This photo was taken two years ago today. In it I am about to get the Bit of Paper. I am graduating from The Open University with a 2:1 in Humanities with Art History. A learning journey that spanned nine years.
I spent much of that day in tears. Not so much because of the enormity of the occasion, but more because of how life had changed in the time it had taken me to get my degree.
A degree of emotion
I already had a degree when I started studying with the OU. I came straight out of school and into uni to study Media and Cultural Studies with English Literature. I studied as hard as I could. I wasn’t a distracted student for many reasons (that’s another post); I lived at home and travelled in each day and hardly ever stayed beyond lectures and seminars.
But I didn’t achieve the result I wanted. The degree (and a whole lot of work experience) got me my first job as a trainee journalist on the local paper. It was all I had ever wanted. But I still didn’t feel I had achieved my full potential (nod to Ninjago :D).
My mum always said if there was a piece of paper for it, then I had to have it. And she was right. A few years later, with several news stories under my belt, I decided I wanted to write an essay. I wanted to write for a reason other than work. So, inspired by my mother in law’s love of the OU I signed up.
Studying with the OU
At first I only wanted to study an art course. I have always had a love of art and have always wanted to know more about paintings and artists. It was an interest and this studying was going to be a pass time, so the two seemed well matched. To get any form of diploma in art history I needed to study the foundation humanities course first. So I spent a year studying a range of cultural subjects and passed the foundation (one piece of paper!).
The OU then informed me that if I took another course I could get a certificate in humanities (a second piece of paper!). So I went on, and I did that. I remember opening the certificate and thinking: “There, I have done that now. What shall I do next?”
The problem with that question was that the lure of the OU called. Back on their site once more browsing courses, I found I could turn by certificate into a degree with just a few more years work (she says casually).
And so the degree began and I started studying knowing I had at least three or four years of reading, researching and essays ahead of me. I studied through snowboarding holidays. I studied through weekend’s away with friends. I studied through family trips, planning our wedding and the honeymoon.
I was promoted at work. Suddenly the hours were longer and I seemed to be constantly busy and as I finished my course I found I just couldn’t find my study time. So, as the option was there with the OU, I took a break for a year. It makes me laugh now. I thought I was tired and had no time then. I look at life now with three children and realise I had all the time in the world.
The following October I was ready to study again. But then life was about to change unimaginably. My mum fell ill suddenly and died within four weeks. My mum. My champion. My art loving partner. The one I made proud. Was gone.
Six months later I got married. At the end of that academic year I needed a break, so I took another year out. What had been a three, maybe four, year plan was turning into a monster. But still, I needed to get to the end. Always finish what you have started – another few words of wisdom from mum.
And so it was that started the Level three courses which focussed heavily on specific periods of art history and I took on the self-titled dissertation. I even spent a week studying with the OU on their art history study week (sadly, no longer offered). The OU had changed its fees system by now and the fact was, if I was ever going to be able to afford to finish my degree I had to complete back-to-back courses year after year until it was finished. There were no more gap years for me.
The Bit of Paper
After the wedding came, well, babies (eventually). Now here’s a time when you don’t need to be thinking about essays and art gallery trips, but for me the determination to finish this degree over-shadowed it all. I read at 2 in the morning on my Kindle. I made notes while I fed at midnight.The children grew. The essays got longer. The dissertation nearly killed me. The love and support from DH held me up and carried me through.
I cried when I found out I had achieved my longed-for 2:1. But nothing like I cried the day I wore that gown. From the moment I arrived at The Barbican until the moment I arrived home, I cried. That was my day. My day that could never have been realised without the love and support of my family. Those that couldn’t be there and those that were, and those that spent their first full day at nursery so I could be there. To you all – thank you.
As I said at the time: “I started a girlfriend and finished a wife. I started a daughter and finished a mum.”
Posted in Open University, Remote Learning, Studying Tagged with: achievement, emotion, graduating, graduation, open university, study, studying
Click the title above to enlarge the infographic. Don’t forget to Pin this infographic and while you’re there follow @minicoopersmum
Posted in Learn Direct, Remote Learning, Studying Tagged with: learning, online, remote, study, studying
So the schools are back in full force this week and I am trying to find a little more structure to my studying/parenting day. As I tackle the books once more it strikes me that I may not have been the only person to have thought the following things over the last week.
Here are five things that have run through my mind this week about studying.
1. I love this
I can take on the world. This is amazing. I have successfully made information leap from a database onto a web page. I pressed the buttons and now it works. I can do this. I can do anything. I love learning. Every part of the process is experience, even if it isn’t successful.
