Ten Things I Wish I’d Known…

…I would urge anyone that has the opportunity, dip your toes into the warm waves of the larger community.

Congratulations! You’ve been accepted onto your course, and you start your new studying journey with the OU in the autumn. But are there any ways to prepare yourself, and make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running? Or at least strolling with confidence.

Here are ten ideas to hopefully help get you on the right track.

  1. 1 “Show me the money!”

    Ah, Student Finance. The wonders of a website that has a queuing system just to log in... It can seem dauntingly complicated, moreso if the website is acting up or very busy. Try less busy times of day (or night) for a much smoother experience. Remember, if you are unsure about your course fees, you can choose to give permission for your university to ‘adjust your fee amount if necessary’ on the screen after the actual amount is entered. It gets simpler each year you go through this. Honestly.

    And once you finally get it all filled in and sent off, then… Then, you just have to wait. And wait… Eventually they will remember you and approve your loan. Don’t panic if it seems to be taking forever. You can keep checking back, but if there were any problems with your application they would get in touch straight away, and you can start your course whilst you’re waiting. Their Facebook page is actually quite helpful, and you can get answers to any problems there much more easily than on their interminably convoluted phone system. Don’t forget, if you’ve not started paying it back in thirty years, it all gets written off! Hurray!


  2. 2 “Go ahead, make my day…”

    You will have seen Disabled Students Allowance mentioned on the SFE website. You can apply for this at any time after you’ve been accepted on your course, (but not before your student loan) and there are resources and groups which can help you with this process, including, of course, the OU Disability Support team. You’ll need to let the OU know about any disabilities or health conditions you have so they can make sure they’re doing all they can to accommodate you, and the OU system is MUCH simpler and quicker than the DSA process.

    The sooner you can get things started, the better, of course, but are you eligible for DSA? Read through the information available carefully before deciding yes or no. DSA doesn’t just cover physical disabilities and health conditions, but mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Learning difficulties like dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia are also covered, and funding is available for getting tested and diagnosed for some of these too. DSA doesn’t just fund equipment, but things like making course materials available in more accessible formats, assistive software (including training on how to use it) and Learning Mentor support. This is funding that is there to help YOU achieve the most you can, and also allows your tutors to make accommodations if your health interferes with your studies at any point. 


  3. 3 “No one puts Baby in the corner.”

    Now you’re a student, you’ll need somewhere to study. Not everyone has a handy extra room or even an extra corner they can dedicate to their new studies. Having somewhere you can sit comfortably and not be disturbed for an hour or two is really important. A surface where you have space for a book or keyboard makes all the difference, even if it has to go back to being a kitchen counter afterwards, and your ‘study space’ lives in a storage box in-between times. Headphones are a vital addition to making space, not only for much-needed focus and shutting the outside world out but also for attending and interacting with online tutorials and events. You’ll need access to a laptop or computer – though Chromebooks have some compatibility issues at the time of writing, so check your course technical requirements. A good notebook and some pens that are just for your uni work are a good investment. And of course, you’ll be wanting some highlighter pens and Post-It notes! Don’t be afraid to make notes in your textbook too - it’s yours to keep and it’s part of your learning. Unless, of course, you feel generous and offer it to another student about to start the course you just finished, so they can start reading early, and have to have a conversation that starts, “Now, about all the swearing…”


  4. 4 “Don’t you know who I am?”

    Look out for your new identities! The OU issue you with two important ID codes and working out which is well worth getting your head around. Your Personal Identifier will be used on any work you submit. You should see it on your emails from the OU, and it’s usually in the format of one uppercase letter with seven digits following. Your Username, or OUCU (Open University Computer Username) on the other hand, is made up of at least two lowercase letters and six numbers and can be used to log in to the OU website.

    Once you’re logged in, your first port of call will usually be your StudentHome page, and this is where you’ll find your link to your Microsoft 365 suite. Once you’ve logged in to 365 and activated it, your university email address will be generated and should show up under ‘Contact Details’ on StudentHome within 24 hours. This email address will be what identifies you as a student to the wider world and will be a randomly generated ID followed by ou.ac.uk. You can use this to get your Student’s Union card, now called a Totum card, and to register on any research or academic sites that require student ID. And of course, to get email, as Office 365 provides you with Outlook, as well as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and lots of other fun stuff. You’ll find all this waiting when you log in to your personal ‘StudentHome’ page for the first time.


