Student Life Hacks

Welcome to my latest update of hints, tips and links. I hope you find it useful.

Scrabble tiles spelling out ‘Hints and Tips’image credit: pixabay

Welcome to my new selection of student hacks. No, not your friendly neighbourhood Hoot writers, but hints, tips and tricks for getting the most out of your studies and out of the OU experience.

Every year, as term starts up again for new modules, there’s always something new to find out that I never realised was an option before. A year ago, I wrote a very similarly themed piece, but it feels timely to update it now, as there’s always something new to discover at the OU!

Oh, and if you know something I’ve missed, let me know in the comments. Or post a link to the Students Association boards or your module’s welcome forum, and start a conversation with the new friends you are going to be making this year.

  1. Struggling with evidence needed by SFE and DSA applications, or worried you’ve not heard anything back? My advice remains to try contacting Student Finance through their Facebook page. It’s much less frustrating than being in a telephone queue for hours on end, and the quality of advice seems a step up from the call centre too.

  2. Still getting nowhere? Reach out to Student Support* or Disability Support in the case of DSA. Remember, you don’t need to trust many of the forms and evidence required to the postal service. The DSA and SFE will accept scanned and emailed documents in many cases, allowing you to see what you’ve sent and when.

  3. Not received your course books yet? You can check when they are going to be or have been sent on StudentHome. Just scroll down to the section for your new module, and select ‘Study Materials Despatch Dates’, and from there you can also track your parcel, and leave messages for the delivery driver so your books won’t get left out in the rain. Again…

  4. Make sure you sign up for your free version of Office 365, the directions for which also tell you about your email address. You get access to the full suite of software, and again, you can find the link on your StudentHome page, in the section marked ‘Tools’, right under your profile. There’s lots of other fun stuff here too, including your own OU blog, your calendar, information about your loan and any tutorials or events you’ve booked.

  5. Of course, you may well not have booked any yet, as you’re probably still waiting to be allocated a tutor. Don’t worry, you will get one. Contact Student Support if you get to a couple of days before your course start date and are still waiting, but normally you will hear from them by about a week before your start dates. Once you’ve got a tutor, you’ll be able to access their contact details… you guessed it, on your StudentHome page! Go to the end of the page, and under ‘Support’ you can select ‘Contact the OU’ and your tutor’s contact details will be there once you’ve been assigned one. Remember, your tutor is there to help and support you, and wants you to do the best you possibly can. They can provide additional support if you’re struggling, and should be easy to reach, either by phone, text or email. In the rare event of issues with your tutor for whatever reason, it is possible to be reassigned to a different tutor. Student Support will be able to assist with this.

  6. You’re working towards a qualification, but did you know that some pathways will allow you to change your module or degree, if your focus or life goals have changed, or if you are simply not enjoying your studies. Don’t quit before you speak to Student Support. You might be surprised at the options open to you. Likewise, if you need to take a break, you can do so, usually with the ability to bank any assessments, TMAs and your progress so far.

  7. Check out your Study Record (under your ‘Profile’ section) and you can keep track of all your achievements. Here is where you can also find out about any other qualifications you can gain whilst completing your degree. Some modules count towards additional qualifications, like a Certificate in Higher Education, which I achieved after completing my first two modules, completely unbeknownst to me. Now I have a lovely official certificate to show off, once I get a posh enough frame for it. You can also keep track of any badges you get for completing additional Open Learn courses. There are so many out there, on all sorts of subjects, and they’re not only fun but free! There are study skills courses, for things like academic writing, using the library and everyone’s favourite, referencing.

  8. The OU Library is a vast resource of knowledge and research, and they have a 24 hour helpdesk. There are books, periodicals and papers for you to access, and it’s always amazing how extensive it is.

  9. Student Discounts! Don’t forget these. Not only does your email address qualify you for your Totum card, but there are lots of other discounts and benefits available out there, including Student Beans and UNiDAYS. You can also get Amazon Prime free for a year, and then half price after that, and there are discounts from phone, broadband and tv suppliers available, too. You can get a discount on your Council Tax bill if you are studying full time, plus you may be able to access Maintenance Loans and Grants via Student Finance if you are on a low income – although these may affect some benefits, so please speak to Student Support if you are in any doubt about what you’re entitled to.

