OU blog

Personal Blogs

Design Museum

Too much coffee? Its a product of too many TMAs

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 6 Sept 2014, 13:45
From E-Learning V

 Fig.1 The effect of drinking too much coffee

With an assignment, TMA or EMA or exam deadline comes the inclination to get up earlier and drink stronger coffee, in larger doses over longer periods. Easing off the caffeine in take comes at a price: headaches. This isn't a drug you can come off in an instant ... or in my case, at all. 

I'm trying to stick to water after breakfast; the problem is that I may have had a jug of expresso by then. If I get a headache later in the day what do I need? Paracetamol and caffeine. 

My symptoms:

  • Ringing in ears
  • Heart palpitations
  • Gut rot
  • Dehydration
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Restlessness

NONE of this is conducive to getting much done. I need to put in a couple of hours a day for the next four days at least. 

Quitting coffee is on the cards. Done with alcohol, meat might be cut back to the weekend or cut out entirely. Quit Facebook. Cut back on Linkedin. Off on retreat in a couple of weeks when I plan to leave all gadgets behind - let's see or prove how productive that can be. Five days with pen and paper.



Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 7 Sept 2014, 15:07)
Share post
Design Museum

Mind-map, Mind-dump and the written examination

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 27 Apr 2012, 08:55


Faced with an exam this is what I do. Here is Block 1, ostensibly Part 1 of a three part examination.

I've grouped sets of ideas and reduced them to a mnemonic or phrase.

These become the 'peg' from which I recreate something not dissimilar to the above on a sheet of Rough Paper.

In practice, never having done an OU exam before, I used an ENTIRE question book, filling it with part 1, part 2, and part 3 doodles and lists such as these.

When I saw the questions I took out a coloured pen, they happened to be red, orange and yellow.

I then circled those chunks of ideas that I planned to use for that question

a) seeing that per question I was essentially sticking to the appropriate block and

b) ensuring that there was no (or mininmal) over lap.

In fact 'SPICES' and 'CHALKPR' (as I rephrased it) cover some of the same ground in defining a creative organisation so I used the first in one question and the latter in another.

Did it work? We'll see.

As for the learning experience?

However much I dislike exams I am reminded of the extraordinary value of having to refresh, consolidate and build your knowledge. It had to stick for a few hours for an exam, but I feel that without the exam I would never have compressed my thinking or seen how many of the ideas are remarkably straightforward.

Were I designing learning I would certainly want an examination during and at the end.

Not just the written paper, but multichoice, open debate, a testing tutorial designed to get the synapses working ... many ways to get students to engage with the cotent and make it their own so that it can be applied and remembered.

Permalink 6 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Wednesday, 2 May 2012, 09:17)
Share post
Design Museum

Is the written exam an expensive and archaic indulgence that fails e student and the institution?

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 5 May 2012, 06:46


Sitting an exam for the first time in 28 years got me thinking how so much is assessed by assignments and 'doing'.

Just clinging to a pen for more than 5 minutes is a novelty to me.

Surely the technology we now have is capable of 'getting into my head' to show that I do or do not know my stuff. But here's the difference, have I been taught to pass an exam which could only prepare me to become an academic, or have I been applied to apply what I have learned which is very different.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
Design Museum

My first ever OU exam in 2 hours

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 5 May 2012, 06:50


My first and only ever exam too as 'normal' MAODE modules don't require them relying instead on asignments.

I wish I was this keyed up before tackling an assignment, that feeling that I can now sit down and write actively, with a smile on my face, for three hours.

A lesson I may take forward, putting far more into the preparation of an essay so that I write fluidly rather than assembling stuff.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 24 Apr 2012, 18:52)
Share post
Design Museum

B822 exam: 52 hours to go!

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 17 June 2012, 09:13
Exam preparation. I am spending more time writing out by hand to get my head/body used to this ancient practice of scribling rather than tapping or increasingly speaking what I want to express. Using 12 mnemonics to cover a substantial chunk of the course, each a catalyst into deeper, easily expanded threads on personality types, creative organisations, frameworks, cps techniques, barriers, specific examples and so on. This process must be drawing to a close as I now have a master key mnemonic that ensures a cue into them all. 'My PHD VOICE PR' is of course as meaningless to anyone else as sharing a dream. These 12 letters are the first for all the B822 mnemonics that I have devised, learnt and repeatedly tested myself on; they vary in length from 4 to 15 letters, thus giving me a matrix of some 100 facts/events/issues. These, a 'mind dump' in the first 10-15 minutes form my very own 'smorgasbord' from which I will draw my responses when I finally turn the page and look at the questions. 5 minutes to make my three choices, then 5-10 minutes on an essay plan for each. I give myself then 45 minutes to write each answer and only once all three are 'in the bag' in some form will I allot my remaining time, potentially 5 minutes on each. Can my wrist sustain writing for such a marathon. I doubt it. Is it too late to scribble out longhand for three hours on the trot? I'll do a mock exam this afternoon and tomorrow afternoon and hope my hand doesn't get unduly blistered.
Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 22 Apr 2012, 17:58)
Share post
Design Museum

Reflecting on the exam process

Visible to anyone in the world

The MAODE has no exams, it is all done through assignments. The MBA module I am doing, 'Creativity, Innovation & Change' has three two TMAs and ECA and an exam. The exam is the clincher.

