Monday, 24 July 2017

The End of an Era

Seven years ago I embarked on what I knew would be a challenge, perhaps if I'd known just how tough a challenge it was going to turn into I wouldn't have taken those first steps, but I did.
In 2010 I signed up to do a degree in Computing and Information Technology with The Open University.

Having only gained a single 'B' grade GCSE during secondary school, due to poor health, I wanted to prove to myself (and others) that despite being unwell, I could get an education, much like anyone else. Sure it might take longer, but it could be done. And so I began with a single 30 credit module, M150, Data, Computing and Information in October 2010. I really enjoyed the Javascript and programming aspect of it, however I also realised it wasn't something I could pursue with my health the way it was. Although back then I was in better health than I am now, the stress of getting code to work and debugging it manually was making my health worse and so I realised programming courses would have to be avoided.

In February 2011 I started T175 Networked Living, it was a required module for a computing degree, and on it's final presentation. As I was managing M150 so well I figured a few months overlap would be fine. However it turned out two 30 credit modules is an awful lot of work when you have an illness such as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis! And so I had a minor relapse, nothing major but the amount of things I could manage reduced as symptoms increased a little. But I managed, enjoying and completing both modules despite some extra illness to contend with.

It was at this point I made the decision to diversify into a second subject; too many of the computing modules were about programming which I knew I wouldn't be able to manage, and so I changed my degree to a BSc (honours) in Computing & Information Technology and Business. Beginning with B120 An Introduction to Business Studies another 30 credit module in October 2011. Another enjoyable module, however I did learn that personally I didn't enjoy studying business as much as I.T.

In May 2012 I began DB123 You and Your Money: Personal Finance in Context (30 credits). This coincided with the end of B120, however it was much more manageable than the overlap I'd encountered with M150 and T175. I learned so much on this module which was relevant to me personally as well as in an unfamiliar business context. It was a really enjoyable module, with the exception of learning about pensions which was just very complicated to understand! By the end of 2012 I had passed both B120 and DB123.

January 2013 things became a lot more challenging; I'd applied for Disabled Students Allowance and received the training for specialist software just as my next module, my first Level 2 and 60 credit one, began, and I was suffering from a severe throat infection. Under doctors orders to rest, I ploughed on reading my module materials, completing the two training sessions and starting my first assignment of T215 Communication and Information Technologies.  As a result I suffered a significant relapse, which left me studying from my bed, only able to be on the computer for short periods of time (which considering the module involved working with audio and video files, creating and editing them, made things extra difficult!). Despite this I managed a Grade 2 Pass, with good assignment scores throughout the module and on the End of Module Assessment too.

And so with 180 credits under my belt, I had reached the halfway point! Something to celebrate, although not too much as that could leave me unable to continue. In October 2013 I began B203 Business Functions in Context. I'd read it was a module with a large workload, and difficult to manage. Little did I know just how difficult that workload would be, with everything else life through at me in the 9 months that followed. On beginning the module I knew it was going to be a tough one, the materials were more advanced and took more time to read and understand, some was dry and staying awake whilst reading it was a challenge. But I persevered, and managed reasonably well for the first few months. Personal circumstances early in 2014 left my health on the rocks with more dips in ability, and in May 2014 when my Gramps passed away I suffered a major relapse.

It was at this point I had a crisis of confidence, I came incredibly close to quitting entirely. With the funeral, my grief, and the relapse which left me struggling with the simplest of tasks, I just didn't see how I could possibly sit an exam, pass it and go on to get my degree. Some amazing friends and family rallied round and managed to convince me I'd come so far I ought to continue. They were right. I sat my exam at home, with additional arrangements such as rest breaks and extra time, and with the encouragement of my tutor submitted a special circumstances form because the bereavement had affected my ability to revise for the exam. Somehow, and I really don't know how, I passed. Only just but it was a pass. If you're a regular reader of this blog you may remember my post about being disappointed, but I rallied and realised I'd passed in what would have been tough circumstances without my health being so awful. A wonderful study buddy in the form of a stuff toy dog called Brian also entered my life at this point, which you can read about here.

I had the summer off to rest and recover a little, slowly building up energy again and doing a few fun things before the new academic year began in October 2014. This marked the beginning of my first Level 3 module, 30 credits, T320 E-Business Technologies Foundations and Practice. A module which saw me have a desk and actually manage to work at it for a time! I loved this module, the practical side especially, despite it being some programming which at times left my health flaring up again, it was incredibly fulfilling; that sense of achievement when the code finally works is amazing! I even managed a weekend away in Skegness while doing this module, something I couldn't have dreamed of the previous year! However things turned more difficult after that weekend away in March, as in the April my Nan passed away. I really don't know how I did it, but somehow I continued with my End of Module Assessment despite my grief, another relapse, and her funeral. This time I didn't submit special circustances, and miraculously I still achieved a distinction grade pass!

I had June to January off, resting, decorating the living room and generally enjoying life a little. My health improved during this time, but come January I picked up a load of viruses and my health plummeted again. February 2016 marked the beginning of my final I.T. module, and penultimate one of my degree: 30 credits, TM470 The Comptuing and I.T. Project. That was another tough module, finding an acceptable project and then completing it while reporting about the management of it. It was completing different to my other modules and more a case of learning project management than anything else. That's not to say once I started it I didn't enjoy it - I did. The first few months of coming up with a project, defining the goals and actually getting started were some of the toughest, especially as my health wasn't playing ball during that time. But as the module progressed, and my health slowly improved again I enjoyed it. In December 2016 I received my results; a Grade 2 Pass, which I was very pleased with.

