The books I’ve found most useful for DD303. Items marked with an asterisk* are recommended because they are more readable than purely academic writing whilst also thoroughly covering the topic.
- Study skills
- Part 3: Language & Thought
- Chapter 11: Problem Solving
- Chapter 12: Judgement and Decision Making & Chapter 13: Reasoning
Learning from feedback is the shortest route to making progress on OU modules and the best resource for addressing individual issues is the feedback you get from your tutor. However, without a methodical approach for processing this feedback I’ve found that I haven’t made the most of this resource. The most explicit OU guidance I’ve found is useful but still too general (what or where is a TMA review form?). It took me until TMA03 on my final module to come up with a fairly simple approach that I could have applied from the first module I took and which I’m convinced would have accelerated my writing development.
My search for a better way to use feedback started by looking for patterns in my tutor’s comments on TMA01 after getting a disappointing grade. Although the process was fairly ad hoc at that stage I think it was my major breakthrough. I’ve now formalised the process a little by doing a mini thematic analysis (hello DD307!) on my tutor’s comments and putting the results in a spreadsheet. This sounds like more effort than it actually is and the payoff is that you get a clear cumulative, qualitative and quantitative view of your progress than when the comments are sitting alongside your TMA in a document. I’ll outline the process which should be enough to understand the benefits and create your own spreadsheet if you want to take it that far.
- Create three columns: Theme, Positive, Negative. Take a TMA and work through your tutor’s comments classifying them as positive or negative and giving them a top level theme. It may take a few passes to produce your final set of themes. I ended up with themes including ‘Introduction’, ‘Define terms’, ‘Point’, ‘Flow’ etc.
- Repeat with as many TMAs as you have/feel like processing. (You could even go back to TMAs from earlier modules).
- That’s it!
The results of this process are revealing, even with a single TMA. Counting the number of positive and/or negative comments for each theme gives a quantitative measure of your strengths and weaknesses. Reading the comments for a weakness should give you a hint as to which aspect needs improvement. For example, I consistently get positive comments on the points that I make but equally consistently get negative comments that I don’t fully explain points or follow them through (I can actually trace this weakness back to comments at level 2). The real benefit comes when you start looking at trends across TMAs. For example, if you’re doing something right then the positive total should be going up and the negative going down! If it isn’t, again start looking at the details of the comments for the themes where negatives outweigh positives. Another interesting thing to emerge is positive/negative reversions. For example, in TMA01 I have a positive comment under my ‘Introduction’ theme “sets scene” but on TMA03 a negative comment “doesn’t set scene”! This is great as it clearly indicates that my tutor wants me to set the scene in the introduction, so I should never make that mistake again. Also, when you get both positive and negative comments on the same theme you can easily trace the comments back to examples from your own writing of what works and what doesn’t. Together, these are like the extended commentary I mentioned above but personalised for your own writing development. Finally, by reviewing your analysis before writing each TMA you can highlight your own personal writing issues that you want address. A good way to do this is to add your own comments to the TMA you’re working on and delete them before submission when you’re happy they’ve been addressed.
Each cycle of feedback processing should improve your ability to criticise your own work prior to submission. This is an ongoing process and I take comfort when I read the gratitude that professional authors give to others that read their drafts. Another way to develop this skill is to assess other people’s work as it eliminates the difficult problem of having to “step back” from your own writing. Activity 10.1 in The Good Study Guide is worth doing to get a flavour for this. I agree with the author’s suggestion on page 248 that
It is also an excellent idea to swap essay plans and marked essays with other students and share writing strategies and tips.
However, this starts to tread the thin line between collaboration and collusion (OU students only) and to avoid the consequences of plagiarism (disciplinary action) I was advised by a staff tutor to only do this “privately, in a very limited way and only well after the particular TMA is due”. Another useful resource is extended commentary on student work. This often goes beyond tutor comments by explaining why writing did or didn’t work. Sadly these aren’t available for all modules (I haven’t found any for DD303) and tend to be hard to track down (see Resources below).
In my opinion (and to misquote Kierkegaard) though the OU presents DD303 forwards it’s better understood backwards. Considering what comes last (the exam) at the start of the module can help optimise your reading strategy. The approach suggested below encourages active reading by associating each chapter with answering one or more questions. It also provides a framework for allocating reading time throughout the module. Although they were formed independently, many of these ideas overlap with the SQ3R approach. A small amount of preparation is required. At the start of the module gather as many questions as you can (good sources are specimen exam paper, past exam papers, revision packs and generating your own) and divide the questions based on which chapter they relate to. This is actually quite a good orienting exercise at the start of the module and I recommend putting each category of questions into a separate document. Before reading a chapter, check to see whether it relates to a TMA essay or a potential exam question (they’re mutually exclusive). This should influence the way you read the chapter and take notes.
Essay TMAs have two options, so if you’re happy to chose one before reading either chapter you can focus your effort on that chapter. If you’re reading a TMA chapter then use the question to guide your reading and note taking. Because you know the question you’re expected to answer (and that there won’t be any other questions directly related to this topic on the exam) you don’t need to create revision notes in a format for answering (unseen) exam questions. This is both active learning (you’re trying to answer a question) and efficient (you’re creating the notes that will become your TMA). For the option you’re not doing you can still use the question to focus your reading but you don’t have to worry about turning any notes you take into a TMA.
Exam chapters require a different approach. Because you don’t know exactly what the questions will be, use the questions you prepared from past papers to guide your reading. I tend to print these out and keep referring back to them so I get a feel for how what I’m reading might answer the type of questions that may be asked. In contrast with TMA chapters, the notes you take will need to cover the whole chapter to account for the uncertainty associated with exam questions. As with TMAs, it’s worth taking some time to look at the bigger picture of the exam so you can make an informed decision on how to allocate your reading time. Part 1 of the exam covers parts 1 and 2 of the book and part 2 of the exam covers parts 3 and 4. TMA topics won’t appear on the exam but at least one question from each book part will. If you’re still following me, this means that (after removing TMA chapters) some book parts have fewer chapters to cover to guarantee an associated question on the exam. In 2014 this potentially reduces (from 3 to 2) the number of chapters you need to cover for exam purposes. However, taking this strategy does constrain you to topics you may not necessarily find most interesting.