An exam obliges you to do things in a very different way. You not only have to be able to tap into your memory banks, but you need to be able to drill deep enough for substance and then wrap this around the exam questions.

With a TMA all you have to do is wrap what you can pick out of the course books, notes and resources (on the basis that you have read the materials and know where it all is).

Surely as a form of assessment the exam is a crucial form of judging how mauch a person has taken in? Whether they have engaged extensively, iteratively and collaboratively with their student cohort and tutor during the module or whether they have confined themselves to a room with the resources and picked their way through them (or a bit of both).

In addition to the exam and assignment I rather like the idea of the viva, though I have never faced one. This suits my mind set and probably my way of learning, I like to hear what I have to say and respond to others. And I write the way I think, as stream of consciousness.

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 12 Apr 2012, 20:10)
Share post
Design Museum

Annagrams help in exams

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 10 Apr 2012, 12:49

I like to go into an exam with a handful of anagrams, a couple per paper or theme. I've had them 27 letter long, and have pegged 27 facts against these.

I use visualization as well to walk through the house 'seeing' themes and issues.

I use this http://wordsmith.org/anagram/index.html


Gives me:

  • Creativity
  • Organisational Structure
  • Cognition
  • Analogical Thinking
  • Developmental Organisations
  • Individual Style
  • Perception

Better still 'SPICES' gives me the 'characteristics of a creative organisation':

empowered Staff

integrated Procedures

Idea development

open Climate

External partnerships

flexible Structures

All of these become part of a 'mind dump' I do in the first 5 minutes just to get my head in the right place.

I've got less than two weeks to come up with a few more of these then practice them relentlessly.


For example gives me the 12 precepts of creative problem solving:

  • Value of playfulness
  • Adopt a set to break sets it is there already,
  • Nurture it
  • Broad picture, local detail
  • Explore the givens
  • Connect and be receptive
  • Know what you really want
  • Cycle often and close late
  • Love the looseness
  • Involve other people
  • Manage the process
  • Build up, don't break down

Where I come unstuck here is for the question to include all 12 precepts and say pick ONE to discuss for 45 minutes, whereas all I can deliver is a few minutes in each.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
Design Museum


Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Tuesday, 3 Apr 2012, 07:27

These are absent from the Masters is Open & Distsnce Education (MAODE).

This in part is what attracted me to these modules. However, the current elective I opted for (B822) has an exam. The game has changed. This is far more than an assignment that can be molded and grown over weeks, assessed pre-emptively, even shared with others then submitted. Glacier.JPG


An exam requires the construction of a glacier, through the drip, drip, drip of content.

From this glacier (in my case) three substantial blocks must drop into the ocean, as they melt I must mold them so that the tip above the surface is a landscape I can recreate intimately.

From this landscape, during the examination process, I recreate, as required, a bespoke response to each question.

Share post
Design Museum

Exam techniques for B822 'Creativity, Innovation & Change'

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 1 Apr 2012, 07:53

Stage One

I've punched my way through the three main course books which are named blocks 1, 2 and 3 and could just as well be expressed as some 60 + activities over the 20 or so weeks.

Unusually for me and influenced by seeing what others do (an advantage of a face to face tutorials) I too have 'defaced' my course books with highlighter pens, biro and notes. (A school career in which text books were bought and resold/recycled meant that unitl recently I kept books in a pristine condition. I wonder of being able to diddle about with electronic versions has encouraged me to do this?)

From this I will extract through notes what I consider to be key points and people.

This isn't second guessing the exam questions so much as covering topics that I believe I understand and can write about adequatetly.

This isn't the time to fill in significant gaps unless I feel there are any.

Tapping into the content benefits from some techniques that served me well decades ago and I know discover are taught to revision clases: anagrams and mnemonics.

I once had dozens of these, one in particular, a sentence that gave the key letter into some 27 facts on Elizabethan history which swirls around my head to this day three decades later.

I am learning another to get me through OU MBA Module exam B822 'Creativity, Innovation and Change'.

We were introduced to 12 precepts in relation to running a creative problem solving exercise or workshop. These I feel are crucial. Unlike a chronology of events in history or the order of the planets from the sun, there is no order to these precepts which makes devising an anagram or mnemonic all the easier. All the easier too now that there is readily availiable software to help.

