Study Update: MST121, MS221 and M255 End, M263 Begins

Posted in Maths and Open University on Tuesday, the 27th of October, 2009.

It's now a year since I started studying again, part-time, towards a BSc. I last updated the public about six months ago, so here's the latest for those very few readers that may be interested!

MST121: Using Mathematics

MST121 has drawn to a close, and final scores emerged a few weeks ago. I managed a 93% overall - lower than I'd been hoping, but the final CMA and TMA dragged it down a bit. That's because I made a decision not to spend too much time on them, given the workload I'd taken on at that point, with MS221 and M255 having started a couple of months before MST121 ended. MST121 being a Level 1 course, your score here does not actually affect your final grade, so this was always going to be the first course to be deprioritised.

Still, 93% is good, considering that a year ago I had no idea at all how this study business would work out. If you'd have offered me that mark at the start, I'd probably have jumped at it!

MST121, in retrospect, is a great course, and very well put together, with a kind of richness in teaching methods and materials that no other course I've taken has yet matched. Plus, it's generally very interesting, and well taught. The exception was the calculus block, which I've mentioned in these pages before. All in all, I'd recommend MST121 to anyone beginning undergraduate studies in the maths field.

MS221: Exploring Mathematics

MS221 is a Level 2 maths course, and is a natural follow-on to MST121. I initially couldn't make up my mind about this one, but I have now. There never seemed to be any real point to the course, and it's...well, I wouldn't say it's badly taught, it's just that parts of it are not really taught at all. The material is kind of thrown at you, and the assessed work often doesn't tend to correspond with the course material.

I realise that as a level 2 course, there should be less hand-holding than for MST121, but you do tend to wonder where your £400 went. Still I made a good enough start, with 96% for TMA01, followed by a slightly disappointing 85% for TMA02. And then the Calculus block kicked in. Your mileage may vary (and others, including Rob, loved it) but I can honestly say that this has pretty much put me off maths for life. Or at least until next year!

Thus, I didn't continue with MS221, and making the decision not to do so took a huge weight off my shoulders. It was at the point of making that decision that I began to enjoy studying again. Given that I'm not in this to get another degree, or a career boost, that's fairly important.

M255: Object-Oriented Programming with Java

M255 went well, after an oddly shaky start. After consistently getting over 90% across the MST121 maths assignments (which I had no real right to do well in) it was a bit galling to get only 85% for TMA01 - my lowest ever mark for a TMA at the time.

To put that into context, the assessment covered for loops, if/else statements and the like. I've been a full-time professional programmer for nine years; this should have been easy.

In retrospect I was probably a bit over-confident, and it turns out that the trick with the Java TMAs is not to write your most professional, elegant code, but to take the questions very, very literally indeed, regardless of how naive the resulting code may seem. I learned from my mistakes, and managed 96% for each of TMA02 and TMA03 followed by a slightly lower mark for TMA04.

All in all, I'd recommend M255 as a pretty good course. Those with some programming experience will find the first block or two frustrating, but beginners will probably find it very clearly-explained. By the end of the course you're into pretty respectable territory either way, with some exposure to JUnit, UML and so forth. The fact is that there are plenty of experienced, professional Java developers who haven't reached that level yet.

M263: Building Blocks of Software

All I have on my plate at the moment is M263: Building Blocks of Software, which began in October. It starts off in fairly basic fashion, but has been interesting nonetheless.

Later on it suddenly becomes quite properly Computer Sciencey, covering algorithms, data structures and, er, proof by mathematical induction. I'm also quite keen to find out what it has to offer with regard to formal methods of software development, as that sounds like something I might be interested in.


Posted by Peter McDonald on Tuesday, the 24th of November, 2009.

I am currently doing a couple of course myself at the moment (M150 and T175)

Plan on possibly doing M255 next year.

Posted by Corinna on Sunday, the 7th of February, 2010.

Peter, it's very useful to hear your opinion about MST121 and MS221. I am considering going back to part-time studying as well, would like to hear your experiences on a few points. Firstly, can you comment on how the estimated hours per week of coursework matched the hours that you actually spent on the course? Secondly, I have just missed the MST121 enrollment for this year and was considering to work through the course myself. How are youu getting on with doing courses yourself? Any suggestions where I can purchase the course material for MST121 and MS 221, they don't have it on OU worldwide.
Any comments are greatly appreciated.
Thanks. Corinna

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