Neil's News

Course Correction

1 September 2006

Let's review the sequence of events:

December
I submit a project proposal for my dissertation to the Open University.
They accept the proposal without conditions.
They accept my money.
March
The first status report is handed in, complete and on time.
I'm told that the project is too ambitious and to scale it back or else risk failure. They give me a mark of 42%. This is an elegantly self-fulfilling prediction: "We will fail you because we think you will fail. Q.E.D." More interestingly, they never bothered to click the link to my actual research (as evidenced by my access logs).
May
The second status report is handed in, complete and on time. This time with a note indicating my awareness that they didn't read my research.
They give me a mark of 48%. Once again they fail to look at my research (access logs show that only one page was glanced at).
My observation that the work was being marked without being read elicits three responses. First, the prof marking it responds with a baffling statement that the web is bad because "there is no clear way of linking" pages to each other. Second, the programme co-ordinator states that it would be "unusual" for the marker to review the material (marking work without reading it is apparently institutionalized). Third, the chair of the course writes to say that my work had been marked by two people independently and given that their marks were similar to each other, it should be considered accurate. Thus everyone closes ranks.
August
The third status report is handed in, complete and on time.
No response from the OU. No mark. Nothing. It goes without saying that my access logs once again show nobody has bothered to look at any of it.
September
I lose confidence in the Open University and start classes at Carleton University. I will keep working on the OU dissertation in my spare time. Mainly because the project interests me. If the OU give me an MSc that's fine, but it certainly won't be going on my resume.

The root problem appears to have been a misunderstanding regarding the meaning of "research project". I found an area which was unexplored, then set about exploring it in a systematic manner (creating new algorithms, testing them against each other, etc). What little work had already been done in the field was either used as a starting point for my work, or else was determined to be flawed. However, it seems the OU's meaning of "research project" is quite different. As I now understand it, one is expected to choose a well-explored area and write a glorified book report on what others have done in the field. As with previous OU courses, original thought is frowned upon.

Update: The third report for my OU MSc was finally marked. They gave me 54% (hey, I'm improving!). Once again the access logs showed it was marked without being read. There was a great comment from the prof that the objectives were "mostly unrealistic". What can I say...

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