AEBVBLNICKCM doesn't look promising

I began with 'an early bird values breakfast' which would give me

  • Adopt a set to break sets
  • Explore the 'givens'
  • Broad picture, local detail
  • Value Play
  • Build up, don't break down

Then I Googled an anagram tool which gave me all the letters in VAN BECK CLIMB

  1. Value play
  2. Adopt a set to break sets
  3. Nurture : it is already there
  4. Broad picture, local detail
  5. Explore the givens
  6. Connect and be receptive
  7. Know what you really want
  8. Cycle often and close late
  9. Live with looseness
  10. Involve others
  11. Manage the process
  12. Build up and break down

All I have to do is test my ability to

  • A) match all 12 letters to the phrases above
  • B) know what these phrases mean
  • C) use this as a 'brain dump' to help answer the question, rather than shoe-horning the above into a question.
  • D) Repeat the above in a variety of ways, perhaps 8 - 12 times evenly across all 3 blocks

If techniques on remembering stuff for exams interests you do ask; I have a variety of approaches up my sleeve (that fall short of having a piece of paper up your sleeve).

I was thinking of devising a list around the word


Seems a bit futile though. More ingenous, though cheating of course, would be to reprint the entire HIGHLAND SPRING label with a series of craftily hidden anagrams, mnemonics and other clues with the 'contents' a variety of authors and dates.


Permalink Add your comment
Share post
Design Museum

Revising for an exam

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Sunday, 1 Apr 2012, 07:59

I know what it takes but don't feel that the course has prepared me for a written exam.

We need to have been writing an essay a week, not one every six weeks.

Then, armed with your best essays you reduce these down to key themes.

From these themes and a list of must have authors I dream up a few mnemonics and mind maps that I can 'dump' onto a blank sheet in the first 5 to 10 minutes so I have these as an aide memoire.

Recalling distant early summers revising for exams I am doing all of this in the sun, either on the South Downs or today on the shingle beach at Seaford.

There are three course books and three blocks.

I am ploughing through these at the rate of 3 hours per day reducing each to key thoughts and must have ideas. I'll then test myself repeatedly until I can get a good range of ideas and evidence onto a sheet. Whilst I don't like exams I can there is no alternative, that assessments alone sent in electronically are too prone to patchy work even plagiarism, that being galanised to get the right stuff into your head means something, all the better if it is applied.

Permalink 3 comments (latest comment by Susan Whelan, Monday, 2 Apr 2012, 14:57)
Share post
Design Museum


Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 3 Nov 2012, 21:12

Done and sent!



I can trim 100 words and a final check of grammar, punctuation and sense will do no harm.

It adds nothing to the word count and appears to entertain the tutors so I illustrate my assignments. Well, I add pertinent photos, charts and diagrams. The use of photos should be encoruaged, indeed in the MAODE aren't we able to submit multimedia? I remember an assignment that some presented as a short video.

Unusually for me I have 12+ hours in hand. I also have a day in London seeing production companies. I'll take in a print out. If I'm inclined to do so, or want of a few marks or just making my tutor's life easier, I'll edit and re-submit before the midnight deadline.

For all my MAODE modules that would be it. This being an elective that comes from the OU MBA means there is an exam at the end of April sad

Permalink 2 comments (latest comment by Jonathan Vernon, Friday, 23 Mar 2012, 09:55)
Share post
Design Museum

How to use the adrenaline rush when faced with a written exam.

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Thursday, 19 Apr 2012, 08:55

"These are the happiest 180 minutes you will spend this year", we are told. This is said in a dead pan, pragmatic, no nonsense, but reassuring way by B822 Residential School Tutor John Evans. I take the view that I can always learn something new, especially when I think I've got it sussed: I've had my exam successes in the past or I wouldn't have made it to Balliol to study Modern History. My system was a fluke, lacked strategy and on reflection was unduly onerous. There is no short cut but never in my various careers have I ever heard such sense, such practical advice which must work if you run with it. 1) Never go into an exam with less than three pens.

  • Rubber grip best.
  • Change pen for each answer.
  • None of us write continually for three hours any more.
  • The physiologically act of changing pens helps.
  • This aid the sense of relaxation; changing pens helps.

I haven't sat a written exam in nearly 30 years. I haven't written much out by hand for well over a decade either since I gave up a handwritten daily journal for a blog).

Cf. The MBA handbook. Read Sheila Cameron's advice.


2) Memory Visualisation (very much b822)

3) 'Other kinds of thinking' OKT chapter 5 Planning

4) Give it 10-15 minutes.

5) Relax and it will happen

6) Get the three diagrams and fix them in your head to show how blocks 1, 2, 3.


