A Year in Review: TM129

Photo by Michael Skok on Unsplash

Results came in for TM129 earlier this month. It was good news. I passed. So, full steam ahead to Stage 2 of my BSc (Hons) Computing and IT degree. From now on, every mark counts towards my degree classification.

As I did about this time last year, I will be reflecting on my second year of study with the Open University. Last year, I studied three modules, TM111, MU123 and TM112. If you want to read more about them, check out my post A year in review: TM111, MU123 and TM112.

This year, I have only studied the one module: TM129. I was undeniably a lot busier with three modules last year. However, I found it a lot more difficult to manage my time with just one module this year. 

It will be interesting, then, to see how I get on with studying two modules next year: M250 Object-oriented Java Programming and TT284 Web Technologies. I expect the workload to be more intense and demanding because they are both Stage 2 modules. 

Nevertheless, the Open University expects you to be spending eight or nine hours a week studying each module. The same as for TM129 and MU123, which went from October to June. TM111 and TM112 were a different kettle of fish. They ran from October to March and April to September, respectively, so the recommended hours per week was slightly higher.

Anyway, as for TM129 Technologies in Practice . . .

Module Materials

Unlike with TM111, TM112 and MU123, do not expect big boxes of books to arrive in the post for TM129. It will not happen. All you will receive in the post is a copy of the classic science fiction novel I Robot by Isaac Asimov. 

The module materials are all online in TM129. The module consists of three blocks: Networking, Operating systems, and Robotics. For the networking block, you are essentially just working through the Networking essentials online course on the Cisco website.

The Open University write and provide the other two blocks. They recently rewrote and updated the content. My cohort experienced this new version for the first time. By the time you start this module, the Open University should have ironed out the kinks.


The networking block or let us just call it the Cisco Networking Essentials course, is a slick introduction to the fundamentals of networking. Lots of diagrams, lots of quizzes to check your understanding and knowledge and lots of clicking through endless windows of bite-size chunks of learning.

The Packet Tracer network simulator, which you download at the start of the course, is fun and there is a lot you can do with it. Though, you may find the voiceover a little too enthusiastic at times.

The web has lots of help for the quizzes. Even some handy walkthrough videos on YouTube. 

A couple of downsides. It is difficult to print out pages from the Cisco course if you like having a paper copy of module materials. Note making is a little more challenging too. I created my own notes in a Word document, and this seemed to work for me.

Whatever you do, do not forget to register for the Packet Tracer Introduction course. Once you have done this, the module team will be able to enrol you on the Networking Essentials course. There will be plenty of reminders but there is a hard deadline. Miss this, and you will not be able to study the block.


Next up was the Robotics block. Usually, you study the Robotics block first. The Open University swapped it around with the Networking block because the module materials were either still being written or waiting for approval.

So, I was part of the lucky first cohort of students to study the revised and updated Robotics block. The theoretical side of things was a thoroughly interesting read and left me with a thirst for more. 

The practical activities for the Robotics block, on the other hand, let us just saying they were challenging. They led many students on the course to despair and, in at least one case, to quit the module.

I found I had to read through the explanations and examples several times to understand what was going on. Often the Robotic RoboLab simulator did not work as intended. To be fair, the module team were quick to respond and, recognising that we were the first students studying, were grateful for suggestions and improvements. 

Part of the trouble was that all of this was new to the tutors too. In tutorials, they were often coming to this for the first time. These are all good reasons to avoid being the first to study a new or revised module. On the flip side, the tutors and module team might cut you some slack. In any case, TM129 badly needed an update.

Operating Systems

The third and final block was Operating systems, extensively rewritten and updated like the Robotics block. The theoretical content is probably a little drier than the Robotics block, but I found it almost as interesting.

As with all the blocks in TM129, there is a strong practical element to the Operating Systems block. You get to download a virtual machine (Virtual Box) onto your computer so that you can run Linux installations. 

