Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Catching up on the reading at the library

Thanks to the massive amount of work that the final course assessment of the World Archaeology course entailed, I recently rediscovered the benefits of studying in the local library. Quite why it should be so, I don’t know, but I find that I get through a considerably greater amount of work in the library than elsewhere.

It’s not that I use the library resources (ie the books) whilst in the library either. Most of the time I take along the little laptop with the course text and, if I’m working on an assignment, sometimes the baby computer as well. So, how come with exactly the same kit at home or wherever, I don’t get the same amount of work done? I’m not really sure but maybe it’s something to do with the combination of actually sitting up at a desk together with being somewhere that I’ve come to associate with studying. Whatever it is, I get much more done in an hour there than I do in several elsewhere.

The archaeology course is out of the way now and the concentration has moved on to finishing the microbes course, the latest client-side assignment and the biology reading and notes. This morning ended up being very much a biology notes session during which I caught up on the biology notes (a once a month activity as I complete each book). Actually, I’m a bit ahead with the notes so I’ve had a bit of a preview of what’s coming up in biology.

The problem with the biology course is that there’s just so much of it. Moreover, it seems like almost every topic is an overview of the next topic lately. Thus we’ve gone from looking at the diversity of life in the first book, then in more detail on life in the second to highlight the uniformity of life and in the third book it’s picking apart the components of life from cells, through the components within the cells to, so far, how the various membranes work. Real-life useful topic from yesterday was how come bananas go off in the fridge when the microbe activity slows down in the cold: it’s because their cell membranes break down thus letting in the enzymes that cause the over-ripening.

Interestingly, I find that I make more progress with the biology when I read the real book than when I read it on either the reader or computer. That seems to be down to the writing style used which requires more referring to adjacent pages. Moving to reading the actual book has made my 10 pages a day target much more easily attainable.

Just arrived is The Greatest Benefit to Mankind which is one of the texts for the history of medicine course that me and Wendy have pencilled in for this October. At over 700 pages of text it’s something of a chunky book but seems quite readable. I’m hoping to get a reasonable way into that before the end of July when I’ll need to make my decision about the course.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Course choice time again as Open University registration opens

The registration for the Open University October start courses opens in mid-March so it’s time to start thinking in more detail about the courses to be done in the coming year.

Ordinarily, it would be a relatively simple choice for me as I’m plugging away with the Life Sciences degree so next up would be either of the February start courses S320 Infectious disease (or, rather, the new edition of it) or S377 Molecular and cell biology (on its penultimate run). Indeed, one or other of those is currently in my “definite” list for Feb 2012 along with the residential SXR376 Molecular basis of human disease.

However, for work reasons it looks like I should really be doing M255 Object-oriented programming with Java starting in October. Which creates a slight problem as a) it’s on its penultimate run (never good for an IT course) and b) I could do with doing something in the line of Life Sciences so that I hit 360 points by 2014 when that qualification ends. Point a is particularly bad as I want to do something in the object-oriented programming as a knowledge update so it doesn’t seem like a good plan to do a course that’s been replaced the following year: in practical terms the existing M255 is around 8 or 9 years out of date.

On the life sciences front, S205 The molecular world is something I’d like to do and is something that would help S377 no end. However, it’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll be doing S377 in February which means that I may as well do S205 later. I’d also like to get back into the psychology with DSE212 in October which would mean I could possibly finish the psychology degree in 2015 more or less alongside the life sciences one although it would mean two residentials in 2012. And then there’s A218 Medicine and society in Europe which counts towards life sciences and which is one of those seriously interesting courses that I’d like to do at some point. Finally, there’s SDK228 The science of the mind: investigating mental health which counts as life sciences but, oddly, not as psychology.

I don’t know what to do!

I’ve nearly talked myself out of M255 as it seems too dated. S205 seems to be out for now as I wouldn’t be far enough along with it prior to starting S377. DSE212 is sort-of out as I think the workload in combination with S377 would be a bit much and there’s the two residentials to consider too. SDK228 looks a bit too social-sciencey for me. Which leaves A218. For now anyway.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Would you do the World Archaeology (A251) again?

Despite ups and downs during the course, the answer is definitely a “yes”.

There’s certainly an awful lot of reading to be done for it. To say that the course text is 800 pages long is misleading as you “only” read about half of it but you also read a lot of material outside the text so count on basically reading that volume of paper. Note too that it’s about A4 size, two up and with a small font: together that means that it’s got a word count similar to that of about four normal OU texts and you’re reading all that over around 5 months. Moreover, it’s source material and not in the, generally, easy-read style of the OU texts ie it will take you longer to read than the corresponding amount of reading from an OU text.

The course has a rather boring start with topics around just what archaeology actually is but after you struggle though that (the first two weeks or so) it’s into the beginnings of agriculture. Next up is the formation of cities, then empires and finally a rag-bag of topics including rock-art, slavery and the dispersal of the Pacific peoples.

