13 Aug 2013

Ready, steady...

I've been getting ready to start studying again, even though things don't begin officially til October. My module materials are due to be mailed out in the next three weeks. This is one of the best bits (for me) - the terror and the joy of opening the module materials!

I've bought lever arch folders (one is covered in OWLS) to store notes, TMA information and results, and general course information, and A4 document wallets to keep everything looking fresh. I'm recycling folder dividers from my last two modules. I've bought strong magazine files to keep my coursebooks and resources in. I've even got my boyfriend to put shelves up to keep everything on, as I have more readers this year (and one of them is the size of a breezeblock). I'm also expecting several DVDs, CDs and CD-ROMs to be included.
I've checked if I've got enough pens. I use Uni-ball black rollerball pens, as they write so beautifully, and I'm always losing them. They must be scattered all over my house. I've also bought some Staedlter highlighters.I get through a lot of highlighters, preferring to use a different colour per block.
As far as notes go, I use Pukka Pad A4 jottas. They're the only ones I've found so far where the ink doesn't bleed. I tend to also buy loads of post in notes, in curious shapes, that remain in my drawer year round until my children find them and use them to doodle on, then stick them to the wall!
Insofar as keeping my brain in check goes, I've completed the first Coursera course I did, on Social Construction of Mental Health. Now I've started on Social Psychology, which I'm enjoying a lot more. It's a lot more interactive, and more generally interesting to me - I've long been a fan of social psychology experimentation. There's also quite a lot more reading, which suits me as I respond better to reading than listening.
I am really looking forward to starting both modules in October. Since I finished in June, I've been feeling vaguely lost and inadequate. Maybe that's an overreaction, but I miss having a personal challenge. I'm really excited, even though I expect it to be a struggle juggling two modules that, although similar in subject, are using very different disciplines.

6 Aug 2013

Referencing - tips for OU study

Referencing can be a pain in the bum. Every university seems to use a vaguely different system, and I see more comments about not being able to do it than any other specific part of TMAs. So, as the October term looms over the horizon, I thought I'd give a few tips.

There's an excellent guide to referencing on the OU website. If you're a student (and I can't imagine why you'd need it otherwise), you can find it here. It tells you how to reference EVERYTHING you can possibly imagine.

A reference is not a great mystery. It's not a special code. You don't need to be a genius to work them out. All a reference does is tell the reader of your essay EXACTLY where to find the source or evidence for what you've written.
You might reference a summarised theory, or a direct quotation. Always work on the principle that you must prove you haven't just made something up.

You should be able to get everything you require for the reference from the source.

A book reference has several parts:
AUTHOR: By surname, or organisation. Sometimes this will be in the form of Surname, Initial. Often, it will be The Open University. 
YEAR: This is the year that the edition of the book published. It is bracketed.
TITLE: This will be the title of the unit, or the chapter in a book; or the book itself. If it's the title of the book, it should be italicised. If it's a chapter, it should be in inverted commas.
CITY/TOWN PUBLISHED: I don't know why they need this, but there we go.

So, a typical reference might read:
Heller, T. Muston, R. Siddell, M. and Lloyd, C. (2010) Working For Health, London, Sage

Or, if you're referencing a chapter:
Scott-Samuel, A. (2010), ‘Health Impact Assessment’ in Heller, T. Muston, R. Siddell, M. and Lloyd, C. Working For Health, London, Sage

Note with this example that you reference the CHAPTER, and then add the crucial word 'in' before referencing the book it's from.

I think this second example is where people trip up with the Open University.  
If you've read three lines of a quotation by Pliny in a coursebook, you reference the coursebook, not Pliny. Pliny may have written it originally, but you haven't read Pliny's book.
IGNORE the reference list at the end of each unit. It tells you the source for your OWN further reading, but unless you want to go and read the whole book the reference is taken from, you must only reference the coursebook.

