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Christopher Douce

TM470 Considering resources and skills

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During the planning stages of your project, it is really important to consider resources. There is a link between the notion of resources and one of the module learning outcomes:

L03. Identify, list and justify the resources, skills and activities needed to carry out the project successfully. Identify and address any associated risks

To satisfy the requirements for a distinction level project, you need to have:

… identified the resources, skills and activities, the timely availability of which is essential. Has judged risks appropriately.

Resources can be thought of in a couple of ways. Firstly, you should draw upon and use academic resources. Your choice of these resources will make up your literature review chapter. Secondly, there are the resources that you will need to use to get your project done. There is, of course, a link between both of these types of resources and the skills that you need to apply.

There is another link to bear in mind, which is a link to the risks that you have to take account of. Some risks that you identify might lead you choosing certain types of resources over another. Whatever you do, it is going to be important to justify your decisions about what you have done within your project report. Your considerations need to be convincing.

To read more about risk, and how it relates to TM470, it is worth reading an accompanying blog, Considering project risks

Academic resources

Your TM470 project is all about building on your earlier learning and studies. This means that you need to identify what academic resource might be useful when thinking about your project. The starting point is, of course, the previous modules you have studied. 

The TM470 module materials has a resource called Preparing a Literature Search, which you should read. To offer some complementary guidance, the following blog offers a bit of guidance: TM470 Understanding the Literature review.

The library also maintains a list of links to online databases that relate to ICT which might be useful. A really important point (which I share to students) is: the OU library is your friend. It is a huge resource. Do make sure you find the time to look at it.

When working on your project, it is worthwhile thinking about the following categories of academic resources:

  • Module materials.
  • Textbooks that accompany module materials.
  • Academic articles (such as those found within academic journals).
  • User guides or instruction manuals.
  • Technical websites.

It is all very well knowing which modules, textbooks, articles and databases may help you with your project, but when it comes to your TM470 project you actually need to get on and do something. This takes us to the following section, which addresses the question: ‘what do I need to complete my project?’

Resources you need to complete your project

Your TM470 project will be typically based on a level 3 module. The TM470 module team have written a number of few short articles about what a project (which is based on an earlier level 3 module) might look like.

You might want to draw on TM356 Fundamentals of Interaction Design, for example. In doing so, you may wish to apply the interaction design life cycle. With ID projects, students should ideally carry out a number of design iterations, potentially leading to either a high fidelity prototype, or a design of a particularly implemented software tool or system.

There are many different approaches to prototyping. A prototype can, of course, being as a paper prototype, and then lead onto a series of higher fidelity prototypes. Some students have used PowerPoint, for example. There are other tools that could be used, such as Balsamiq, Adobe XD or Figma. When you have created a design, you will need to carry out an evaluation. This leads to the questions: ‘what do we do to carry out an evaluation?’ and ‘what do we need to carry out an evaluation?’.

Unpicking this further, we can identify different broad categories of resources that we might need.

Software: Software products, such as prototyping tools, software development environments, or products to help you manage information or aspects of your project.

People: Put more broadly, the people category includes stakeholders. Stakeholders can be defined as anyone influenced by or affected by a project. People might also be participants; people who might help you with the testing or evaluation of your product.

Tools: Broadly, tools are anything that helps you to do what you need to do. If you’re capturing requirements and interviewing stakeholders, you might want to use a data recorder. If you’re carrying out an evaluation, might choose to make notes about happens.

Facilities: by facilities you might think about rooms, spaces, or physical places where project related activities occur. If you’re gathering requirements and need to run a focus group, you’ll need to find a place where this takes place. If you will be creating software as a part of your project, you will need a computer and maybe some server space to get it working. If you are evaluating an interface, you’ll need to find somewhere to do that evaluation. 

Different projects will require, of course, different resources. Since your project is only small, you should only use what you have easy access to.

The link to skills

By identifying the resources you need for your project, you will begin to think about the skills you have, the skills that you need to apply, and the skills you need to develop.

As mentioned earlier, resources can be thought being in two broad types: academic resources, and resources you need to complete your project. When writing and preparing your literature review, you may well develop your academic reading and critical thinking skills. When it comes to project resources and project management, you may well need specific skills to make progress on your project.

