OU musings

The penny’s dropped.

Here’s what’s wrong with the Open University’s business practices in the 21st Century.


Yes, recycling is not a good thing.

How can it be?

Well… (takes a breath)…

Given that we live in the 21st Century and have all the ready means to communicate openly – world-wide – at our fingertips, how can it be a good thing to:

* Re-use assignments, time after time after time after time?
* Set the same questions to those assignments, time after time (etc)?

Whilst it’s true that the OU has – and has had for some time – an internal series of electronic forae (what is the plural of forum?) it’s also true that those platforms of communication are heavily (and sometimes clumsily) moderated; any undue sharing of information is noted with the perpetrators receiving public admonishment and, probably, private words too.

The OU’s business model is to re-use assignments and questions – indeed, the assignments I started A103 off with are now being used by a new batch of students.

I know this to be true because the number of people who have been searching answers.com for answers to questions that vexed me (and all others) at the start of the course has just cruised upwards past 200 hits per day.

I haven’t added in the google stats yet!

I think there are two things here:

1. That the OU internal forums aren’t attractive to over 200 people per day, and
2. That over 450 people per day are prepared to use answers.com and google to provide the answer to whatever question it is they’re looking at.

How soon do you think it will be before one of the Internet’s essay writing organisations latches on to the OU’s somewhat static business model and seek, well, to profit by it?

Or what’s to prevent an altruistic student setting up a website under a pseudonym where OU students can read the answers of others?

And don’t think that people won’t share their marked papers; I know of one tutor group where all of their marked assignments are shared but – I will admit – this is because of group dissatisfaction with their tutor’s performance and lack of consistency.

But my point here has been made – students do share their marked papers.

Yes, yes, yes… I know the OU uses an algorithm to spot similarities in electronic submissions, but again, there are two things here:

1. Any half-competent editor can alter and even improve a 1,500-word piece with less than 15-minutes of keystrokes and
2. I wonder if only electronic submissions are passed through that algorithm? Or do the OU scan and check manual submissions too? I suspect the answer to the latter question is all too probably ‘no’.

And what about the students?

How do they feel about having their assignments and questions so widely circulated when, essentially, the students have paid for them?

Let’s not forget that they are the paying customers – and paying heavily for some courses.

How do the earnest, honest, diligent feel about recycling under these circumstances?

Are they getting value for money from the OU?

Are their assignment grades protected or are they being threatened with being devalued?

This year’s range of school students will not sit the same papers that last year’s students sat.

The reason for this (in these core curriculum days) is obvious.

It seems to me, the more I think about it, that the business model the OU are using isn’t well-suited to the growth of Web2.0 and communications technologies of today.

But then again I could be wrong – it’s not been unknown!

I’m not voicing any dissatisfaction with the OU per se. I am, however, noticing what seems to be a vulnerability in their business model.

The daft thing is, my friends, that one project I am currently working to deliver is a method of improving collaboration and communications between Britain’s scientific community!

No irony in this situation at all then!



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5 Responses to OU musings

  1. Harry says:


    Education as always seems to be a highly complicated matter.

    Does the OU offer courses on how to take an OU degree?


  2. hoverFrog says:

    In Latin, the plural is “fora”. However the English noun that is derived from the Latin noun, the regular plural “forums” is correct.

    To be fair to the OU recycling has worked quite well until Internet access became so widespread. It is almost impossible to keep an exam question a secret after the exam. If I remember only one part of a question and 200 people remember parts of other questions we can put together the question paper in a few hours. That’s why I was curious as to why I couldn’t take the paper with me after my last OU exam.

  3. Brennig says:

    hoverFrog: Thanks for your view. I agree with you that having free and easy internet access has exposed the flaw.

    The wider questions for me are:

    If you were the OU, how would you protect your consumer base (because surely, if the OU doesn’t protect its consumer base, its consumers will vote with their feet)?


    What model of business would you adopt to mitigate the vulnerability that has now been exposed?

    All food for thought.

  4. shoe girl says:

    where are all the TMA 6 posts. don’t go quiet on us Brennig

  5. shoe girl says:

    should that be TMA 7?