I have been a student at the Open University for years but in all that time since I started my first course in October 2007 I never set foot on the campus. This university has a programme of study whereby it’s students learn remotely with all the course materials dispatched to them in the post and accessed through an online portal. That is what makes it special alongside a mission to help the low educated citizens of this country become highly achieving bright sparks as long as they have the will and determination to do so.
In July 2021I have been taking a summer school module in learning laboratory skills at the OU. To do this one I had to travel to Milton Keynes and go to the campus and attend the lectures at the university itself. I was very enthusiastic about this module and I saw it as an opportunity to see the Open University in person. It was an amazing time to be there and I got to see it in all it’s glory. However unlike a conventional university it was smaller in scale as the buildings did not need to host so many students at lectures and seminars. Instead it’s buildings were made to accommodate researchers and academics developing ideas to further the ambitions of people with limited options in life. This was a very powerful and useful tool to my life that helped me to get a more decent education than that third class ghetto day care centre I had for a secondary school.
The buildings were very beautiful and elegant in character and architecture. The way they stood out reflected the mixed construction eras of their day. The main reception building was adorned with the Open University shield like it was open to bright ideas with infinite imagination instead of defending itself unto an intellectual ghetto that most universities seem to be heading these days. I think the way most of the students here are so mature and grown up they are better at thinking good for themselves than the liberal theologian indoctrinated nature of many left wing professors at other universities around the western world.
What did I discover about this university on the campus? Well I was fortunate enough to come here on a bright summer day with a lot of cloud cover. It was very green and the buildings actually blended well into the natural environment of the area. Interestingly Milton Keynes is also a relatively new town that was built in the 1960s to accommodate an overflow of people from London whose homes had been destroyed during the Blitz. The university was built during that time as well and they kept a majority of the green area alongside the university right next to Walton Lake. I passed a lot of fields and animals on the way there from my hotel. Lots of lovely lavender and purple flowers were blooming on the western side of the campus. It was a cluster of small research hubs that had more staff than students so there were plenty of spaces to sit in the fresh air after a long day’s studying in the labs. I think the staff here are lucky that they have fewer people to bother them when they have most of the parks and green spaces to themselves.
The OU is built right next to the River Ouzel which has a moderately flowing river on a calm period but a very strong river flow in a downpour which results in a net increase in water input into the Ouzel sub-catchment area. I learnt about this in another module I did a few months previously as part of a virtual field school. Because of the pandemic all field trips associated with environmental and geography courses were suspended and I had to rely on my tutors providing a different type of field trip. It’s vital to learn in the field in environmental science because you are observing a living breathing planet and you have to get up close to it’s natural wonders. Otherwise you won’t be able to see how the environment works and have no knowledge of natural sciences.
I was at the OU on a transfer agreement with a partner university at Lancaster to study environmental and earth science. I had been at the OU before when I tried to do a degree studying maths and contemporary science. I had a very good time in those formative years from 2007-2014 and I earned a lot of valuable skills in developing my own study strategies, disciplining myself to work at my own pace and push myself to achieve an outstanding piece of work, and get into the cool science job that I wanted to earn from my own self-determination and passion for science. I dropped out of the OU after deciding to go full time at another university. I didn’t do my first year properly because I had some disagreements with some of my tutors at Royal Holloway that affected my studying so I left them after a year and took my credits with me to transfer back to the OU and onto their Open Plus programme, which would then transfer me onto Lancaster.
I should tell you some stories about my time on lab skills module as well. In the lab I wore a lab coat with a face mask and shield to protect me from Covid-19 and I had to handle a lot of instruments. I started with analysing the hardness of water in the Milton Keynes area. It involved using some chemicals like calcium carbonate and deionised water (soft water) that involved making some colour changes to the water to see how strong the calcium ions and I wrote my data down in my notebook. Milton Keynes has a very strong water supply rich with calcium ions, just like my area in Romford. Later in the day I got to measure radioactive substances using a Geiger counter. I measured the radioactive frequencies of these substances to see much energy they emit. This was a very exciting activity because I got to handle objects that are associated with atom bombs and nuclear reactors, including a piece of Uranium and Caesium-127! Fortunately I had only a small dose to handle so I didn’t glow bright green towards the end of the day. Otherwise my puppets would come life the next time I do some ventriloquism!
The following day I did some more research with water that I found interesting as I aspire to work in water and become a specialist in hydrography. This time I was looking at metals in water to see how much there is present to declare if the water supply is safe to drink. This involved using aluminium carbonate samples dipped in deionised water and treated with indicators to see how much metal is present based on the number of ions there are. I found from my sample that the aluminium carbonate, which turned the water a bright orange, was unsafe to drink. Afterwards came a study in spectroscopy, the bending of light by a glass to determine the composition of the light and see what elements it’s made from. This is how astronomers determine the composition of stars. I used a spectroscope to examine the wavelengths of helium and neon from lamps to see what they reveal about the element’s colours. I also got to see what the wavelengths of solids are when they are burnt on a Bunsen burner’s flame. They had some pretty glamourous colours for me to see.
The Open University brings a lot of purpose to my life that has made me value my intelligence and integrity. It brought me back to my ambitions that I had when I was young that I had given up over the rows that I had with condescending teachers and I got my life back on track. The schooling that I had was hostile to my imagination and I didn’t want to be associated with schooling any more. The OU had a mission to better people’s lives and that is what made me fall in love with learning again. When I first sat my course I remember how I had been short changed by my old school and I vowed that I would not have my abilities dimmed just because of some condescending morons that didn’t value me for what I was worth. I got better at myself from the Open University because I had no distractions or bitterness to deal with in my studying. I felt more free and ahead of my game than I had ever done before. I felt like a reborn intellectual supreme being.