A typical coursebook reference would be:
The Open University (2010), ‘Pluralism: Ways of Seeing and Ways of Knowing’ in The Open University, Working Towards Health In Everyday Life, Milton Keynes, Open University

Here, you have the author, the year, the name of the unit (in italics and inverted commas, don't forget them), the word IN and then the whole book reference. The author name may vary by unit, so check before you write the reference.

In-text referencing is a lot easier. All you need to do is put the author name, the year, and the page number (if necessary), in brackets immediately after the relevant bit of the essay. For example: (Scott-Samuel, 2010, p.34). If the reference covers more than one page, it would be: (Scott-Samuel, 2010, pp.34-47). Note that the full stop goes AFTER the reference, if it's at the end of a sentence.

Once you've got the hang of coursebook and textbook referencing, you can use the OU guide for everything else. The website and media sections are particularly useful.

To end, here are my handy and unorthodox referencing tips:

1. Do your end-of-text references BEFORE YOU START THE ESSAY. 
This goes against the grain, as you're supposed to reference at the end. But I find it much easier to assemble the resources for a TMA, write out all my references, and then not have to worry about them. It also gives a clearer idea of what you're going to be writing about and where to find things as you write. It may also be useful to save your basic reference for coursebooks and textbooks somewhere, so you don't have to think of them again from scratch with each TMA, especially on courses that are book-heavy.

2. Do your in-text references AS YOU GO ALONG.
Again, you'll often hear it said that you should do these at the end. Which is madness - how are you supposed to remember page references hours after you've written them?

3. Don't forget to ALPHABETISE your end of text references.
There is software that can do it for you. They should be alphabetised, A-Z, by author.

(N.B: Don't do your references in red, this is only for highlighting purposes....)

1 Aug 2013

Benefits: the blessing and the curse

I have long held the belief that nobody should plan children they cannot afford. This isn't because of people using children as a salary, but because it's not right to simply hope someone else will fund the raising of your child.

But things don't work out that way. In a stereotypical family, the woman looks after the children while the man earns the income. With very small children, many women choose not to work full time. Childcare may be taken on by family members, or by a nursery or childminder.
If the parents separate, the onus is usually on the mother to have residential care of the children. The father continues to work full time, and a percentage of his income routinely goes to his ex for the upkeep of his children. The father would have to be an exceptionally high earner for this percentage to pay for all the costs of caring for children.
The mother is left in something of a quandary. It can be difficult to go from a part time role to a full time role in a job. It is even more difficult to get child friendly, flexible working hours, as single parents often have nobody else to call on if a child is sick or injured. If suitable hours can be found, childcare is excruciatingly expensive. Family childcare can be cost effective, but it is tricky to find a family member willing to look after a child full time for nothing. Then there is the tradeoff between working and seeing your children. The children may spend every weekend, or every other weekend, with their father. Once preschool and primary school come into play, a mother may end up seeing the children the least, despite having the residential and financial burden.

Benefits act as a safety net, to empower single parents (male and female) in deciding how to look after their children when things go wrong. But there is no right answer. Staying at home means you're sponging off the state. Part time work often means crappy jobs with no upward progression, and low wages. Full time work means less dependence on benefits, but less time with children.

I hate needing benefits to raise my children.
I hate knowing so many people think I am subhuman, by association. I hate knowing that George Osborne thinks I've 'gone wrong' to end up on benefits in the first place. I hate that I conceived my sons in good faith that I would be able to raise them without financial assistance. I hate not knowing if the government are going to change things and make life more difficult. I hate having to justify my unemployment by saying I'm a student, instead of saying that I'm a full time mother of two small children.

But I also am grateful that we have a welfare system that allows us to be caught. The welfare system in this country fails many people, but it has kept me afloat for nearly three years. Without it, I don't know where I'd be now - homeless, sacked, and financially wrecked forever, I expect. Thankfully, I am coming to the end of being on income support, after 18 months, and I sincerely hope I never have to be on it again.