The fun starts as The Open University unleashes TM129!

Robot face looking directly at camera
Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

I had my first look at TM129, Technologies in Practice, when the module website opened earlier this month. This is a Stage 1 module with the Open University, consisting of three eight-week blocks; networking, robotics, and operating systems (Linux).

This year, for undisclosed reasons, we start with the networking block, rather than the robotics block as in previous years. There are no printed materials. The module is entirely online. However, we do at least get a brand-new copy of ‘I Robot’, the collection of short stories by Issac Asimov. This is to give context to discussions on robot ethics later in the module.

The online material for the robotics and operating systems blocks was not fully available at the start of the module. However, it will be there long before the start of these blocks. In a way, this is good news if it means it is being updated. I have read previous reviews of this long-running module, which suggested it had become somewhat outdated.

The Open University uses Cisco’s Network Essentials course to deliver the networking block. First, you register for a Cisco account. Then you enrol on an introductory course to the online network simulator Packet Tracer. Not long after the module forums opened, there were several posts with people having various difficulties using Packet Tracer.

The Stage 2 and Stage 3 modules TM257 and TM357 will be delivered entirely online using Cisco materials. So, the networking block on TM129 will be useful in helping me decide whether to do these modules. Hopefully, the problems experienced by other students will just be teething problems. Well, I will soon find out!

That said, I do miss the printed materials. While you can download some of the content, the Cisco materials exist entirely on the website. It is not immediately clear how you can retain it all for future reference. For instance, as you would with a printed book or PDF copy as in previous module materials. It will be interesting to see how this new format affects my strategy for notetaking.

The identity of my tutor was revealed just over a week before the module is due to start. I have not received the customary introductory email. However, there are still a few days to go before the module starts. Once again, I have a completely different tutor. I am sure at some point that I will have one that I have had before. Nevertheless, I feel it is good to experience a variety of tutors with different experiences and backgrounds.

At the same time, the tutorial booking system opened. I was able to book all my tutorials for the entire module, right up until next May. All the tutorials are online. The Open University has stated that there will be no face-to-face tutorials until at least July 2021. There are a few live demonstrations for each block that are open to the whole module group. The majority, though, are the usual series of tutorials led by tutors in the regional cluster group.

Starting earlier this week, the Open University’s Fresher’s Fortnight is also happening entirely online this year. It is open to new and returning students alike, and there have already been some fun and informative events. They are great for providing remote learners with some social contact and interaction. This year, especially, such a thing is more important than ever.

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