyside culture. Last week I had the grandest of pleasures by spending a week in their newsroom.

I am no stranger to the newsroom. I had spent two weeks at the newspaper a few years back and so I was fascinated to find out if anything had changed.

In short, not a lot of changes. Reporters come and go, the office carpets are still the same colour and there is a distinct lack of natural daylight in the newsroom. Nevertheless, I set about a weeks work placement. Here’s my account.

MONDAY

I was apprehensive. Near enough every time I head on a placement I run questions through my head about certain eventualities. What if this happens? What if? Soon, these questions simply vanished as I made my way to meet with Chris Walker, Trinity Mirror North West Managing Editor, knowing that as quick as the week starts it will be over.

The first day was consistent of the great health and safety story. But soon I was sat amongst ringing phones, tapping keyboards and slurping coffees.

Much of the day was simply spent writing press releases in to short pieces that could be printed out. I knew from previous experience that it would be good to create my own stories and put them forward to the editorial team. So I did.

TUESDAY

Before leaving the office the day before, I suggested to the editorial team that I could write an article about The Open University and perhaps a short panel about my experiences. They were happy to oblige.

As morning came and soon disappeared, I was glued to sending emails to The Open University press office regarding the number of 17-25 year olds taking choosing an OU course over a traditional university. I checked facts, took quotations and prepared an interesting story that I had created.

WEDNESDAY

Midweek had arrived. The final pieces were put together for my Open University articles and send to a queuing order where their publishing date would be determined.

I followed up two different leads on this day. One about Miss Teen Great Britain and another about noisy engineering works close to a local railway station. It was a case of ringing and emailing for more information so I could at least write a few hundred words.

A few press releases later and few chats with reporters in the office and I was off home again.

My piece on The Open University was published on Monday 5th May.

My piece on The Open University was published on Monday 5th May.


THURSDAY

Nearly the end of the week. A week where I had to beg members of staff to swipe me through various gates and barriers to reach the ECHO newsroom.

I had some responses to the emails I had sent the previous day. The morning was spent detailing and preparing a story about noisy workers on a local railway line.

Quotes from the man who had contacted the newspaper included how “residents were up in arms”. After a discussion with the editorial team, it was deemed there wasn’t any real need to head down and get photos of the angry residents and so I put in a call to Network Rail for a response.

They were happy to help and so another story was added to the queuing batch.

The PM was spent writing some more shorter articles. One about a scarecrow competition in a local village I had spotted on Facebook and the others from the Liverpool City Council website about young people’s bus fares.

As Thursday drew to a close, tomorrow would be the final day. And it would provide real excitement.

FRIDAY

I had spent a few minutes reading through various articles on the Jeremy Clarkson racism row which had erupted the night before. The presenter had issued an apology but many were calling for him to be sacked.

Amongst those who had commented on the case was Liverpool Walton MP, Steve Rotheram. Initially I thought that it would be a pointless exercise telling the editorial team about his comments. Surely they would have followed this up already.

They hadn’t. There were some confused faces. Questions were asked about what he had said. Soon, “Rotheram has called for Clarkson to be sacked” was ringing around the editorial desk.

I was given the assignment of speaking to the MP, gaining some reaction exclusive to the ECHO and filing a report in a quick turnaround.

The buzz was fantastic. I had found a real newsworthy story which the editors wanted. Soon I was on the phone to Steve Rotheram. I simply said I was from the Liverpool Echo, although now he may know I was simply a twenty year old work experience student.

Within minutes, I had quotes of “gross misconduct” and that the BBC should be taking the allegations “very seriously”.

I sourced the information on the case from what I had read about earlier and from the video I had watched the night before.

500 words later and the report was online. BY JACK JEVONS read the tag and I was immensely proud.

Returning after lunch, I made time to thank the editorial team for their time, patience and efforts over the duration of the week. I was told my articles would be printed in the Liverpool Echo over the bank holiday weekend.

Clarkson makes the headlines.

Clarkson makes the headlines.

A short article and a chat with a senior journalist later and I was off. Heading home after a week experiencing the true lights of a multi-media newsroom.

The pace can change quite rapidly and so I knew I would be in for a few quiet periods. However, the excitement and buzz of preparing and writing a major news story which I had found was the greatest highlight of my week.

MindEd – Making adults aware of Mental Health

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

With almost 900,000 children in the UK coping with a mental health illness, it is startling to find that a third of adults are unsure of signs of mental health, such as depression, amongst children. Now a new service, MindEd, has been launched to help raise awareness for adults in spotting potential symptoms.

A survey, carried out by the groups behind MindEd, of 2,100 adults also found that half would be worried about saying anything if they did suspect there was a problem. Why? Because of the fear of being mistaken.

Other results:
– Two thirds back extra government investment in children’s mental health services

– 69% support the idea that every school should have a dedicated member of staff for children to approach about such issues.

The new MindEd website is funded by the Department of Health and is aimed at those adults who work with children including teachers, social workers and sports coaches.