2. I hate this
The world hates me. I can’t bear this. Will it ever end. Why won’t my html file talk to my php file and do lovely things on the web page. I have spent hours reading about it. I have made notes on it. I have Googled it. I am highly likely to chuck my laptop at the wall if I render this page and it doesn’t work for the 4 millionth time. Learning is too hard. Why am I doing this? When can I stop?
3. The oven needs cleaning
The garden needs weeding, small pieces of dirt need removing with a cocktail stick and toothbrush from somewhere no-one will ever see. You get the idea. Suddenly anything and everything is way more interesting and important than studying. While usually the thought of cutting all three Mini Cooper’s toenails would be the stuff of nightmares, I suddenly find myself lining them up, giving them the drill and hoping it will take longer than necessary just so that I don’t have to sit back down in front of a list of assignment questions. With blank answers. With word counts. That need diagrams. With writer’s block.
4. He thinks I’m on Facebook again
Or Twitter (@minicoopersmum). When you are studying remotely, the lure of social media is ever present. Particularly now I am blogging too and linking my posts here and there. That said, I do spend a lot of time staring at my screen and actually doing my work (while thinking that DH is thinking that I am just sat there fiddling on Facebook.) I do a lot of projecting. It’s something I am trying to stop. DH is actually incredibly supportive and without him I would probably have already thrown the lap top at the wall.
5. What happens if I get to the end?
After the initial ‘will this ever end’ phase, comes the fears of what happens when it does. Is all of this time, effort and energy worth it? Will I really see the rewards? Are we dreaming too big? After all, this time round I am hoping my studying will lead to something and it has to be something that will pay the bills. While getting the bit of paper (or studying with the OU) was difficult, it was also a pleasure. I chose to study as a hobby. This time around it is about re-training and while I have picked a subject I absolutely love, the what-ifs are ever present.
So there you have it. A journey through the mind of this study addict over the last week, and a glimpse into how I am quite likely to feel in the coming week. I am basically rolling through these thoughts and feelings on a daily basis at the moment. Right, now do I continue with Unit 16 or clean the oven?
Follow my blog with Bloglovin
Posted in Studying, Thoughts Tagged with: learning, rollercoaster, study, studying, web design
We interrupt this Saturday morning because I need a hug.
I have just spent a snatched hour between Wake Up and Breakfast completing the next assignment question. (I would like to thank Ninjago, Mr Biscuits and DH for this brief study period)
Having completed 250 words of the 300 target, Mini Cooper 3 gave me a yell. I picked her up and popped her on my lap, guiltily returning my attention to the screen. But not, it would seem, to what I was doing.
In need of further research, I googled the topic I was writing about. As soon as I did it I knew I had lost everything. Sure enough the back arrow confirmed my worst fears. My extra hour of work was gone. Lost in that place where unsaved work disappears to.
It’s not always easy.
I hugged Mini Cooper 3, put my head in my hands and cried. Then spent the next hour re-doing the work (with thanks to Shimmer and Shine, DH’s toast and cuddles and Mini Cooper 1’s swimming lesson)
Now on with the day
Posted in Studying, Thoughts Tagged with: autosave, learning, study, studying
This has been One Of Those Weeks where I have felt like I am getting nowhere fast. Although I am speeding through this course, I really need to finish it before starting the Digital Mums Associate Programme in January. Now I have that definite date, it feels like I am not getting enough done, no matter how hard I try.
I feel a bit like I am running towards a mirage. Unit 22 is the oasis in the distance that never seems to get any closer. When I was on Unit 5, Unit 11 seemed months away. Now I am studying Unit 15 and Unit 22 seems years away.
Learning to crawl
I was having a good old moan to DH about this very subject as I changed Mini Cooper 3 and sat her down on the play mat. She immediately launched herself forwards, narrowly avoiding a face plant. She lay with her cheek on the floor and her legs tangled in front of her. Then she bounced back up and started fiddling with a toy. Over the next few minutes she did this again and again, until suddenly she gently unwound her legs and ended up on her tummy.
Never one for tummy time she lay still for a half a second before kicking her legs about. Her hands flat to the floor she pushed herself up, her legs still kicking manically behind her. She wasn’t upset, she was determined. She knew there was something she should be doing, but she wasn’t quite sure how to achieve it. She tried to roll one way then the other and then pushed up again before laying exhausted on the floor.
She looked like I feel.
And it struck me that I am learning to crawl. I am learning something I have never done before. I am taking a leap of faith that I won’t hit my face on the floor. I need to give myself the time to work through what I am doing, so I can learn it completely before rushing on to the next thing. I need to make mistakes and work out why something has gone wrong. Perhaps they aren’t mistakes, maybe I need to see them as challenges, as chances to learn.