Practical advice

The different two types of resources needed to be treated differently. Think of your literature review as a narrative (or story) of what you have read. Don’t present a summary of papers, or articles that are relevant to your project. Instead, show the examiner what you have read, what readings are going to be useful within your project, and explain why they are important. There are different ways to structure a literature review, but a practical recommendation is to adopt a thematic approach.

Let’s turn to the other type of resources: project resource. In the planning section of your report, create a table that summarises the resources you need. Give each resource a name, and then offer a brief summary of that it is and why it is important to your project. If appropriate, you might even want to provide a reference.

When you have prepared table of resources (which could include different types of software, people, tools, and facilities), it is time to write about skills. Just as you did with your list of resources, create a table that summarises the skills that you will either need to have, or need to master in order to use these resources.

Considering reflection

Identifying the resources and skills that you need is both important and helpful.

When you get to the end of your project, you will need to complete the reflection section. When you get to this bit of your project ask yourself:

  • Did you choose the right set of resources?
  • Have you developed the skills that you expected to develop?

There is always a further question to ask, which is:

  • Have there been any surprises?

There is (or will be) a whole other blog that relates to reflection, and the importance it plays in TM470.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the TM470 project team and fellow TM470 tutors. Although this blog (and other TM470 blogs) are intended to provide useful additional guidance, always refer to the module materials. If you have any questions, please do contact your tutor.

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Christopher Douce

Exploring TM354 Software Engineering

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Over the last year I’ve taken over as the incoming module chair for TM354 Software Engineering, taking over from Leonor Barroca, who has done a brilliant job ever since the module was launched back in 2014. I first learnt about TM354 through a module briefing which took place in September 2014.

What follows is a summary of the various elements that can be found within the TM354 module website. I’ve written this blog whilst wearing my ‘tutor hat’; to help students who are new to this module.

It goes without saying that two of the most important elements are, of course, the module calendar, and the assessment page which provides access to all the TMAs. One thing that I tend to do whenever I study a module is to get a printout of each of the TMAs, using the ‘view as single page’ option, just so I get an early idea about what I have coming up. You should also take some time to review the module guide and the accessibility guide.

Key resources: the blocks

TM354 is based around three printed blocks which can also be downloaded as PDFs by visiting the resources tab:

  • Block 1: Units 1-4 From domain to requirements
  • Block 2: Units 5-8 From analysis to design
  • Block 3: Units 9-12: From architecture to product

Complementing these blocks is, of course, the module glossary, which can be accessed through the resources pages.

In OU modules, the glossary is pretty important. It presents the module team’s definition of key terms. If there is an exam or an EMA question which calls for a definition, you should always draw on terms that are defined by the glossary. A practical tip is: do spend time looking at and going through the module glossary.

Software

There are three bits of software that you will need to use, and the first of these is optional:

A sketching tool: In your TMAs you will be required to draw some sketches using a graphical language called the unified modelling language (UML). UML is a really useful communication tool. It can be used to depict the static structure of software (which bits it contains), and the dynamic interaction between components (which is how they are used with each other). How you draw your diagrams is completely up to you. You can draw a sketch by hand, draw a sketch using the tools that you have in your word processor, or you can download a tool to help you. My recommendation is to use a tool that specifically helps you to draw UML diagrams. This way, the software gives you a bit of help, saving you time (although you have to spend a bit of time learning a tool). I use a tool called Visual Paradigm, which is available under a student licence, but other tools, such as UMLet might be useful. There are a lot of tools available, but if you’re pressured for time, a pencil, ruler and paper, and digital photograph will be sufficient.

ShareSpace: this is an OU tool which you will use to share some of your software designs with fellow students. Software engineering is a team sport. ShareSpace is used to simulate the sharing and collaboration between fellow software engineers. As well as posting your sketches, you will be asked to comment on the design of fellow students. When you leave comments, you will be able to see comments about your own design.

NetBeans: Netbeans is an integrated development environment; a tool for developing software. You will use Netbeans in the final block of the module to look at, and change some software code that relates to design patterns. If you’re familiar with other development environments, such as IntelliJ, or even BlueJ (from earlier studies with M250) you could use those instead.

Forums

The module has a number of forums. A practical recommendation is to subscribe to each of these, so you are sent email copies of the messages that are posted to them. 

