A200 – Exploring history: medieval to modern 1400-1900

This was the module from which I learned the most about how to study with the Open University.  I suppose this post should really be called revisiting my nemesis as having mastered the topic of TMA avoidance I now find myself in the interesting position of becoming quite good at blog avoidance too, although it’s not really blog avoidance, it’s more writing about A200 avoidance.  Why?  Because I hated it.  A200 that is.  I didn’t hate the subject matter which it covered, that I loved.  I just hated studying it and found it extremely dull and although I did well on all the TMAs I did terribly in the exam and just managed to scrape through overall with a grade 4 pass.  It was by far the worst module I ever did with the OU with the worst result I ever received and I’m actually surprised that I wanted to carry on studying after I finished it!  And yet it gave me something which was absolutely priceless too – the start of a wonderful friendship with Laura, a fellow A200er from Manchester whom I met in Devizes of all places.  But more of that later.

So this post contains my recollections on:

  • the module itself (although reading it back there’s more on my gripes about the module than the content itself)
  • the OU forums
  • Urchfont Manor
  • the exam…sigh 😔
  • a trip to see the Foo Fighters (although technically this has absolutely nothing to do with A200 and even happened 6 years after I studied it, but any mention of Dave Grohl is always a bonus I think)

The next bit may be a bit dry as I briefly go through the blocks and overall experience (if it’s dry to read about imagine how dry it was to study it) but here we go….

This was my first Level 2 module with the OU and it was sandwiched in between two modules that I really enjoyed, AZX103 – An Introduction to the Humanities and A218 – Medicine & Society in Europe.  It started in February 2009 and finished in October 2009 and it was a fairly new course, having only started in 2007. The module overall was an introduction to six historical periods, split into 6 blocks, covering European, Atlantic and colonial history and the three themes uniting them all: 1) state formation, 2) producers and consumers and 3) beliefs and ideologies.

  • Block 1 – France, England and Burgundy in the fifteenth century
  • Block 2 – The European Reformation
  • Block 3 – The Wars of the Three Kingdoms
  • Block 4 – Slavery and freedom
  • Block 5 – Creating nations
  • Block 6 – Nations and imperialism 1870 – 1900

But something must have clicked in each of them as I did quite well in all the essays and managed to get a grade 2 pass (between 70-84%) for my OCAS (overall continuous assessment score), which was the overall mark for the TMAs.

And now I move onto the forums, or fora as I suppose they should be known, but I prefer to use the term forums.  Ah yes, the OU forums. Where to start…..

Actually I’m going to start by mentioning that at the end of my studies, with A330, there was no OU forum and boy was I glad of it.  I always found the OU forums not so much intimidating as populated with people who loved the sound of their keyboards, loved to show off their ‘knowledge’ and loved to write in long unintelligible statements by using lots of difficult words when one (ok maybe two) more simple words would have sufficed quite nicely.  The Facebook forums for the particular modules were completely different, much much friendlier, with my favourite being the FB forum for A219 – Exploring the Classical World, in which I made quite a few friends. A330 was a good one too – it must be a Classics thing!

Some people really find the OU forums useful, but for me, they were actually a hindrance.  Yes I could have ignored them but I found them strangely fascinating too (especially when there was an argument difference of opinion going on) and didn’t want to miss anything which I may have found useful, which admittedly did crop up occasionally.  The OU forum on A200 taught me a lot for the future, including not to listen to quite a lot of what was said (written?) and this was brought home to me when one of the more active participants developed a little harem of adoring female followers.  They loved his thoughts on everything to do with the module, without knowing whether he actually knew what he was talking about or not.  He spoke (typed) with authority, knowledge, self possession and an air of academic brilliance and no doubt his enormous ego was stroked brilliantly when his posse used to make observances such as “oh X, you’re so clever”, “oh X, you’re going to do so well in the exam” and “oh X may I quote you?”.

Well, actually X didn’t do so well in the exam.  In fact I found out later that he didn’t do so well throughout the whole module but kept it quiet. I was completely shocked when he told everyone on the forum when the results came through.  Grade 4 pass.  Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do well in this exam at all and received a grade 4 pass also.  In fact, as I’ve said earlier, I very nearly failed it, but then I didn’t profess to know everything as he did.  So it taught me a good lesson for the future – take everything that’s said in the forums with…..

Pinch of salt

And then came the exam.  Sigh.  But before the exam, let’s move onto what came beforehand in the shape of my saviour….Urchfont Manor.

Urchfont 2
Urchfont Manor

Urchfont Manor was a Grade II listed 17th century manor house used as a residential college for adult education, near the village of Urchfont, Wiltshire, approximately 7 miles from the town of Devizes.  It was opened in 1947 and unfortunately closed in 2012 and many Open University accredited study courses were held here, A200 luckily being one of them.