Dr Raphael Kelvin told the BBC News website that “investing in early intervention is crucial – not doing so comes at the high price for those battling a mental health condition.”

CEO of YouthNet, Emma Thomas, welcomed the new launch but admitted more had to be done to understand young people’s needs. She said that “they need to be given the confidence to distinguish their feelings, so that they feel empowered to seek help.”

My thoughts

In a previous post I admitted I hadn’t come into contact with a young person coping with a mental health illness, despite the startling figures.

I still believe there needs to be an end to stigmas about mental health and allow young people and their families to live their lives normally.

MindEd is a creative, digital platform for adults to recognise the symptoms that children may be coping from a mental health illness and so, in the modern digital age, it is vital these sources are continuously invested in.

Any way of raising awareness of mental health and other social issues is a good thing. In a society where judgements are made instantaneously, it is important to provide a new platform from where everybody can learn about mental health, depression and anxiety, amongst others.

See the MindEd website for more information and guidance: https://www.minded.org.uk/

Young people with anxiety – more help needed

Source: The Guardian

Source: The Guardian

They are startling figures. Two leading charities have confirmed a sharp increase in the numbers of young people needing help with anxiety disorders.

YouthNet, the national online charity for 16-25 year olds, and Anxiety UK say they have both seen increased demand for their online services that support young people. Anxiety UK said it experienced a 40% increase in visitors to their information sites and an incredible 106% increase in those accessing resources for parents and carers.

In January YouthNet had 10,936 visitors compared to just over 9,600 at the same time in 2013.

Both charities say the increase in figures compared to January 2013 highlight the need for reliable and trusted information for those coping with anxiety disorders. Incredibly, however, it isn’t just anxiety which is on the increase. The number of young people suffering from mental health illnesses is also up.

A recent BBC News report stated that the number of under 18’s being treated in adult mental health wards is now in its hundreds. Believe it or not, around 1 in 10 young people experience mental health problems. In a school of 1,800 students there could be at least 180 people who are experiencing mental health difficulties. It is a remarkable figure.

Mental health and anxiety have never really affected me. But researching the topic has really taught me that the issue is a growing problem amongst the UK society. So what has the government pledged to do?

A Department of Health spokesperson said such experiences are very “distressing” for young people and their families. Furthermore, it was confirmed the department had invested £54 million to improve services including better monitoring and more access to specialist treatment.

Young Minds Chief Executive, Sarah Brennan said “the lack of help early on means we are letting children’s problems escalate to serious levels.”

The figures on anxiety have led to YouthNet to create a series of videos and Anxiety UK says that throughout 2014 there are plans to increase services within schools.

BBC Radio 1’s Newsbeat report on anxiety last week gives anyone, like me, an insight in to the life of someone with a mental health problem. The case study of twenty-one year old Anjeli Shah is breathtakingly striking. It is unbelievable to think of the symptoms described. She says she feels “quite panicky…my chest gets quite tight…I get out of breath”.

Despite visiting her local doctors it wasn’t until one GP spotted signs of anxiety that she was eventually referred to a counsellor. Anjeli also sought guidance and support from YouthNet.

Mental health does not just affect the mind. It has a bigger impact on the daily lives of so many people. Whether it be commuting to work or unable to go out alone, mental health is a huge social concern.

There is no definite cause of mental health. It has nothing to do with social background, lack of character or upbringing. Such issues can affect people of all ages, genders, races and income.

Source: Newcastle University

Source: Newcastle University

As an individual who has never come across a young person with mental illness, it is difficult for me to say what should be done. However, from what I have researched here are a few things that perhaps should be done:

SUPPORT
There are guidance and services available but with the rise in mental health and anxiety amongst young people, there needs to be specialists in every school to work with students.

END THE STIGMA
Unbelievably most of the people who cope with a mental illness will suffer discrimination or bullying. There needs to be a change to negative assumptions about mental health and increase levels of awareness both inside and outside of school

TALK
There is nothing to be afraid of. With celebrities supporting the causes of such issues, the consensus is about being positive and tackling mental health with others around you.

I am no expert. But what is clear is that the number of people suffering from anxiety and mental health problems is on the up and these people need to be helped and supported in appropriate surroundings with appropriate guidance.

There is some brilliant advice from YouthNet and Anxiety UK. BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat’s report on anxiety is also well worth a look. All the links are below.

http://www.youthnet.org/
http://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/26273892

HAVE YOUR SAY BELOW

Pedal Power: Cycle lanes are ‘good investments’ as motorists feel frustrated

Cycle lanes in Warrington are of good investment for the town says the council, despite some opposition from critics who claim the paths are being under-used.

In its bid to encourage more residents to take up cycling and other ‘green’ modes of transport, Warrington Borough Council secured £4.65 million of funding from the government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund. The money will be spent on promoting sustainable and low carbon travel choices, including proposals for additional cycle lanes and paths in and around the town.