Turn to your neighbour and see if you can think of 20 things that you remember so far about B822.


You tend to produce, rather than a photographic record of the contents page, but what resonated for you. Work with this. INSERT IMAGE 7) Mind-map like links between the blocks.


We are all very different; this difference and complexity defines how a team will work. Not everyone of course appreciates this expecting others to come to line, to remould themselves into a preferred 'type'. 8) Res school is the fourth part of the exam. INSert IMAGE (I was at an awkward angle in the hall with the presenter usually between me and the flip chart so I need to redraw this). 9) Blocks 1, 2, 3 drawn out on a sheet. Set out what resonates with me.

  • THEN what the course is telling me is the core subject matter. For example: NEO, culture, climate, use of metaphor. This is how to prepare and use a MIND DUMP.

10) B822 Library of Techniques There are 168 of these; which are you going to use or drop into the exam?

11) Identify the ones you have used and found useful. Two of three visual as well as the usual verbal or textual ones. Have some activity ones. Need 6-8 in your armoury. Visual, text, activity.  And distinguish between them.

12) CREATE A GRID Justify your criteria for choosing these techniques.

  • Ease of use/complexity
  • No.of people needed.
  • Range of use.
  • Integration potential (would you get the CEO to do finger painting)
  • Risk!
  • Extent of reversioning.
  • In a grid and marking out of 10 (use this for audit of video).

Technique 1

Technique 2

Technique 3

Technique 4

Technique 5

13) Get six postcards of Windsor. (relating it to the RES School at the Marriott Heathrow, though I would have get postcard of passenger planes given the constant presence of planes taking off or landing). Relate these to Langley/Windsor Use these to Trigger off your memory and visualisation. Carry these around and keep reminding yourself. Form a 'wireless connection' with the information on these cards.

14) Arrive 30 minutes before you are due.

Story of person who arrived a day late.  Exam locations are post code sorted. OU very organised and helpful. If you are away from home, elsewhere in the UK or even abroad, it can one arranged. OU students take exams in all kinds of extraordinary places.

15) Have some authors in mind; for B822 this is likely to include:



(the examiner sees that we have taken note of certain authors).

ID. No question about who you are. 180 minutes -15 5+50


  • Don't look at the exam paper.
  • As the first one you read will take your mind over.
  • You need to be able to think equally about all three.
  • Instead sketch out your brain dump, that you had planned, so that you get out of your head everything  that you will need.

Trying to answer three questions from a body of knowledge that you hold. See exam section of tutor group forum. 17) Unpack the question into its constituent parts.

  • Introduction
  • Main body
  • Conclusion
  • Sign-post

18) Rough draft and score through afterwards Every other line. (have the space to put additions in later)

  • Underline for emphasis.
  • Use diagrams.

19) 10 minutes at end. CRUCIAL Your back memory tells you yet more that you may wish to add in.

20) Doing diagrams are good. Have a few and practice.

21) Snack, water. Resource can be cross referenced.

22) Good to show that you are applying current news (say FT)

23) Good example from your place of work.


Intuitively this is what I did decades ago, though in a wasteful and far less strategic way. The other thing I did was to invent great long mnemonics. The first letter would kick off a word, phrase or sentence that would collectively, sometimes running to over 20 facts or ideas, express all I knew or considered important say about Elizabethan history. One of these mnemonics is ringing in my head, eager to be remembered but just out of reach. This BRAIN DUMP BEFORE you read the questions is vital, just get this cue sheet written (though clearly in a way that doesn't suggest you have pulled it from your pocket).

Is it possible to leave an exam feeling euphoric? Yes.

How then to capture the essence of this for an assignment which should receive as much preparation, unfortunately the only parameters are getting it in on time and sticking to the word count. I like to write with adrenaline.

Permalink Add your comment
Share post
Design Museum

H807 TMA01 The Word Count

Visible to anyone in the world
Edited by Jonathan Vernon, Saturday, 28 Jan 2012, 14:44

TMA01 in its current draft/s is stubbornly refusing to accommodate all the requirements and get close to the required word count.

They say 1300 words, I'm forever at 1800 or more sad

Some edits then get close but appear so spartan I feel I'm looking into an empty basin.

My process might get the word count down to five - a title.Or just a single word.


I feel like Jack Nicholson's character from the Stanley Kubrick film of Stephen King's novel 'Shining.'

I feel stuck in a loop and beg for what my school and undergraduate years prepared me for - an exam. And in this case one essay of six to be written in the space of three hours. From six to eight point plan. Wherein I see my solution - I do just this.

Or not.

On verra.

How are you guys doing?

Permalink Add your comment
Share post

This blog might contain posts that are only visible to logged-in users, or where only logged-in users can comment. If you have an account on the system, please log in for full access.

Total visits to this blog: 12158209