Urchfont’s aim was to give a very intense overview of the whole of A200 in a few days and I really don’t think that I’d have even got a pass if I hadn’t gone there.  One of the learning outcomes for the course was “better knowledge of the course and better prepared for the examination” which in my case translated to any knowledge of the course and any preparation for the examination. Our tutor, PS, was a fantastic tutor and slowly bits of it started coming together.  Urchfont was great and I’d never really experienced anything like it before.  I remember sitting at the breakfast table one day, with 4 or 5 other people I’d only met the day before discussing the Tudors.  Brilliant!  And the food – wow it was amazing!  I’m not really a foodie (although my weight may say otherwise ha!) but this food was fantastic.  Anyway, PS went through the whole module over the course of 4 days, I wrote tons and tons of notes, which helped me no end with my revision.  So thank you PS and thank you Urchfont!

But the best thing about Urchfont came on the afternoon of the first day after we all arrived and were going through the usual painful introductions of where everyone had come from, what modules we’d done before and what we wanted from the course blah blah.  Going round the table, Laura introduced herself and of course my ears pricked up when she said she’d come from Manchester too.  We’ve kept in touch ever since then, had many outings, the pic below on the left is from the Foo Fighters gig in 2015, on a lovely spring day – not, it was bloody freezing and if you look closely you can see Dave somewhere behind us.  This was a few days before he broke his leg so we were lucky to see him!  The others are from Edinburgh Castle and the British Museum.  Our next adventure will be in a few weeks time to Pompeii, Herculaneum and if our legs are up to it, Vesuvius.  Happy days! 🙂

But I digress.

Ok…the exam.  It was on 14th October, the day right after my birthday.  Unfortunately we’d not done any celebrating as I was being anally strict on revising, so I can’t even put my bad result down to a little too much pink champagne the evening before.

Sackville Street Building
The Sackville Building

The exam was held in the Sackville Street Building at the University of Manchester, in the Great Hall, or the scene of the crime as I now think of it.  It was very grand and very daunting but after I’d found the place where I was going to sweat out the next 3 hours I was suddenly overcome with a feeling of gratitude for being able to be doing what I was doing.  Unfortunately this didn’t translate much to the exam paper, but never mind.  It started off not too badly, even though it had been about 15 years since I’d last sat an exam (GCSE in Human Biology).  I’d got my timings of how long to give to each question (thanks to PS at Urchfont) memorised in my non mathematical brain, read the paper through twice and took 10 minutes before writing one word and then jumped in.  I managed to get through it, but what I felt afterwards about how the paper was is a bit hazy, I think I’ve blanked a lot of the experience out of my memory, sometimes a bad memory can be a little bit of a blessing!

But good grief, while I was looking through my notes for this module, I can see how I felt like I was in the wilderness while I was revising – my notes were complete rubbish!  I couldn’t really tell which I’d written while studying, which I’d written at tutorials and which I’d written at Urchfont.  So I’m not surprised that I just scraped through with a grade 4 pass, actually I’m pretty impressed that I managed to do so well!

So overall…what did I learn from doing A200?

  1. Don’t listen to the people who spout their supposed knowledge through their keyboard because a) they usually don’t know what they’re talking about and b) they usually don’t know what they’re talking about.  Yes I meant to write that twice.
  2. I learned how to study and how to revise, albeit retrospectively, but most importantly…..how to put it all together.
  3. The main thing I learned was that revision for an exam starts on DAY ONE of the module, in how I take notes, so as to make it easier when it comes to revision time.
  4. Change my revising place.  This may sound a bit silly, but for the next exam I took (A218) I sat in a different place to the one I’d sat in while revising for A200 and got a good result in the exam and therefore became superstitious after that and sat in exactly the same place for all my future revision.
  5. Try to attend all the tutorials, any snippet of information the tutor gives may be worth a few more marks and is therefore worth giving up a few hours on a Saturday, if you can.

But wow did I learn a lot from the awful revision/exam experience. Thankfully I took on board all of these things and went on to get a much better result in A218.

Doing A200 did help me in another way too.  After I did better in the next couple of modules, I thought that my A200 result would mean that my overall degree result would be dragged down by it.  But in 2016 when I decided to change to the Classical Studies degree, from the History degree, the OU let me downgrade A200 to a Level 1 as I’d already taken three Level 2 modules and I only needed two, and therefore the grade 4 pass didn’t matter.  So that meant that A200 was now deemed to be a Level 1, at least for me anyway.  Yippee!!

I know that some people enjoyed the module but I also know that a lot didn’t.  I don’t think the OU are offering it anymore, I hope its replacement is better!

Goodbye and good riddance!!!

shut the door image

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