  10. If you are earning within certain criteria, you may also be entitled to help from the Funding for Study-related Costs scheme in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, or the Discretionary Study Support Fund in Scotland. There is much less available for international students I’m afraid, but please contact Student Support if you are struggling for any reason. There are also several bursaries and grants available, and it’s always worth checking if you meet the eligibility criteria for any of these. There’s a lot of ways to find financial support out there, but you’ve got to know about it to access it!

  11. Support for more personal aspects of student life is available, often 24 hours, for a range of difficulties. TogetherAll offers mental health and well-being support, 24 hours a day. Shout85258 are a free, confidential text messaging support service, available 24/7. Peer support is also available, for anything that doesn’t require a trained medical professional and is not course specific. They can be contacted via forums, Facebook and Twitter. There is also a range of wellbeing advice available, including signposts to external groups and services.

  12. I know some people love the simplicity and discipline of studying alone and just getting on with their coursework, but the OU is a real university, and just like any other, there are lots of extracurricular activities out there. Hit the OU Students Association pages (via good old Student Home) and have an explore. You’re already part of the Association, and they have a whole wealth of things to get involved in, from a really eclectic range of clubs, to more formal societies, to support groups for BAME, Pride (the LGBTQIA+ group) and Disabled Students. Don’t see what you’re looking for? Student Support will guide you through setting up your own club, society or group. There are also always a whole load of different events to take part in, too.

  13. You can even take part in helping manage and shape the things that are available by becoming an Association volunteer, or looking through the lists of officers and roles available to fill. You can help the faculty make decisions about how your university is run – and never doubt, the OU is your university. There are lots of elected roles and committees that need people to step up and help out, and there’s plenty of course feedback and Student Voice events every year if you fancy something with less commitment – and they can be really interesting and enjoyable to take part in, too.

  14. The most important way of getting social is through the forums. As well as all the forums that the Students Association host, there are your subject/tutor group forums. If these aren’t open yet, there should be a ‘Welcome’ forum for before term starts. Just go in and say hello. These spaces are there to help you with your studies, just as much as tutorials are. Most tutors encourage their use as a social space too, as they’re easier to regulate than the many unofficial Facebook and WhatsApp groups out there. These can themselves be a great source of friendship and support, but not all such groups are equal, and not every one is well run or helpful. If you don’t feel welcome or comfortable in any group, report any behaviour that goes against the social media policy or any of the other student policies, and leave. There will be other, more friendly, ones out there where no one minds gifs or pet pictures, and everyone treats each other with compassion; and there are often groups that stick more formally to course content and have less chatter, if that’s more your thing. Just remember that everything you hear there may not necessarily be correct, as these are unofficial and unregulated groups. If in doubt, always go to your tutor – or if that’s not possible, Student Support.

  15. There are lots of other ways to interact with the OU, your course, OU staff and students. There are twitter accounts for every faculty, the Students Association, the OU itself and many others, from individual tutors to the principles and executives. There are also more formally managed Facebook groups and Discord groups too. Keep up with the academic year, events, socials and advice.

  16. You can show your support and allegiance for the OU with the fabulous range of items in the OU shop. There are often opportunities to win OU goodies throughout the year, and taking part in surveys often comes with a chance to win things like gift cards.

  17. Surveys and questionnaires happen through the year, and generally require very little time and effort. I’m always surprised by how low the take-up is on these – but that means you’ve a better chance of winning any prize draws! But in all honesty, I would encourage you to take up any opportunities you get to express your opinions. We can only make change that is right for the student body and the university if people let us know what they want and need, as well as what isn’t working well, of course.

  18. Did you know you have a student magazine? It’s called The Hoot**, and… I see you already found it! There are a wide range of articles, stories, quizzes and updates right here for you to dip into on all sorts of subjects. Is there something you’d enjoy seeing here that hasn’t been covered? Let us know, and we can keep on improving and reaching more and more students. Why not sign up to receive updates, so you don’t miss a thing.

I hope you’ve found these points helpful, but if you have anything to add then let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

*You’ll find links to your specific Student Support teams on your Student Home page in the section for your course and for your module.

**TW/CN: The Hoot currently opens with an article on World Suicide Prevention Day. For anyone who may find this distressing, and may not want to see that, please use this link instead. Of course, this article will supersede that on the ‘front page’, but it will be there immediately following this one, so please be aware.

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