  5. 5 “There’s no place like home…”

    StudentHome. This is your base. It looks a bit complicated at first, but that’s just because you can access pretty much everything from here. All the information about your course and your modules will be here, as well as how to contact your tutor, Student Support or use the Student Association forums. If you’re ever stuck, just head back to StudentHome. You can personalise some of the information you access from here, and add links to social media sites, webpages and forums. Check out your personal information here too; make sure it’s accurate, up to date and add in any information that’s missing. StudentHome is a great place to start exploring.


  6. 6 “Hey, it’s a kind of magic…”

    StudentHome still looking a bit overwhelming? Tired of constantly logging back into the OU pages every time you want to check something out or want to grab extra bits of study time on the go? Do you want to go back to the exact same place you left off, like magic? You need the OU app! For keeping track of your weekly progress, and studying on the go in a clear, simple format, it’s excellent. The different tabs for tutorials, assessment, news etc are really handy. Download it here. Or here.


  7. 7 “One of us! One of us!”

    Get involved with the OU Students Association. I know there are people who register with the OU, read their coursework, submit their essays and that’s it. Some people only want a barebones experience. But I would urge anyone that has the opportunity, dip your toes into the warm waves of the larger community. There is a whole, huge campus out there, bursting with people, activities and events. The OU Students Association forums look comfortingly familiar to anyone who’s been around the internet for a while. They’re a bit old-fashioned in format, but well moderated and definitely have something for everyone. There are very active BAME,  Disability and LGBTQ groups available here too. For anyone who struggles with the Association forums format, these groups also have Facebook equivalents.


  8. 8 “You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies…”

    Which indeed, brings us to Facebook. You may well see warnings that the OU doesn’t endorse any Facebook groups, and these are not run officially by or for the OU. The groups that are recommended by the Students Association and moderated by those same admins are great and are careful to follow the OU social media guidelines. Other groups may vary considerably in how they’re moderated, what is posted and the advice given. There will undoubtedly be Facebook groups for your module. If you take part in them, just bear in mind that the best source of advice will always be your tutor, and if you’re at all uncomfortable or unsure about things that are posted, you can just leave. This applies to WhatsApp groups too. Friendly, well run WhatsApp groups can be really supportive, but they rely on a moderator who knows what they’re doing and is prepared to pay attention to possible tensions and misinformation arising, which can be difficult with a large and diverse membership, particularly around stressful times. Don’t let yourself be drawn into anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, and prioritise your own good judgment and safe mental health above any social media spats.

    If you are worried, stressed, or feel you aren’t coping for any reason, as well as Student Support, there is also the Togetherall service, which is completely anonymous and available 24 hours for mental health support.


  9. 9 “Badges? We don’t need no steenking badges!”

    You can try out how studying with the OU works before you officially start. This is particularly useful for anyone who hasn’t studied at this level before, or who’s been out of education for a while. The OU have loads of free short courses, including many on study skills and learning at the OU, and whilst they won’t count towards your qualification, they still gain you badges and will look good on your CV. The level 1 courses are very gentle and are a good confidence boost before you start the Real Deal.


  10. 10 “You rush a Miracle Man, you get rotten miracles…”

    Pace yourself. If you want, you can start early. Your course materials should be with you about a month before term starts, and some people like to get going straight away. This is fine, but IT’S NOT COMPULSORY. Just because it suddenly seems everyone else is talking about week eight, and you’ve not started week one, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. Everyone works differently, and some people are planning around studying two modules, or working shifts out in the real world, or just like rushing ahead. It’s not always the best plan, and it’s definitely worth waiting for the relevant tutorial before firing off a TMA. Working steadily through on schedule can be a winning formula too - and remember if you do find yourself struggling or falling behind, talk to your tutor. They can provide one on one support over the phone, answer your questions by email, or even reply to your text messages when you’re worried. Don’t submit a badly rushed essay when you could ask for an extension. Everyone wants you to do your best, and submit your best work. In the rare situation that you have trouble getting support from your tutor, Student Support have your back, and are only ever a phone call or email away.


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