There is a module forum, where you can ask questions about the module, and a forum for each of the TMAs. You can use these TMA forums to ask questions about the assessments if you’re unclear about what you need to do. Do bear in mind that the moderator can only offer guidance and might direct you towards relevant bits of the module materials.

There is a tutor group forum, where you can interact with your TM354 tutor. Your tutor may well share some materials through this forum, so it is important that you subscribe to it, or check it from time to time.

There is what is called a ‘online tutorial forum’. Tutorials are run in clusters. What this means is that groups of tutors work together to offer a programme of tutorials (which are sometimes known as learning events). These tutors will use this forum to share resources that relate to their tutorials. They may, for example, post copies of PowerPoint presentations that formed the basis of their tutorials, which may contain useful notes in the notes section of each slide.

Finally, there is the café forum. This is an informal area to chat with fellow students about TM354 and OU study. This area isn’t extensively monitored by the forum moderator.

One thing to note is that sometimes the names of these forum areas can and do change. The names of the forums here might not be the names of the forums that you have on your module website.

Study guides

Although most of the module materials are available through the printed blocks, there are some important elements of the module that are only available online. Within the module calendar, you will see study guide pages. To make sure you go through each of these. Sometimes, these guides are presented along side other accompanying online resources that you need to work through to answer some of the TMA questions.

Resources pages

The Resources pages (which is sometimes known as the resources tab) is a place that collates everything together: all the guides (module, accessibility and software guides), PDF versions of the blocks, online version of each of the units (which can be found within each of the blocks), and any additional resources that need to be studied:

  • Choosing closed-box test cases
  • Monoliths versus microservices
  • Introducing Jakarta EE
  • Implementing use cases

Towards the bottom of this page, there is a link to a zip file which contains some source code that is used with TMA 3, along with some NetBeans software installation instructions.

The final bit of the Resources pages that I would like to emphasise is the Download link, which can be found on the right hand side of the page. Through this link, you can access all the module resources in different formats. You can, for example, download some of the media files onto your mobile device for you to review later, or you can download ePub versions of all the study guides and units onto an e-reader.

iCMAs

TM354 also has a set of interactive marked assessments (iCMAs). These are designed to help you to learn and to remember some of the key module concepts. The iCMAs do not formally contribute to your overall assessment result.

Tutorials

Before my final section, I’ll say something about tutorials. Do try to attend as many as you can. There are tutorials that introduce you to each of the block, and help to guide you through what is required for the TMAs. There are also a series of exam revision tutorials. Do try to attend as many as you can, since different tutors will present ideas in different ways.

Reflections

There is quite a lot to TM354; there are a lot of resources, which take a lot of reading. To familiarise myself with the materials I’ve taken an incremental approach: studying a bit at a time. Although the printed blocks are central to the module, it is important to pay attention to the online materials too.

My biggest tips are:

  • Get a printout of the module guide.
  • Get a printout of each of the TMAs.
  • Make sure that you thoroughly read the module guide. You might want to get a printout of this too.
  • Do remember to regularly refer to the module glossary. These definitions are important.
  • Attend as many tutorials as you can.

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Christopher Douce

Study Skills Resources: what is available?

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Edited by Christopher Douce, Monday, 1 Mar 2021, 17:05

The Open University provides a lot of study skills resources, but these are scattered across a number of different sites. This blog post is intended to provide a quick 'summary page' of some of the resources that might be useful for anyone is are studying with the OU (or, in fact, studying at any other universities).

Firstly, a book

After enrolling for my first OU module, I was sent a textbook called The Good Study Guide by Andrew Northedge. I didn't ask for this book, and I had never seen this book before. In fact, I was really surprised to get an unexpected book!

I found the time to sit down and read it, and this was time well spent; it offered a wealth of study tips, resources and strategies.

If you're an OU student and you don't have this book, then do get a copy. If you're an existing OU student, then do make the time to look over this book time and time again: its really useful.

I think I have once written that I hold the view that if I had learnt about this book during my undergraduate days, I might have got better scores in both my essays and my exams!

Skills for Study: a really useful resource

There are some really useful resources that are available online. I particularly recommend that everyone visits the Open University Skills for Study website.