A Planning Focus Group discussion in late 2007 reported how only 3% of residents in Warrington used a bike to get to work, whilst cycle paths were described as “horrible” and “disjointed” leaving them with little use. Criticisms of the town approach to cycling and healthier lifestyles led to a town based campaign to encourage more people to cycle. Measures including introducing cycling lessons in to schools and improving paths, lanes and access around the area.

Councillor Dan Price, Labour, Great Sankey North said the money “is a good investment” but told me that “maybe it isn’t the most productive way to spend money.”

He added “getting people out of cars is safer to the community, more eco-friendly, and with the backdrop of rising obesity levels, healthier.”

There are no questions about the council trying to improve Warrington’s infamous traffic congestion problems, alongside making the town ‘greener; even some of the town’s buses are helping the environment. The investment in cycling in Warrington encourages healthier lifestyles, care for the environment and a more environmentally-friendly way of living, in a town that has been bottom of government commissioned quality of life surveys.

Some motorists I have been speaking to say there are “mighty questions” that need bringing up. Many, who regularly drive personal cars, said they support local council investment in cycling lanes, one anonymous person saying about cyclists “they cause too much of a hazard and they are dangerous”. The general sense I got from both group and individual discussion was that there is some frustration toward cyclists who insist on using the busy roads rather than designated paths. At the same time, from those who cycle, I have been told of continued “road rage” from motorists.

In order to find out what was happening on our roads, I spent some time along a busy stretch of road. Close by are schools, leisure facilities, several housing estates, a supermarket, offices and a warehouse. It was a stretch of approximately 1.5 miles of road next door to a refurbished and widened path with a newly created cycle lane. In the short distance I travelled, no fewer than 5 cyclists were cycling in the road, at rush hour, parallel to the council’s investment of safer cycle lanes and paths for them. Two of them wore dark clothing and had little lighting on their bicycles.

This astonished me. There have been many a TV programme where cyclists are shown as the victims of the road. Indeed in Warrington there are still many instances where cars, buses and lorries either purposefully or accidentally put cyclists lives in danger. However, it cannot be ignored that some cyclists are ignoring the purpose built tracks for them to keep them safe and off the roads.

Interestingly, there was little visible anger or ‘road rage’ from motorists. The majority gave adequate room to the road-using cyclist, others indicated. Perhaps rather disillusioned may say the cyclist and, judging by the following YouTube footage from a Warrington cyclist, it is clear to see why there is upset within the cycling community.

The footage is harrowing and some of the cycling charities and organisations I have been researching say that this is a regular occurrence for cyclists. The National Cycling Charity frequently upload videos and images from its users to the website and social media to highlight the problem. Their focus, they say, is to ensure the police conduct “high quality investigations” in to road traffic collisions, as well as ensuring severe sentences are given to offenders to discourage bad driving.

In the balance of the argument, motorists who I have spoken to say they are frustrated that cyclists do not pay to be on the roads and similarly do not have to take tests to use their bikes on their public highway. Whilst councils across the country may invest heavily in cycle lanes, there are some, not all, who do not want to use them.

A waste of investment? Warrington Borough Council, like many others across the country, say they are committed to encouraging more people to use bicycles and other ‘green’ modes of transport. At the same time some cyclists are not using designated safe areas whilst others are forced in to the paths of traffic because there is inadequate space for cyclists to go. Similarly, many drivers give way but others do not. It is clear to see why both cyclists and motorists are driven to frustration when it comes to sharing the same space.

The fear for any road user is that cyclists are being put in danger. All factors including weather, poor driving, lack of cycle lanes, clothing and street lighting are at some level to blame. Examples like the above should strike fear in to council chiefs. Are their segregated lanes working? Are there enough suitable paths? There are many studies which show what should work and what shouldn’t. The Buchanan Report of 1963, Traffic in Towns, highlights how segregation of traffic and pedestrians alike should improve the flow, whilst the Shared Space study from Hans Monderman suggests there should be no rules and that all road users should naturally interact with one another to improve traffic flow.

When I put the question to Cllr Price about motorists and cyclists disregard for each other, he said “without a comprehensive cycle network with specific lanes, you will never solve that problem.”

For years there have been comical instances involving cycle lanes. From those that last less than 50 yards to those that are impassable. But this is a serious issue. The increase in traffic on the roads should not be leading to cyclists competing for space and putting their own lives in danger. Whilst I can praise the council for its work on encouraging safer cycling, it is difficult to understand why some choose to ignore it.

Figures of Rospa (The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents) say at least 19,000 cyclists are involved in accidents on Britain’s roads. That figure has continued to rise given the increase of cyclists in recent years. With the rising and long-lasting population, the future of our roads seems certain to get busier and busier. And so the steps to safer road use today could save lives for generations.

Have your say
Whether a cyclist or motorist, tell us what your experiences are. What could be done to improve road safety? Could councils better spend their money elsewhere?

YouTube video source: PeowPeowPeowLasers