The biggest difficult a lot of students had with this was installing Virtual Box and getting it to run. The module team provided instructions, including a video, and were on hand to answer questions in the module forum.

Luckily, I managed to install Virtual Box without too much trouble. However, I did have to search for further information on the web to complete the installation. It works best with a relatively up-to-date Windows 10 computer. You may have a few issues with a Mac.

To provide students with experience of parallel computing, for the first time, TM129 included a series of Raspberry Pi clusters. To have exclusive access to a Raspberry Pi cluster, you had to book a slot through the OpenSTEM Lab. The only drawback this year was that they were only available to book towards the end of the module and then for a time limited period. It was an optional activity and came at a time when many were working on their End of Module Assessment (EMA).

Course content and structure

I thought I was only studying one module this year. As was becoming clear, TM129 is essentially three modules rolled into one. Thankfully, not all at once.


I started off with the networking block, which revolves around an introductory Cisco networking course, Networking Essentials. It prepares you for more in-depth networking modules that you can choose in Stages 2 (TM257 Cisco networking CCNA part 1) and Stage 3 (TM357 Cisco networking CCNA part 2) of the degree. TM257 and TM357 prepare you for the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) examination, which you must make your own arrangements to sit.

The Networking Essentials course is split into nine or ten chapters, preceded by a Packet Tracer Introduction course. Each chapter has a quiz at the end. I found this to be helpful in preparing me for the practice and final exams at the end of the block. 

TM129 gives you a taste of the fundamentals of networking and of Cisco online courses. TM257 and TM357 both use Cisco online courses to deliver the teaching. So, this block will give you a good idea of whether you will enjoy networking and Cisco learning materials. It will help you decide whether you want to do further networking modules in your degree. If you are interested in the cyber security degree, R60 BSc (Honours) Cyber Security, offered by the Open University, it is worth mentioning that TM257 is compulsory in Stage 2.

I finished the networking block thinking I was glad that it was over. Upon reflection, however, Networking Essentials, was engaging, even fun at times, though sometimes unintentionally. You will find most support in Cisco forums or from searching the web because the actual content is not provided by the Open University. The module forum mostly helped with issues surrounding installing Packet Tracer or enrolling on the Cisco modules.


By the end of the networking block, I was really looking forward to the Robotics block. I enjoy programming, building Lego and I collected Transformer toys when I was a kid. Sadly, by the end of the block, it had become something of a disappointment. Luckily, I had few problems installing the Docker Container or setting up the Juptyer notebook and I know that this defeated some people. My top tip is to do this as early as possible. Even before you start working on the block in earnest.

TM129 is often sold to students as offering a taster of several different aspects of computing that is meant to help you follow your own interests later in the degree. I can see that with the networking block. While I am attracted to cyber security, it helped me decide not to do any more networking.

With the robotics block, I found it more difficult to see how this related to the rest of my degree. Yes, there is programming but not as I knew it from TM112, which introduces you to Python. TM129 does use Python but does not assume any prior programming knowledge from TM112, or elsewhere for that matter. The focus is on how to use Python code to get things done. There is no follow-on from concepts learnt in TM112, though this might be in part due to some students studying TM112 alongside TM129 or not at all. 

While I enjoyed the programming, I struggled to make much sense out of the practical activities at times. You really must read the explanations several times for it to make sense. However, I like a challenge, even though I complain about it, and it was satisfying when it finally all came together.

So, upon reflection, I think the Robotics block did help me to understand key programming concepts for later modules I will be studying in October, such as M250 Object-oriented Java Programming and TT284 Web Technologies. I am sure it will also be helpful for M269 Algorithms, data structures and computability, which I hope to study the following year. All of these are programming-heavy modules. I can also see some relevant to the new Stage 3 module, TM358 Machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Operating Systems

If you are studying for a qualification relating to computers, it is not a bad idea to learn about how they work. Hence, the Operating Systems block. You will also get to grips with Linux in this block. As with all the blocks, no prior knowledge is assumed so while you might find preparation useful, it is not essential. Once you have VirtualBox set up, the content is mostly reading (and making notes!) with small practical exercises for you to complete along the way.


