Five reflections on beginning the Open University MBA

In this post, I try to summarise five reflections on the experience of joining and starting the Open University’s part-time MBA programme.

It’s exciting and privileging to undertake study as an adult

I realised quite early on how lucky I was to be able to do this: I had the financial support, the support and the guts to sign up and give it a go.

Household spending (Source: ONS)

So many are not in this position: the average family expenditure on education was just £6/week in 2015/16 according to the ONS, down from £16/week in 2001/02. The underlying causes for this are varied but possible explanations lie in the drop in disposable income (and that education is seen as discretionary spending) and the government’s decision to increase tuition fees including for postgraduates in 2012.

Undertaking postgraduate study means learning to learn again

Oh the envy I have of Johnny Five

Reading vast quantities of academic material doesn’t come easy – it takes practice. Similarly, writing concisely, with a clear argument and well-referenced sources was a skill that had entirely escaped me in the eleven years since finishing my first degree (Music and Sound Recording at University of Surrey).

I had to go back and find my final-year dissertation from 2005 to prove that it was something I was once capable of doing. And to start with, words would swim about on the page in front of my eyes. Luckily the Open University has loads of advice on how to study, full of tips from real learners from all kinds of backgrounds, which are reassuring even if you’ve never done it before.

That said, things start quickly and the barrage of acronyms comes thick and fast. B716 (the module code), TGF (tutor group forum), TMA (tutor-marked assessment) and so on – it all feels like an alien language and quite daunting to a returning learner.

Learning at distance is lonely

Photo by Chris Jadoul

Perhaps the hardest element of learning part time at distance is the loneliness.

The Open University provides a number of online forums.

There is a large forum in which it’s possible to converse with all learners embarking on the module (I understand each intake for the Open University is around 300 students from across the world),

In addition, there is a Tutor Group Forum (TGF) which in my case consisted of sixteen learners all based in the London area. Our tutor encouraged us to introduce ourselves and get to know each other, but this felt rather formal and arms-length – I didn’t feel able to share some of the feelings I was having about getting started just yet. I craved a more informal situation – the virtual equivalent of grabbing a coffee after a lecture – and the TGF didn’t provide it.

It’s hard to know what’s expected of you at the outset

The module guide suggests that studying part-time on the course would take around 10-15 hours per week. But who can really say? Everyone reads at different paces; sometimes your brain is functioning, but if you have to squeeze a two-hour study session in after a punishing day at the office, progress can be slow.

I found it hard to keep up with the materials at the time that the Open University suggested I did – sometimes getting ahead when I could, sometimes falling a number of weeks behind. This has really helped give me insight into how learners might progress through FutureLearn courses too – at FutureLearn we have tried with the learning design to keep each step of material – each piece of learning – to around 5-6 minutes or less, such that you could get your phone out on the bus and learn. With the Open University a piece of learning could vary between 15 minutes and four hours, making it quite hard to plan.

The materials the Open University provides, and its learning design, are excellent

The final reflection in this post is this: whilst getting started on the course was not all plain sailing by any means, the quality of the written materials and the learning design are, in my opinion, excellent. The materials are interesting, relevant and consistently invite personal reflection. For example, even in early module materials discussing power and politics int he workplace, regular prompts to think of examples in our own workplaces really helped bring the abstract concepts to life.

Some final thoughts for how starting the degree could have been improved

Bearing in mind all of the above, and also reflecting on four years experience of developing a best-in-class learning platform has led me to a few reflections for the Open University.

  • How can they make the registration process as streamlined and as reassuring as possible?
  • Is there a way to tailor the experience a bit for those who are familiar with studying, and provide better inline guidance for those who haven’t / need a refresher?
  • How can the feeling of community be strengthened during those critical first couple of weeks?

Taking the decision to start a masters degree

It’s the middle of 2016. I’ve been asked to take on a strategic lead role at work.

But I don’t formally know anything about strategy.

Following a short period of mild alarm and a few sleepless nights, I decide to look into my options for further study. After hunting for short courses and face-to-face offerings, I feel they are either too light, or too expensive.

As I work for a subsidiary of the Open University, it’s possible to undertake credit-bearing courses at a reduced rate. I peruse online modules and settle on the first module of the MBA program, management perspectives and practice, also snappily known as module B716.

I dig out my first degree certificate, send in my CV and submit my application.

Then the worries really set in.

What would happen to my free time?

Will I have a social life?

Can I still write academically, after eleven years without doing so?

What if it’s really boring?

Fast forward to now, and I’m looking back having completed the first year, part time. It’s been a ride.

I’m hoping to lay out my experience, warts and all, of this first year of study with the OU, over a series of blog posts here. I hope to also continue it periodically as I continue through my second year of study.

LASEK diary: one year on

This is the last in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

Fourteen months after my LASEK surgery, I have mostly forgotten about it. Which is to say, my vision is at least as good as it was before the surgery (with glasses). It’s a great outcome – the one I’d hoped for but feared might not happen.

My last contact with the clinic at Moorfields was back in November for my 6-month check-up. They did a sight test and I could actually read slightly more of the chart than I had been able to with my glasses on previously. This is a major result for me, especially as my eyesight with contact lenses was never as good as with glasses.

If I had to sum up my experience in a tweet, I’d say this: the procedure is quick and totally painless, it look much longer than I thought to heal (acceptable detailed eyesight took about 3 months) but LASEK has been brilliant for me.

LASEK diary: three and a bit months in

This is the twelfth in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

It’s now three months post surgery and I was rather hoping that the last 10% of my eyesight would come into crisp focus, but it’s still not quite as good as it was before with glasses. I had my three-month follow up this week and my left eye is now +1.25 and my right eye is +1.00 (I was previously -7 in both). It means my distance vision is OK but my close-up vision is still a little bit poor (especially in my left eye).

