Starting to study with the OCA

Starting to study a degree with the OCA

In July 2016 I signed up with the OCA with the intention of studying for a degree in the Creative Arts. I am a full-time maths teacher. Teaching is my second career, my first being in the computer industry. I had many roles including project management. I did, therefore, tend to think that I organised my time well. I expect to be working full-time for another three or four years whereupon I hope to move into part-time teaching. Starting this degree in July was not only to fulfil my own interests in the history of art and creative writing, but also to prepare for a transition to spending more time studying when (hopefully) I become a part-time teacher.

The purpose of this blog is to reflect on some of the things I have learned from the first six months.

Time Management

Starting distance-learning has been less than successful so far. I now realise that I approached distance-learning with complacency. Firstly, I simply didn’t consider the demands of my job during the first term of the academic year. The specific need to assist and support students with their UCAS personal statements and write their references made greater demands on my time than I expected. Secondly, I didn’t plan how I was going to use my time. Rather, I felt confident that I would make time during the normal working week in some ad hoc way. I didn’t make that time and achieved very little of note during the first six months.

My time will free up a little now that the UCAS process is all but over. I have therefore, planned how I will allocate my time over the coming 15 months in order to complete the first course, in what I hope will be in an efficient and effective manner.

Learning to blog with WordPress

I have never blogged nor been too interested in others’ blogs. I am, however, aware of the need to keep up with the rate at which technology, and its use, is changing. For this reason I thought it was appropriate to use WordPress as the medium to produce my learning logs (as well as all the other written work that will be required of me). Although I did view this as challenging, I was reasonably confident that I would be happy with WordPress due to my general computer experience. It has, in fact, taken a little longer to become comfortable with the product. I did not find it intuitive to use. The most interesting part of learning to use it was that it put me in the position of some of my students. They may well find some of the mathematical skills I try to impart equally unintuitive!

Other lessons

I worked through the optional An Introduction to Studying in HE unit. That threw up another interesting surprise. I decided that Sonia Delaunay would be the subject matter of the assignment at the end of that unit. I researched on the web generally, accessed the OCA’s online resources, used my own art books and borrowed two books from my local library.

I approached this research with an outline plan that was far too vague; another example of my complacency. The surprise, however, was how ineffective my reading and note-taking were. Without a clear focus on what I was trying to extract from all of this information, I used my time inefficiently and my notes were too vague. Once I considered what I actually wanted to write, I then had to reread the resources and sharpen the various observations in my notes.

Reflections

At the risk of sounding (very) trite, despite all the above I have learned much from these first few months. The key ones for this degree are:

  • Whatever experience I bring to a task, planning is essential.
  • At times in my teaching career I have offered assistance, and given presentations, to students on time management. Those messages apply to me too!
  • Complacency is easily acquired but not so easily recognised.

Moving forward

There is little value in chewing over the past six months in any more detail. Clearly, the most valuable exercise has been learning from my mistakes. I have an outline plan of how I will spend my time and a schedule of when I will deliver the five assignments that will make up the first unit. The main challenge is to stick to these plans. I recognise that I have wasted some time but not all of it. I have learned enough about myself to approach the next fifteen months or so with some confidence and a lot of enthusiasm.

In order to use my time effectively I have decided not to complete and submit the Sonia Delaunay assignment. I will, however, produce another blog reflecting on her work and her position in the world of art.

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