when do you give up on a course?

For discussions of the Open University's T214 Systems course.

Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby jamesWtc on Tue Oct 19, 2010 3:30 am

If you know me, i'm pretty much practical person and I learn best by doing thing. I despise people who just talk and not doing.

The argument is not about theoretical or practical approach to learning but about the delivery of such learning. The main argument is about shifting to almost exclusively online learning, not only the activities but also the delivery of contents. I personally prefer the mixture of both where course materials are delivered through paper (of course the soft copy is also available to those who fancy to read on screen) because I find it more effective in every sense. I'm not opposing to any sort of online based learning when it is necessary and beneficial, such as those activities we had in T214.

I have another thought though, OU as a leading distance learning provider, is there any research within the university about a revolutionized way of presenting course material in digital platform? I notice pretty much every course simply supplies the same copy of course material in PDF online. Like I mentioned, I'm not ready to read such intense amount of text online. I believe many people share my sentiments if OU is to substitute all course material online.

As to why paper, because it is still the most effective way to me to organize ideas and knowledge. Maybe the time will come where invention of new computer technology will substitute paper, but now is not the time yet (please, don't say that I haven't tried, I did). Scientific research also prove that reading on paper is more efficient than on screen.

Wiki in elearning? It may be good for collective work, but not as much in elearning where ideas are bouncing. It is still too messy at times and it requires a lot of commitment to keeping track. It's not ideal in my opinion in mass learning, or at least it is still in infancy, most people would give up on wiki before it actually takes it's final form.
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Dave H on Tue Oct 19, 2010 3:23 pm

I am pleased that James has mentioned reading paper is much more efficient than screen reading. Some of my early OU courses made reference to this fact and also that less information is retained from on screen reading but later courses seemed to mention the idea less. I was wondering if this is a result of us adapting to reading material on screen much more effectively. I am not sure how this difference in reading affects the ability to learn and this could be an interesting research project.

We rely very much on visual communications and there is a long record of oral tradition and I wonder if the online courses could develop this visual and oral approach. By visual approach I mean communication using other than text.

In its wider meaning culture develops by people copying others so does this favour a practical approach rather than theoritical. Again it is an interesting question.

On the use of wikis I consider that we might need to use the next generation. In this next generation various postings could be flagged up as essential must read, other postings could be flagged up as adding background information etc. Also such a system could alert you to any earlier postings that are relevant to the current part.

Just some ideas to generate further debate.
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Andrea on Wed Oct 20, 2010 10:09 am

I think all we need here in order to move the debate forwards is a practical example.

Let's look at T214's Block 3. The set book is about 183 pages, the readings add up to about 133 pages of text, and the relevant diagramming explanations probably add another 20 pages of text. If we assume a rough approximation of about 500 words per page, then that gives us about 160,000 words to engage with within an eight week period (the maximum recommended length of a PhD thesis is 80,000 words).

Let's assume that these 160,000 words can be read through just like reading a light novel. The average reading speed for a light reading is about 200 words a minute. Let's assume that one doesn't take any breaks while reading the 160,000 words. That gives us about 14 hours of non-stop reading. Of course, engaging with these 160,000 words will take a lot longer than 14 hours: the issues and concepts covered by Block 3 are not "light reading". So let's assume that a person with average intelligence and decent levels of concentration needs about 48 hours to engage with all of the Block 3 texts.

The average recommended study time for a 60 credit course is 16 hours a week. However, in practice student surveys have shown that the average time that students spend to engage with 60 point OU courses is about 10 hours a week. So the 48 hours of reading will take out about five weeks of study time. This leaves three weeks to do all the practical activities, engage with the various multimedia resources, discuss issues with others online, attend tutorials and do the two TMA.

How much time does this actually give you to actually DO stuff? I would say that gives us a ratio of 8:1 in terms of theory to practice.

Compare this to a face-to-face part-time course that I am currently doing. Every Monday evening I go to a one-hour session where we are introduced to a bit of theory and we run through a few practical activities. I then spend an hour every evening for the rest of the week engaging in a range of practical exercises to reinforce the theory and practice I was introduced to on the Monday. This gives us a ratio of 1:6 in terms of theory to practice. The very first thing my teacher does every Monday session is to test me on whether I can deliver on the teachings of the previous week. If I can't, he won't advance with the theory. I find that if I miss even one hour of practice during the week, I don't do so well in the tests, and progress is limited.

The issue here is this: what ratio of theory to practice do people think is needed for real learning to take place?
esse sequitur operari
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Teiana on Wed Oct 20, 2010 12:14 pm

The average recommended study time for a 60 credit course is 16 hours a week. However, in practice student surveys have shown that the average time that students spend to engage with 60 point OU courses is about 10 hours a week. So the 48 hours of reading will take out about five weeks of study time. This leaves three weeks to do all the practical activities, engage with the various multimedia resources, discuss issues with others online, attend tutorials and do the two TMA.


i'd like more information about the detail involved in the survey result for 'time spent per week'. Since i wonder, if students count 'reading' the same way they count time spent engaging with other activities. It's easier to count 'spending three hours reading' than it is to count time spent on some stuff - i mean for example when i have done courses i haven't really felt i was studying when i was reading the forums or stuff like that, and i definitely wouldn't have counted 'tutorial time' in my 'hours spent per week' if you asked me.. So i might have said 'oh i spent 10 hours a week' but on top of that i would have spent quite a bit of other time. I'm not saying that is true for everyone, i would just be interested to see how accurate the figure is.

