Jack hath returned

Two years ago was the last blog post I produced on this WordPress site. Now, I feel the time is about right to return. Why the long absence?

Coincidentally, my last blog post was about being an active student and how you could make the most out of distance learning; I am an Open University student and, contrary to wide belief, there are ways to get out and have some fun. In 2015, I set up the Open University Students Association Young Students group. The aim – a platform for OU students at the lower age of the spectrum. Around 25% of all Open University undergraduates are 18-25 years old. Add in to the equation that the OU has the largest number of students at one institution and you soon realise that’s a vast number of students. Many thousands, infact.

The focus of the group has been on making the OU more accessible for younger people and allowing students (those who may have previously not engaged with the university) to interact with the students association. Alongside, I created the blog site @YoungOUStudents which was another way to allow younger students to express their feelings and thoughts on the university experience through writing. I’ve not exactly been away from blogging.

I have, however, been practicing my presenting voice. I have been presenting on the OU Students radio programme (STUDIO) over the past 18 months or so. It’s a brilliant exercise and something that I am passionate about. Plus it is a laugh…not so much when things go wrong!

Two years later and my student life is drawing to its close; my final module concludes in June. Part of the reason for not blogging about my personal experiences and thoughts was simply time – it’s a fickle thing. You either have too much or too little of it. I had to focus on my studies and now I can return from the hiatus/wilderness/sinkhole to do something I love – writing and offering thoughts on one thing or another.

A lot has changed in the world in two years. Half of those faces who were ‘iconic’ – Corbett, Wogan, Rickman et al. have left us. The world has changed. In the UK, the land is led by women – May and Sturgeon. Though, heads seem to be clashing frequently. Cross the Atlantic and one finds a celebrity businessman at the helm of the “free world”. I use inverted commas since most times the media try to report on the “free world” they are accused of not doing so. It is an unusual and, at times, largely uncomfortable set up.

Television has changed too. Top Gear, possibly the most important programme in history, has undergone massive changes. It evolved in to The Grand Tour when Jeremy Clarkson and co left the BBC after THAT altercation. Back at the Beeb the rush to get the new Top Gear on screens,  the defensive mite was confident it didn’t need the self-diagnosed loudmouth. It was a poor show. Things have progressed but the BBC Top Gear is simply a car show now.

I have also read a book. The first in a couple of years (except university text books). It was written by Peter Sissons, a fellow proud Liverpudlian/Scouser. I liked his take on Liverpool of days gone-by and his first-hand accounts of reporting from war zones, and creating them in the newsrooms he has worked in.

An obsession (not a sadistic one) has developed too. I’m now a self-confessed gym-goer. Nearly 4 times a week. Though on beautiful spring days, I wonder why I am driving to a large, converted warehouse to run on a treadmill when the world and environment around me is so appealing. One of the psychological benefits of sport and fitness is how positive and fresh your mind feels after a workout. So much so that I do not feel guilty about an Indian or Chinese takeaway and thus I need to return to the gym to burn off the consumed calories. It’s a vicious circle.  Then again, without the gym, I wouldn’t be able to clamber in to the slim fit jeans I now occupy.

Feel free to follow my (not so) interesting thoughts on Twitter – @jackjevons_ – that’s another change. I’ll be updating this blog with my observations as and when they happen (or shortly after).

 

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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