Mini Cooper 3 isn’t about to give up on learning to crawl, and I am not about to give up on learning (even if it does make me want to lie face down, kicking and screaming alongside the 8 month old). Mini Cooper 3 is trying things out and she isn’t afraid to do so despite not knowing the outcome. She is brave. She isn’t going to be able to skip a step and move on to the next bit. She has to work through it, taking what she can from each new experience. Therein lies the lesson for me.
In the moment
There is so much happening in the Cooper world at the moment that my mind is always five minutes ahead, thinking about what needs doing next (note: This does not make my time-keeping any better). Worse than that, I can often be found thinking about what is going to happen over the coming months and years as the studying comes to an end and a new world opens up to us. After all, the Cooper Household is under reconstruction. Both me and DH are re-training, Mini Coopers 1 and 2 have started new schools. We are still a relatively new family of five. I have gone back to work. All of this makes it pretty difficult to feel satisfied with The Now. The moment I am in. The studying I am doing Right Now, and to see the little steps I am taking each day as part of The Big Picture.
It is amidst this whirlwind of learning and change that these words have spoken to me:
“There is no other time than now. We are not, contrary to what we think “going” anywhere. It will never be more rich in some other moment than in this one. Although we may imagine that some future moment will be more pleasant, or less, than this one, we can’t really know. But whatever the future brings, it will not be what you expect, or what you think, when it comes, it will be NOW too. It too will be a moment that can be very easily missed, just as easily missed as this one.” from Arriving at your own door by Jon Kabat-Zinn
And so it is that I will continue learning to crawl this week. I will try to stop thinking about the What Nexts and focus on the Right Now in the hope that satisfaction will be my motivation to get this studying done.
Posted in Digital Mums, Studying Tagged with: crawling, Digital Mums, learning, study, studying
This week I have learnt the following…
- – Being 37 feels like being 36, but closer to 40
- – Being realistic about how long something will take will probably make life less stressful
- – There is something worse than a baby that wakes every hour and a half… a baby that wakes every hour.
But how did I get here? Back in November 2016 I was pregnant with Mini Cooper 3 and DH was looking for new opportunities so he could make his escape from Never-Ending Working. He wondered if a coding course would be the right thing for him and suggested I take a look at the website. So I did.
The 12-week immersive course looked amazing and it started me thinking. Why hadn’t I ever considered learning about web design? I have always had a knack for technological problems (thanks to my dad who was a lover of all things gadget and a computer wizard). Growing up in our house was a constant stream of new technology. It was also a constant stream of swear words in frustration at the new technology which invariably wouldn’t do as it was told. My dad was passionate about his tech!
Being 8 months pregnant with our third child I realised that popping into London every day for 12 weeks was not going to be on my to-do list anytime soon. But my learning flame had been ignited and I needed to know more. So I did what any self-respecting wannabe web designer would do and Googled it. Within minutes I was signed up to Code Academy and learning about HTML and CSS and I loved it.
Thinking Beyond The Babies
Zoom forward a few months and Mini Cooper 3 was six weeks old. I vividly remember saying to DH “this is the first time I have had a newborn and not been studying for something – how liberating”. Two weeks after saying that I had signed up to the Level 3 Web Design and Development (RQF) course with Learn Direct. It took weeks of online searching, and soul searching, to decide on the right course and ensure I was in the right place to get back to learning. This time I would be learning with purpose. I would be re-training. I would start to peek at that unknown land Beyond The Babies. But the mum guilt set in almost immediately. I had a newborn. What was I doing?
Well, actually I was stopping myself falling foul of the FaceBook black hole. Don’t get me wrong I can FaceBook as well as the rest of you. It is a daily, hourly obsession to check up and see what my sister had for dinner but when you are breastfeeding your baby 12 times a day around the clock, the draw of FaceBook wears a little thin.
If I was going to be stuck to the sofa with my phone in my hand, I may as well be reading something that added to my life.
I may as well be studying.
Having signed up and logged in I was faced with 22 unit headings containing several sections, each with an assignment to complete. The timetable suggested spending a month on each unit with a view to completing the course in two years. By now future plans in the Cooper house were taking shape and DH was on the brink of leaving Never-Ending Working behind. I needed to get this done within two years. In fact I needed it done in one year.