You’ve a TMA on each of the first three topics with the ECA offering a choice albeit both choices requiring you to use examples from three of the four blocks. Worth noting is that you’ve an assignment every four weeks. With a course start date of early November that means an assignment at the end of November, December and January with the ECA/EMA due mid-March. Although it’s a 30 pointer, the course runs at 60 point speed and more like 90 points at times given the volume of reading to be done.

Overall, it’s a course that doesn’t hang around. There’s just enough time to get a flavour of one of the topics before you move on. Or rather, it seems like you only get a flavour of each: during the ECA/EMA you’ll find out that you’ve actually got quite a good grasp of the subject.

It’s a course that I’ll genuinely miss doing. Hopefully I’ll find that the medieval to modern history and empires courses will have a similar feel to them.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

The World Archaeology (A251) research assignment

The final assignment for the World Archaeology course is intended to be something of a research based assignment. This time around you’ve to choose three examples of cultural contact spread over around three or four thousand years and pick out the consequences of those contacts. Yes, that was three or four thousand years. This course covers a lot of ground.

That research aspect means that you can’t fully plan your essay based on what you already know ie it’s quite a different prospect than the previous assignments. What I ended up doing was to draft the conclusion first and use that in turn create a basic template to use for each of the examples that I chose.

The problem with that approach is that it assumes that you’ll be able to find articles to support your conclusion. What you don’t want to end up doing is to have to redo everything after you’ve one or two of your examples written up.

In practice, I found that my framework worked really well for the Pacific diaspora which isn’t surprising as that was the example which could largely be taken from the text book. It also worked well for the Sumerian city-states which was almost entirely research based. Where it fell down was with the Incas which initially looked good but turned out not to be in practice as it didn’t fit well with my original premise. So bad in fact that I ended up having to switch to the Aztecs instead and that worked out perfectly which is surprising for a research led segment.

Lessons learned are that sketching out a conclusion works well and creating a framework from that works well if you have an understanding of the topic areas from which you can choose which is good enough to let you choose those that’ll fit well with your framework. Hence the Incas fell down as I didn’t really know enough about them whereas the others worked almost perfectly.

The other thing to watch is the massive amount of time that a research led assignment can take. I’ve spent easily twice the amount of time on this as any previous assignment down to a combination of time spent looking for the articles to support the arguments and the time spent reading them. Writing it hasn’t taken overly long though I’ve still the tidy-up phase to do before submitting it early in the coming week.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.

Dealing with the volume of paper for the final archaeology (A251) assessment

The world archaeology course comes with a massive course text running to nearly 800 rather large and very densely packed pages. During the course you end up reading about half of that plus a whole bunch of online texts as well which adds up to a rather substantial amount of reading over the five months.

In the final assessment for the course we need to pull out information from all over that chunk of reading and indeed more as we’ve to quote sources outside the course texts as well. That makes for a rather time consuming assessment which has been eating up massive chunks of time over the last week and it’s not completed yet.

One big difference in doing this assignment is that you can’t produce detailed notes for the essay in advance as you need to do the reading before writing each segment of the essay. That’s not to say that you can’t do any planning and in fact given the scale of the reading required you must have a plan to enable you to select out relevant information.

That plan is quite different in nature to normal essay plans though as it’s basically a framework to enable me to pick out what I need from the texts. Essentially, what seems to be required for this is to start with a rough conclusion and use that to choose examples to support it. We’re required to pick examples including a city/state, an empire and a diaspora. I’m using the Sumerian city states, probably the Spanish colonisation of central & south America and the Austronesian diaspora basically because there seemed to be enough information to support my conclusions for each of them and they fall neatly into the trade, colonisation and dispersal categories too. Not quite co-incidentally that seems to be the set that most people are running with if the course forum is anything to go by.

The consequences of those contacts are mostly easy to pick out and, as you could work out in 10 minutes yourself, basically fall in the domains of language, technology and social organisation plus, some would argue, disease. Nothing earth shattering about that but it seems a reasonable framework with which to compare each of the contact types.

Interestingly though, I wasn’t initially planning on covering the Pacific dispersal but when you start looking at the page count in the book for the diaspora segment there’s really only that and the African diaspora (ie the slave-trade) that have anything like the volume that you need for this assignment. Thus most people seem to be doing one or the other now and rejecting the option of doing something on rock-art that was initially quite popular.

It’s quite a good assignment to tie together the various strands of the course and a great way of showing the advantages of looking at the world as a whole rather than just, say, Roman archaeology. The downside is that it makes for a massive volume of reading in the final weeks of the course.

Next up for me in the historical line will probably be the medieval to modern history course which starts where the archaeology course finished and the empire one after that although it’ll be a few years before I can fit them in.

Copyright © 2004-2014 by Foreign Perspectives. All rights reserved.