All the tutorials for TM129 were online this year. I believe this will be the case for most modules starting in October. I hope the Open University start up face-to-face tutorials in the future, but I can understand the caution. Only a handful of people turned up to those I did attend for TM111, but I found them very useful and interactive.

As with TM111 and TM112, I could attend tutorials given by several tutors within my geographical area. If you attend a lot of tutorials, you will find they become a bit repetitive. However, it is a good idea to attend a few at the start to sample the different style of each tutor. The tutorials mostly focus on study skills and preparing you for answering the TMAs (Tutor Marked Assessments). 

My favourite ‘tutorials’ in TM129 were not tutorials per see but live demonstrations open to all students on the module. There was one for each block. Normal tutorials use Adobe Connect but the live demonstrations use Stadium Live, which I believe is also used by the Student Hub Live events.

Typically, there was a video feed of one of the lecturers in a laboratory on the Open University campus. A range of interactive poll widgets enabled a greater degree of interaction than normal tutorials. While there was no option to use a microphone, students could also interact with each other and the lecturers through a chat box.

The number of students attending was far higher than normal tutorials, which are restricted to a geographical area. Anywhere from 50 to 150 students were online at any one time. In a module with about 1,000 students, it is still not a lot but more than tutorials, with attendances of up to 20 students, though mostly under 10.


TM129 has three TMAs (Tutor Marked Assessments) and one EMA (End of Module Assessment). The TMAs is worth 20% of your overall mark and the EMA is worth 40%. You need 40% overall and to submit the EMA to pass the module.

At the start of the module, you also have a ‘dummy TMA’ that does not count towards your overall mark. Its purpose is to make sure you are familiar with the process of submitting coursework through the website. It is a very short piece of work. This year it included a couple of questions about why you are studying this degree and this module (it’s compulsory for one!). It also asked you to include a screenshot of the simulator in an activity in the Introduction to Packet Tracer course, part of the first networking block. 

All three proper TMAs, which come at the end of each block, contain a mixture of theory and practical questions. Each also includes a question on your ‘ePortfolio’. In each block, there are several ePortfolio activities for which you are asked to record your attempt and then reflect on the experience. They are designed to get you into the habit of reflecting on your learning development. It is an essential skill for continued professional development in most careers and one that can take time to develop properly.

Sadly, many students skip this question. I know this from anecdotal information from other students and a breakdown of student performance across the whole module that the Open University provided when they released the final mark for the module. Each ePortfolio question is worth 10 marks on the three TMAs and 25 marks on the EMA.

I would not say they are an easy 10 marks because it is difficult to know what you must do to score full marks. The marking scheme and tutor comments can be subjective. However, not attempting the ePortfolio question is throwing marks away that might otherwise get you out of a hole if you are struggling with other questions.

For the networking block, as well as the TMA, you also have a practice and final exam for the Cisco Networking Essentials course. This is taken online through the Cisco website. You can prepare by completing the end of chapter quizzes.

Be warned, there is also a limited time window during the Networking block to take the final Cisco exam. Make sure you complete and submit the final exam grade and not the practice exam grade for the TMA. There was a lot of confusion among students about this so ask your tutors or in the module forum if in doubt.

Looking to the future

It is amazing to think that I am now a third of the way through my degree. The last couple of years have gone by in what now seems like no time at all. A lot has happened over those two years, and I feel a great sense of achievement at getting this far.

Nevertheless, now the fun begins. Marks for modules in Stage 1 did not count towards my overall degree classification. Those gained in Stages 2 and 3 do matter, however.

In some ways, the modules in Stage 2 and 3 get more interesting. Stage 1 computing and IT modules were general introductions to a range of computing and IT topics. Now I get to follow my interests and study more specific modules on, in my case, programming, such as java (M250) and web development (TT284).

It all makes for an interesting and hopefully rewarding next four years.

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