Sometimes 'reading' has a short lead time. It's easy to prepare - grab a book. There's no time lost learning how to carry it out. Other activities can have a longer preparation time*, or a lot of time required just getting up to speed with what to do or how to do it. Has this time been factored in? It takes longer for my laptop to boot up than for me to find my place in a book. Plus, when people engage in multiple activities other than reading, time is spent moving between activities. Has this time been included in the overall picture? (eg, learning how to use that program netlogo? can't even remember the name of it now, on T214. people spent far longer trying to fathom out how to work it than on the actual results)

so when you talk about practical vs theory, and time spent,

1)are you counting things like 'travelling time' 'time lost setting up experiments, switching on equipment, or clearing up after them' 'time lost tidying away hundreds of small pieces of paper cut from an index..'.. etc..'time to learn how to use practical software or equipment' etc etc.

2) are you taking into account that people don't measure the time spent on reading vs practical things equally. They say time flies when you are having fun - perhaps people think they spend longer reading than they actually do, and underestimate the time they spend on practical stuff. (see 1)

3) there was something else but i forgot now, i'll come back when i remember.
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby jim_lewis1 on Wed Oct 20, 2010 9:51 pm

I think this discussion is a lot to do with perspectives. I find OU courses significantly over-written, IE some points are presented in several ways, and that the activities and SAQs are optional extras when I feel like I have time for them, but little more than just more reading most of the time.

I have taken quite a functional approach to my OU study, I want to, and have learned a lot, but I certainly haven't absorbed everything that has been presented.

I certainly haven't practically applied all the techniques that have been taught, but I am aware of them, and hope to be able to apply them at some point in the future.

For me that is the value of the OU courses I have studied. I am sure I will refer to them in the future when I am faced with a situation that would benefit from the application of a technique for understanding, or for gaining, or sharing understanding with others.

In short, I agree that we only really learn the things that we are able to put into practice and experience, but that within the timescale of OU courses it shouldn't be expected that all ideas and techniques that are presented will be used. Familiarisation with ideas and putting them into context are valuable ends in themselves.
Current OU study: A230
Studying towards: BA Humanities
Past OU Study: MBA (Tech Man), BEng/MEng (incl T214, T306) PG Dip EDM (incl T863, TU812), AA100, AXR272
(OU Systems courses)
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Andrea on Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:40 pm

jim_lewis1 wrote: Familiarisation with ideas and putting them into context are valuable ends in themselves.


Fair point. Although I would make a special case for systems thinking and practice in that it's not something that you can really dip in and out of, like for example, Cisco programming. I think that we would all agree that courses like T214 and T306 have the potential to radically change the way people see and engage with the world. Systems thinking and practice changes you as a person.

So, you can become "familiar" with systems concepts and techniques, but would that change you?

I would argue that it's a bit like learning to ride a bicycle. You can read how to ride a bicycle, and you can put that knowledge to one side and think to yourself "this is interesting, and when the need arises for me to get from A to B without a car, then maybe I will get on an actual bicycle and learn how to ride it".

Personally, I'd prefer people to start practising how to ride the "systems" bicycle straight away rather than telling them how it could be done. We're all surrounded by wicked problems which required the application of systems thinking and practice and not in some long distant future, but right here and right now. ;)
esse sequitur operari
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Andrea on Thu Oct 21, 2010 2:42 pm

Teiana wrote:
1)are you counting things like 'travelling time' 'time lost setting up experiments, switching on equipment, or clearing up after them' 'time lost tidying away hundreds of small pieces of paper cut from an index..'.. etc..'time to learn how to use practical software or equipment' etc etc.


Welcome to the real world.
esse sequitur operari
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Teiana on Thu Oct 21, 2010 3:07 pm

does that mean you were counting it, or you weren't?
H.R.H. 8-)
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Karen on Thu Oct 21, 2010 7:25 pm

Teiana wrote:'time lost tidying away hundreds of small pieces of paper cut from an index..'..


T - i thought yours ended up out the window? :D
B120 - 2007/8, T214 - 2008, BU130 - 2008/09, T306 - 2009, B203 - 2009/10, B201 - 2010, B301 - 2011
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Re: when do you give up on a course?

Postby Andrea on Fri Oct 22, 2010 11:37 am

Teiana wrote:does that mean you were counting it, or you weren't?


I think it's quite easy to assume a quite limited range of "engagement time" for text: say between 100 and 300 words a minute plus time to reflect on the ideas. Of course, there will be individuals that feel that they already know the stuff so skip over it, and others who will spend absolutely ages re-reading material until they "get it". But in general, you can assume that there is a pretty limited distribution of engagement time for text.

How do you account for working online or using a software tool like netlogo? Some people have fast broadband connections in the comfort of their own homes without distractions, whereas others have to go to their local library and use crappy outdated computers while their kids are wrecking havoc. Some people are very comfortable with getting to grips with new software tools, whereas others can barely operate a wordprocessing package.

So when developing these online/software-based activities, you do take into account the median engagement time, in the full knowledge that the deviation from the mean will be an order of magnitude greater than just reading text.

I don't think awareness of these constraints means that we just give up. The question I want people to ask themselves is this: "what am I studying for?" Is it just to get that piece of paper at the end of your studies? If you want the easiest route to achieve this, then maybe textbased learning is the way to go. However, if it is so that you are equipped with the skills and knowledge to engage with emerging challenges in the workplace and society in general, then maybe a focus on wider transferable skills, such as ICT literacy, can't be such a bad thing?
esse sequitur operari
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