Three months prior to the results of TM470 coming out I began my final module: B301 Making Sense of Strategy. A 60 credit Level 3 module, with a reputation of being very tough. And the first few months I found it was; my tutor marked harshly and focused on how difficult the course was to pass. The theory was difficult to get my head around, and the core component of critical thinking had been made a lot more complicated than it actually was. With a change of tutor around December, things imoroved immensely - the module suddenly became passable. Critical thinking was explained in such a way I could actually understand what was required in my assignments and thus improve my marks. I can't explain how much difference having a positive tutor made. I was a nervous wreck about the exam, with my last one having gone so badly, I revised hard and did my utter best to pass it. Sat at home with extra time and rest breaks again, I felt it had gone fairly well and I was confident in most of my answers.

Results came out last Tuesday (July 18th) and I got 55% on the exam. Not the greatest score ever, however the grade boundaries had been lowered quite significantly and so overall I achieved a Grade 2 Pass!

This means, at the end of this 7 year journey, which has involved many moments of self-doubt, questions of why the hell am I doing this to myself,  and a lot of ups and downs with my health, I am graduating with a BSc (honours) in Computing & Information Technology and Business, Upper Second Class.

Yes, despite thinking it was beyond me, I have actually got a 2.1!!! 

To say I am over the moon is an understatement. I still don't think it has quite sunk in yet, despite the balloon, cards and gifts my friends and family have lovingly given me. This achievement is marred by the knowledge some very special people are no longer here to see the completion of what I satrted. And there is also the disappointment that I am simply not well enough to attend a degree ceremony, but we will be celebrating as a family with more manageable celebrations at home. And the purchase of a mortar board in the appropriate colours so we can take some photographs which almost look the part.

If you're reading this and didn't get the results you were hoping for or expecting, here's a quote from a post I wrote when I was going through a similar thing on B203:

"To anyone else struggling to come to terms with an exam result that was worse than expected, don't worry about it. What's done is done. If you failed and you're offered a resit spend the time revising and know you can do it. Someone somewhere will always be rooting for you. And if you've passed but not received the grade you expected, wanted or dreamed of it's not the end of the world. It may well feel like it but it's not. Focus on the fact you passed. You can put those course books away and move on to your next module or the next stage of your life. You did it. You passed. That's all that really matters."


No matter what life throws at you it is perfectly possiby to achieve your dreams, I know at times I thought this was an impossible dream for me but here I am. Despite some significant relapses, difficult times and almost giving up, I have done it, I have achieved my dream! I'm not sure what's next for me, but time will tell.

Monday, 10 July 2017

The End of B301 and the Wait For Results!

How so many months have flown past! I've been busy finishing B301, writing assignments, revising for and sitting my (hopefully) final exam, and am now (im)patiently waiting for the results to see if (a) I've passed and (b) what class of degree I have achieved!

Post exam I've been a little unwell and feeling rather low. Slowly recovering physically but I'm still feeling rather lost - the question of what next? keeps arising. I want to get a job but finding one that is suitable; part-time, flexible hours, from home, that I can fit around patches of illness isn't going to be an easy task and I really don't know where to start with that one. So instead I'm focused on waiting for my results, having a bit of a break sorting things out that have been rather neglected while I study.

For example I am scanning into the computer all my university notes, in order to reduce the number of books and lever arch files that need storing - some cds or a dvd or a pen drive will be easier to store than 18 lever arch files! I'll still have books and notebooks to store but at least it will reduce it's size a little. I'm also in the process of planning redecoration of my bedroom. Anything to keep my mind off the wait for results while trying to regain as much energy as possible.

B301 as a whole has been a tough module, not least because my health hasn't been great for the duration and as a family we had some tough times but I've made it through. A tutor change before Christmas was stressful but I can't deny it made a difference to the wholeoutlook I had on the module, it went from rather negative with the focus being on it being difficult, and the failure rate being high, to more positive, with a tutor who believed we could pass.

My assignment results have been decent, with some of my highest marks, a bit up and down but overall they averaged out well. The exam itself seemed to go ok, I'd spent plenty of time revising and amazingly some questions came up on subjects I had revised. It was still a challenge being well enough on the day, and I used almost all the extra time and rest breaks I'd been allowed. That didn't stop the following weeks being pretty bad healthwise though. However things have picked up a little again, and although I don't feel I'm back to how I was pre-exam, I'm doing better than the immediate aftermath!

Results are due out in the coming weeks, so watch this space for news of that! I'll also try and write a some more as I find things to write about; if theres anything you'd like to read about feel free to leave a comment and let me know! If I can write about it, I will.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Results of TM470 and an update

It's taken me a while to post this, B301 is taking a lot of my time and energy so I didn't get a chance before the Christmas period which took more out of me. However I'm here now. At the end of November I got the results for TM470 through: a Grade 2 Pass! Really pleased with that considering how unwell I'd been at the beginning of the module!

Meanwhile on B301, I've completed two assignments and am about to start work on the third; meaning I'm almost at the halfway point! Hard to believe in 6 months time I'll have sat my exam, and be awaiting my results which will hopefully get me my degree! Things have been a bit rocky with my health of late, intact as I write this I'm getting over a virus which has left me unable to study for a few days. Hoping I'll be able to catch up soon!

Got my fingers crossed I'll be able to update this blog more often soon, but for now I'm concentrating on my health and studies!