There are two really useful parts of the site (which is separated into tabs): a section about preparing and writing assignments and another section that is about revision and examinations. The preparing and writing assignments is particularly useful; it offers ideas about how to begin an assignment, to create a draft and think about how to edit what has been written.

There are also a set of downloadable study skills booklets. Key topics include: thinking critically, reading and taking notes, and develop effective study strategies. One particularly useful booklet is: preparing assignments (PDF). It contains some really useful sections are about paraphrasing, quoting and referencing, and improving your written English.

Library resources

The OU library is massive: it enables students to access papers and publications that are about anything and everything. The library have developed a set of useful study skills resources, but these are not very easy to find. 

In the help section, there is a link to a section that is all about Referencing and Plagiarism (OU Library website) it contains a really nice animation that explains things. One thing to remember that plagiarism is a term that can be pretty emotive. A key point is that it's important to make sure that you reference all the sources that you use, and that appropriate referencing does two things (1) it shows your tutor how much you've been reading, and (2) shows how you are becoming familiar with what it means to do academic writing.

A further links leads to something called the avoiding plagiarism pathway (OU being digital). This is one page of a wider set of library resources called Being Digital (OU Library services site) which is all about developing digital literacy skills. These pages contain a set of really useful interactive activities (OU being digital) that aim to develop computing, IT, and digital literacy skills.

The library also provides a link to something called the OU Harvard referencing guide. This shows you how to refer to any kind of resource: books, academic papers, conference proceedings, blogs, news articles and videos. If you're not sure whether you can reference something, do check out the OU Harvard guide; this should offer a bit of useful guidance.

Developing good academic practice

The library resource about Referencing and Plagiarism links to a short course that is called Developing Good Academic Practice (OU DGAP website). Although this is a short resource, it is very useful. It helps you to understand what good academic practice is and why it is important.

English language development and Open Learn resources

Some programmes aim to integrate English language development and skills into their modules; this is what Computing and IT does. Other subjects or programmes are slightly different: there is a module called L185 English for Academic Purposes which some Science students might study. Business studies students might study LB170 Communication skills for business and management.

One really cool thing that the Open University does is make a small percentage of its modules available to everyone for free though a site called OpenLearn (OU OpenLearn website). Up to ten percent of all OU modules may be available through OpenLearn, and it also makes some older modules available too.

Essentially, OpenLearn offers free courses. There are a series of English language skills courses (OpenLearn site) that anyone can access. One course, entitled English: skills for learning looks to be particularly useful. Here's a description:

“This course is for anybody who is thinking of studying for a university degree and would like to develop the English reading and writing skills needed to succeed. You'll be introduced to academic reading and effective note-making strategies. You'll develop your essay writing. You'll look at academic style and vocabulary-building strategies. You'll also enhance your understanding of sentence structure and punctuation. You will learn through a range of engaging activities aimed at extending your existing language skills.”

A more recent Open Learn resource has the title: Am I ready to be a distance learner? The summary to this module says: "will help to boost your confidence. You'll explore useful skills so you can discover how ready you are to study and how to develop your study skills in six steps to become a successful distance learner." Sounds useful!

There are also a range of courses that come under the broad title of 'learning to learn'. One course that jumped out at me as being particularly important was called: Learning to learn: Reflecting backward, reflecting forward; I'm mentioning this since reflective writing is particularly important at higher levels of study.

There's also some more OpenLearn resources for postgraduate modules, called Succeeding in postgraduate study; certainly worth a look if your considering taking a MSc.

Resources from other institutions

Students in other universities face exactly the same challenges faced by students in the OU. Since study skills and writing are important issues other universities have developed their own resources. A small sample of what is available is given below. 

One thing to add is: if you're an OU student, do look at the OU resources first before looking elsewhere. It's not that other institutions will offer bad or wrong advice (I always believe that different perspectives can be really useful in terms of understanding things), it's more a matter of terminology: the OU loves its abbreviations and sometimes has a certain way of doing things.

Final thoughts

This post contains link to many different resources and it might feel a bit overwhelming. The trick is to figure out what you need, to consider how you learn, and to then to have a look at some of the resources to see if you find them useful. If you need additional help in figuring out what you need, you should then also consider giving your subject student support team a ring.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Tricia Cronin and Ann Matsunaga; I have drawn on some of the links they have provided in their Resource to support students with English as a second language document.

Updated 1 March 2021

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