T306 Block 1: Activity 1

And so, my T306 activities commence. This is the first of a very large collection of activities for my Open University course T306 Managing Complexity: A Systems Approach. I’m actually starting early – the course doesn’t officially start for another two weeks – but if I don’t start now I will inevitable fall behind later. This is a 60 credit course and requires around 16 hours a week study.

I do not know how on earth I’m going to find 16 hours every week. I’m guessing I’ll be working on my activities every lunchtime at work, along with not watching any TV or otherwise enjoying myself. I’m sorry life; you are on hold.

So, the first activity is about me reflecting on my reasons on taking this course. This is a LOT of reflection to do. Here we go, after the jump:

What is your purpose in doing this course?

T306 is one of two systems thinking courses that are the core of my chosen OU degree B33 (hons) in Computing and Systems Practice.

What do you hope to get from the course?

This module was a mandatory part of my chosen degree, and so I didn’t really specifically choose to take T306 other than as a broader desire to learn about systems thinking. The B33 description sounded interesting to me as a tester, and liked that there were some computing modules along with the systems thinking stuff. I tested telecommunications systems and thought that attempting to learn how to appreciate systems as a whole would be a good career move.

I didn’t really have a good idea what ‘systems thinking’ was until I started T214. I like the idea of taking an holistic approach to understanding and solving complex problems but my rational brain often baulks at properly engaging with my intuition. I found T214 hard at time because of this, and I hope to build on my intuitive abilities as part of this course.

I’m looking forward to learning the tools that will enable me to manage complex problems. These will inevitable give me the confidence and abilities to advance my career in my analytical directions, rather than remain primarily a doer. I’m not very good at planning and I hope that this course will help with that.

The prospect of doing a project that requires me to interact with people for research purposes bothers me. I do not like meeting with people I don’t know – I can be painfully shy – although I also appreciate that I can actually be quite sociable in new situations. Whatever happens I am going to have to jump in with both feet. I had ‘analysis paralysis’ on a number of occasions during T214 and I really don’t want to be stuck worrying about problems with T306, when I should be spending time working on them.

What is your emotional state as you approach the course?

I’m normally a fairly emotionally stable guy – my mood tends not to vary too much – but I am feeling a little stressed. T214 showed me how stressed I could get. There is an enormous amount of work involved and I do not know how on earth I’m going to get everything done, especially with M257 to finish too. I’m worried about the project and the final exam, but I have wonderful support from my wife, along with the usual support functions of the course forums.

Are you excited, bored, eager, puzzled, expectant, tired? What is your present body posture? Does it tell you anything about how you feel? Is it right? Can you improve your physical comfort?

Are you comfortable with your workspace? Are there things you can do to improve it?

I am looking forward to the course very much. I’m also dreading it, but I’ve enjoyed my OU learning experience so far and my overriding emotions are generally positive. Some stress is good, right? I am tired much of the time.

I have a decent workspace at work for my (lunchtime) activities and my desk at home is also big enough to accommodate my lanky frame. My workspaces are comfortable enough. I have uploaded my T306 books onto my iPad so I can read them anywhere I like. If I had a hot-tub, I could read them in there. But I don’t.

I do need to keep an eye on my posture during my study – I really don’t want to get a bad neck or back.

You may be aware there is a project as a part of this course: what anticipations do you have about doing the project?

I anticipate an awful lot of work for the project and that it is going to take me way out of my comfort zone. I anticipate some very uncomfortable situations where I’ll be needing to interact with various stakeholders in a particular situation, and I do not know how I will react to that just yet.

I do know that I will greatly benefit from doing it, but I also know that this will be by far the most stressful aspect of the course.

What sort of skills and capacities do you think you might need for the project? How many of these do you have already? What skills will you need to pick up? What will you need to look for in the course to acquire these skills and capacities?

I will need to call on the systems practice skills I learning in T214 – especially the diagramming and action learning cycle. I wasn’t very good at certain aspect of diagramming, so I will need to practice those techniques again.

Having read the course guide I’m aware that there are certain activities that lead onto project planning skills, something I’ve not really covered before. I shall have to pay special attention to that. There is also a large emphasis on reflection, something that seems to happen for me naturally, but not necessarily to order. For instance, I can fail to reflect on demand but find that my brain decides to do while I’m trying to go to sleep, or driving to band, or any number of occasions when I’m not expecting it. I will need to take notes when this happens so that I don’t forget.

And finally, how do you rate your overall capacity to succeed in this course?

I eventually did well on T214 and I hope to get a similar grade for T306. I think a Grade 2 pass is achievable – with adequate effort on my part – although a Grade 3 would do. I would like to get a 2:1 overall mark but I’m hardly going to cry myself to sleep at night if I get a Desmond 2:2.

I’d be really disappointed if I got a 3rd, but I intend to do well. Aim high. I will try my damnedest to get a distinction – it’s not beyond the realms of possibilities but it is a big ask – and I will be really pleased with any decent pass mark.

I have two main goals for this: achieve a BSc (hons) in Computing and Systems Practice, and to learn some academic tools that will help me in both my work and private life. Taking an holistic view on problems is an important part of understanding all complex situations. Life is not black and white and is full of unintended consequences. I want to better understand the world around me and this degree is a step in that direction. It is far more important to me that I learn new skills than to get a degree.

How does your answer compare with your notes on what you hope to get from the course? Are they congruent or does the answer to this question throw new light on what you hope to get from the course?

I think my two answers are fairly congruent. It’s mostly about learning for me, a challenge and opportunity to improve myself. The more I think about it the more I reveal about my feelings towards taking the course I think.

When you make a judgement about how you rate your capacities, what are you basing it on? Are you taking account of external factors such as the time you have or the circumstances in which you study? Are you basing your judgement on your own evaluation of your intellectual capacities? Do energy, enthusiasm and commitment come into the evaluation?

I based my judgement on my prior success on T214. I did have some poor-ish results during that course, so I’m aware of some of my weakness and ability to sometimes over-think problems. I need to better apply myself this time and I am aiming to do all over the activities on T306, something I failed to do with T214.

I’m more than aware of my crowded schedule, and so I do need to specifically allocate time for study. I do need to watch my health for this and I am relying on support from my wife during periods when assignments are due in. However, I have my own responsibilities to my family and they must take precedence. I need to work around them where I can, not the other way around.

I am committed to doing well. I have to go all out to pass because this is the very last presentation of T306. If I fail it – or pull out – I will not be able to achieve my chosen degree. However, I must be able to be realistic about the time I have. If it is not possible, or I encounter unassailable issues, then I must resign myself to swapping to an Open degree, or swapping to some other named degree and finish a few years later on than planned.

What would it take to improve your prospects of success, measured by whatever criterion is important to you? Can you act to improve your chances of success?

I need to be honest with my study time and just get on with my activities. I must stop pissing about on the Internet when I’m supposed to be studying. I need to engage with the other students in discussions to overcome my own thinking traps and appreciate alternate perspectives. I just need to do.

I can do it and I will do it. I must not worry too much about how uncomfortable I will feel about doing my project research. I need to grasp the nettle and get to it. Do it do it dot.

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