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A long road travelled - my personal journey with the OU

My educational journey with the Open University started over twenty four years ago. It has been both challenging and frustrating but I look back mainly with happy memories and can at last smile at my endless struggles with the computer and SPSS. I think of the times I read and re-read chapters that made no sense and then - the eureka moment - the fog cleared and I finally understood! It was a wonderful sense of achievement to reach my goal despite my unconventional approach. I hope this summary will motivate and encourage other students on the journey towards their ultimate goal.

To say I didn't enjoy my formal school years is an understatement. I loathed every moment. My overriding passion was to be with horses. It was an obsession. From my first rocking horse at the age of four until I left school nothing else mattered. Teachers did not consider working with horses a viable option, it was considered a 'dead end' job. I was persuaded, or rather, coerced not to follow my dream but to undertake a further year at school to study A levels and then progress to Art College. This did not transpire, I was a very determined child. During the summer holidays I used all my accumulated pocket money to buy a pony and then refused to return to school in the September. This was not well received by the headmaster or my parents! Consequently my formal education ended and the responsibilities and implications of owning a pony began. The realisation that a pony was an extremely expensive undertaking resulted in a diverse range of employment to fund my passion. I still had no particular aims or goals and really had no idea what I would do in the future.

It was to be twenty years later that I discovered the Open University. I had moved from the South of England to a farm in North Yorkshire to establish a small livery stable and fulfil my continuing ambition to keep horses and ride every day. Whilst living this idyllic life and spending many happy hours trekking over the moors I contemplated the people I had met over the years and reflected upon their individual differences. I wondered why I was happiest with my horses whilst others sought a more gregarious life. I thought about emotions and what might trigger them. I questioned the complexity of interpersonal relationships and also the autobiographic memories that unconsciously popped into my head. I felt these uniquely human experiences required further exploration. Seeing an advertisement for studying psychology with The Open University I decided to apply. I took a second level course 'Exploring Psychology, (DSE202)' which incidentally could not count towards my psychology degree achieved so many years later. The content by then had been superseded which is understandable as, on reflection, I realise how far psychological knowledge has progressed from the 1990's, particularly with advances in neuroscience and newer research methods.

The course materials in those days were only available by post, and programmes associated with them were televised either extraordinarily early or late in the day. This was also prior to computerisation and so, never having learnt to type, the TMA's were handwritten and delivered by post. Hence, after completing the essay, if I found spelling mistakes or needed to elaborate a point, I started all over again. I didn't like crossing out and the inevitable re-writing made for a long and laborious process. The word count was also done manually - I never estimated! This does make me sound rather OCD but I learnt a lot about patience, tenacity and commitment. I vividly remember having to write an essay by candlelight when a blizzard cut off the electricity. I think my obsessive nature has actually become a strength as persistence has certainly proved my strongest point.

I didn't attend any tutorials and learning was a lonely occupation. Horses however, once in their stables, proved a relatively attentive audience and whilst they flicked their ears and closed their eyes I practised my revision on them. OUPS was in it's infancy and ways to gain knowledge of it were quite limited. It was certainly a long time before I became aware of its existence. This was my first encounter with the Open University and whilst I still didn't acquire the understanding I sought I had begun a journey that was to become my OU learning obsession.

Some fifteen years later with a wealth of life's experience (including a divorce) behind me, I found myself back in the South - a great deal less financially secure and minus my beloved horses.

This however remains another story. I was looking for an intellectual challenge and the ability to gain a better understanding of my current situation. I decided to give the OU another try. Computerisation had clearly come about whilst I was living my Victorian existence and it was now necessary to learn how to use both internet and computerised course materials. I started with the Social Sciences foundation course which was a very sensible move. This was followed by a couple of short courses but my study had no clear aim so I decided to try Psychology again. Seeing a Level 3 course in Social Psychology I jumped straight in.

What an eye opener this was! I read words I didn't realise existed, they certainly hadn't been encountered on my previous courses. Epistemology, phenomenology are two that stand out. This was a big step forward. It was challenging and very exciting especially designing and conducting my own project. One participant I selected to interview lived in Scotland. This necessitated a three hundred mile drive but was a great adventure. Many hours were spent analysing the transcriptions and there were times when I thought it would never be completed, however putting it together was a very enjoyable experience and I was amazed how much knowledge I had gained. At this stage I still hadn't heard of OUPS and no one had actually mentioned it. My haphazard way of working was about to come to an end and I sought advice from the Open University as to what I should do to gain a qualification by a recognised route as quickly as possible.

With this new found advice from the OU I had a plan to work towards a BSc (Honours) in Psychology. To speed up the process, although now working full time, I embarked on two courses in the following year. (DSE212 and ED209). This was a lot of work and, to produce the TMA's for each course, I found myself just reading for the essays and skimming the other chapters. It was during a ED209 tutorial that a student mentioned OUPS and their overview and revision weekends. I googled OUPS and it was like a light at the end of the tunnel. I joined and attended the revision weekend at Warwick for ED209. The lectures were excellent and really brought the course to life. Staying on a campus gave me a better insight into university life and I didn't want to leave. The environment was something I hadn't experienced before and I liked it.

The following year I took DD303 and this time was better prepared for Level 3. I attended the research methods weekend as statistics had proven not to be my strong point. The tutors helped reduce my fears and actually made statistics and SPSS fun! Much of my previous anxiety caused through lack of computer and statistics knowledge during the DSE212 project vanished and I came home very happy and positive. My final revision weekend was for DD303 which I would strongly advise students to attend. Even with an excellent tutor at this level it really helped me to focus on what was important. Every aspect of the exam was explained and sample examination questions were worked through. Handouts for chapters that might come up in the exam were well written and explained in depth. There was even a session on how to overcome examination stress through relaxation. It was a wonderful though busy weekend with enough time remaining to enjoy the company of lecturers and students in a relaxed and jovial environment.

Due to my slightly unorthodox way of working through the courses I still have DXR222 residential school to complete this summer. Having completed my exams I will miss the revision weekends but I am very much looking forward to the conference in July where I can relax and enjoy the weekend with the knowledge there will be no exam looming in October.

I have made many mistakes in life and my chaotic study plan meant I made hard work of getting through the necessary courses. For all the challenges and set backs I really enjoyed every course. I have gone over the chapters that I initially skimmed to find that they are now almost comprehensible!! Re-reading these books has made me realise both how far I have come and how much further I need to go. I admire the knowledge and skill of the tutors who were able to explain complicated concepts in ways that enhanced my learning and prepared me for future research. I have very much enjoyed my time studying with the OU and leaving it behind is like a bereavement. Using the on-line forums I realised, as students, we all shared similar problems and the willingness to help each other was very evident. I am now looking to train as a High Intensity Therapist which will enable me to use my skills within the social environment. I have a much better understanding of myself and a more tolerant and empathetic understanding of those who have influenced my life. I hope in the future to have the opportunity of helping others who need to gain an understanding of themselves and take control of their lives, therefore enabling them to realise their full potential.

Graduation will mean the end of my current OU journey, I will however continue with my OUPS membership and look forward to meeting old and new friends at this year's conference before a new journey begins.

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