So I set to work. The units are broken down into sections; each one focussing on one topic at a time. This makes it relatively easy to dip in and out of. So far I have covered internet security, databases, web development and testing along with some HTML and CSS. While studying around the children adds an extra challenge, the way this course is laid out helps in many ways and generally I follow this loose plan…
- – Read a few sections at a time (usually while feeding Mini Cooper 3)
- – Before I have read too much – go back and make notes of the main points (this requires both hands but can be done while over-seeing Lego building).
- – Go into the assignment to complete just one question. This may mean research outside the text as well as referring to my notes. (This requires both hands and my brain and is often done in those precious moments when all three are in bed)
Because I am working around the children I don’t really ever have time to do all of these things in one sitting. To be honest I don’t think my brain works that way, and for me breaking it down like this makes it easier to cope with. While I have already advocated The Use of the Odd 15 Minutes, I am by no means saying it can all be done just by doing 15 minutes each day. I try to find pockets of time when the children are at school or off doing something.
It’s a good feeling for someone who often struggled to get her homework in on time while at school.
But I will admit I have hit a wall. This unit is hard. It is a practical unit, full of coding. There’s no hiding from it. It either works or it doesn’t. I can get it to work but it takes time and I am impatient (wonder where I get that from?). Meanwhile, school trousers need taking up. Washing Mountain needs folding and putting away. These are the last days before Mini Cooper 2 starts school and I haven’t got my head round that yet. I am starting to think my plan of putting 24 months of study into 12 is actually not realistic. I may have to Change The Plan.
Now if only I could code a teething baby to sleep for longer than an hour…
* What exactly is a Level 3? I didn’t know either. It appears a Level 3 is somewhere between an A-Level and a degree. It is entirely vocational and Learn Direct encourage you to take their employability course alongside your learning.
Posted in Learn Direct, Studying, Web Design Tagged with: baby, Learn Direct, motivation, pregnant, studying, web design
We have been camping.
While I was sat on a tree stump squinting at the LearnDirect study pages on my phone, I had an image in my mind. A vision of a warm cup of tea, a clear kitchen table, my laptop, a napping baby and an hour of study time.
As it was I had to make do with a tree stump, a sleepy baby on my back and a website which isn’t really suitable for mobile consumption and allows you to read approximately 2.7 words per scroll.
Camp studying comes with its own challenges. Not least, ensuring my phone had enough charge and enough data to enable me to log in to my remote learning course. Thanks to my ickle pink power brick and an obsession with Airplane Mode, I managed to have enough of both to enable me to continue to study.
But studying in the sun’s rays, surrounded by the woods did have its perks. I found it very grounding to be studying surrounded by nature. By a world that just grows by itself. Greenery that just has the knowledge to flourish and survive.
With nature ringing in my ears I continued my reading and note-taking between games of Scrabble, toasted marshmellows and glo-stick revelry.
Camping is about enjoying freedom. The open fields, the space, the night sky, all o their best to remind us we are part of something much bigger, It’s these two ideas that have stuck with me over the last few days. As I get my head around being accepted as a #DigitalMum and get excited by the freedom that opportunity should offer and the idea that I could be a small part of the big digital age picture.
Usually a camping trip is about getting away from technology. Leaving the chargers at home and letting the digital world rage without me. This year I have needed to bend the rules – just a little.
Camp studying reminds me that grabbing the odd 15 minutes here and there makes learning possible. That anything I learn in 15 minutes is enough. It isn’t about sitting at the kitchen table for hours on end. It’s about making a positive effort to do a little every day and setting a realistic goal.
So I logged in with the intention of spending 15 minutes studying each day. Some days mini Cooper 3’s nap allowed me a bit more time. But it didn’t matter if she didn’t because I was only ever aiming for a quick win in a short amount of time.
If I managed to learn something new in just 15 minutes, then I achieved my goal.
Like nature I am slowly but surely growing. I may not notice it on a daily basis. I may not see a massive change in a week. But eventually the sum of all these 15 minute study sessions will be a big change in mine and my family’s life.
The Kitchen Table… somewhere under there (honest!)
And so we return home with three muddy children stinking of camp fire. To a house of empty cupboards, forgotten toys and a telly. I fire up the lap top, log in and venture towards the kitchen table.
Alas, my dream is not to be once more; mini Cooper 1 is making HMS Victory, the washing we didn’t take camping with us is folded and piled up along with The Piles of Doom which continue to grow and never seem to diminish (and never will all the while I spend my time writing blog posts and studying rather than sorting them).
What’s a mum student to do? I gaze out the window at the nature, pop the baby on the toy mat, return to Sofa HQ and log in.
Posted in Studying Tagged with: camping, growth, knowledge, learn, mum, studying