I’ve been prescribed a cream and some drops which may well stimulate my eyes to completely heal, but it may take another six months or so according to the surgeon. For LASEK patients with severe myopia pre-op, it’s normal for the surgery to slightly overcorrect the problem as when the eyes settle the effect is to become more short sighted, apparently, so hopefully I’ll come back in to 0 or nearabouts in both eyes.

I’m not really having any problems apart from sometimes using my computer at night when my eyes are tired. Driving and normal day-to-day life is totally fine.

Will update again in a few months.

LASEK diary: two months in

This is the eleventh in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

It’s now eight weeks after my LASEK surgery and I can happily report things improved a lot since the last post. Around three weeks after surgery, my right eye became pretty clear, although my left eye was still experiencing some double vision. That is still ever so slightly true, but my overall vision is now probably about 90% of what it was with glasses before the procedure. That is to say: I am no longer struggling to see things at all, thankfully.  They may well continue to get a little better over the next few months.

I now regularly forget that I’ve had the procedure (apart from when I’m tired and think I need to take my contact lenses out, only to remember they aren’t in!). I’ve experienced absolutely no dry eye (but sometimes I put drops in late in the evening if I’ve had a long day). It’s great now that they have settled down enough for me to use my computer at full resolution again and I’ve started taking / editing pictures with my SLR again.

There’s one more check-up in late April at the three month point, but then I’m done. All in all I’d recommend the procedure. Aside from a few weeks of frustration whilst I was healing, I think it’s been a total success. If I were to go through it again, I’d have it done in a break between jobs to have a proper four week break to recover.

LASEK diary: two weeks in

This is the ninth in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

Two full weeks in after surgery and things have improved a tiny bit this week, but I’m still getting headaches using a computer for long periods of time (which my job requires, unfortunately) and going back to my usual routine of cycling to work, doing a couple of runs per week and working full days doesn’t seem to have done me any favours.

I’m keeping going with the dexamethasone drops every other hour, and refresh at least once an hour. I suspect that the dexamethasone is making my skin more sensitive and scratchy than normal, which is odd, but these things happen.

Both eyes are still a bit blurry, and though eye drops bring some comfort and clarity it’s pretty short lived. If my eyes stay at this level I’ll be disappointed in the outcome.

I know I need to be patient and that this might take up to three months to be back to similar pre-op vision.

LASEK diary: day 10

This is the eighth in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

Monday 13th February: went back to work for the first time today, which I was nervous about. Yesterday I went along to rehearse with a choir I’m hoping to join and sight reading music was a challenge – my eyes got very tired very quickly and went from blurry to blurrier.

Unfortunately something similar happened at work. I need to use a screen for most of the day, so I battled through with my text size bumped up significantly (much to the amusement of my colleagues who could see every email I was writing from a distance of approximately five miles) but still my close up vision was quite doubled, although distance vision was OK. Determined to get back to my normal routine, I struggled on, cycling to and from work and going for a run (which my legs were pretty happy about after 10 days off) but by late evening I could barely see the television and my eyes were strained and I had a headache. This was the first time since the surgery that I’ve had any real pain. My vision at the end of the day was noticably worse than at the start of the day so I tried to spend the evening resting as much as possible.

LASEK diary: day 7

This is the seventh in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

Today I went for my post-op checkup back at Moorfields. I was able to get myself there fine, although the eyesight was a bit variable. I had struggled to find chickpeas in the supermarket the previous day so was feeling a bit flat. It was encouraging to be told that my eyes were healing normally by the optician, and that I was ready to have the contact lens bandage removed from my eyes – this was done with a pair of special tweezers and didn’t hurt at all. Following this I had some small plugs fitted to my tear ducts to help keep my eyes moist during the healing process.

I then saw the man who did the procedure itself, along with two trainees who all had a good look at my eyes, and told me to be patient as the recovery can take a long time with LASEK, especially for patients who previously had a high prescription. They offered to fit me with a temporary contact lens to help me get back to work but I decided  to go without.


LASEK diary: day 6

This is the sixth in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

Six days in – Wednesday 8th February. Today my sight has deteriorated a bit. After some delight yesterday at being able to use my iPhone close up without having to bump the text size up, that has become difficult again, and distance vision has deteriorated.

Apparently vision is quite variable (and mostly quite poor) to begin with as the epithelium, the surface layer of cells on the cornea, begins to heal. The damaged cells need to be replaced, which can take a month or more. I’m still a long way from having vision good enough to work and I certainly wouldn’t go driving.

Today’s medication routine is still…

  • anti-inflammatory every other hour
  • refresh every other hour (alternately)
  • anti-biotic four times a day
  • vitamin c (500g twice a day)

No painkillers, though.

Getting a bit bored of listening to French podcasts now.

LASEK diary: day 3

This is the fifth in a series of posts describing my personal experience of having laser eye surgery in February 2012. To start at the beginning, go back to the first post in the series.

I got up at about 8:30am after another fine night’s sleep, and am rejoicing as I am now down to one set of drops per hour (instead of one set every half hour or fifteen minutes as it has been). Washed my hair this morning using comedy goggles, which snapped mid-way through causing a sort of awful shampoo-in-eye-post-op-first-world-problem crisis.

Eyes were much more comfortable today – no noticable scratchiness at all – but sight is still blurry. When squinting it’s possible to read the small digital clock on the oven from a distance of about 2m. Before the procedure I would have needed to be about 5-10cm from the clock to tell the time, so this is still quite exciting. Using my phone or computer is very difficult though.