Feeds

Stob latest: It was a cunning trick, says Open University

Pull the other one

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Why does the Open University set its students gibberish, Verity Stob asked here recently? We decided to investigate. As our enquiries continued at the Open University, it became harder to find anyone who took the issue seriously.

Two weeks into one of the modules in the OU's Comp Sci postgraduate course - M885 Analysis and design of enterprise systems: an object oriented approach - students were set a tutor-marked assessment. The basis of the questions was a paper published by the IEEEs Software journal. However, the paper contained passages that made about as much sense as a computer-generated spam blog. Some of the words used were relevant to the topic, but sentences and whole paragraphs made no sense - and Open University students were directed to the meaningless passages.

"You would expect higher education to provide you with source information and references that were not only relevant, but also not worded in such a way that gives the impression someone just put a thesaurus through a shredder and taped bits in sequence to pad out their work," reader Steven Raith commented after reading the story.

It seemed incredible that a publicly funded university devising a postgraduate-level course could, with a straight face, use such nonsense.

After Verity Stob raised concerns about the paper, the course tutor admitted he had not read the paper "in detail yet", but advised the student that "overall, the marking schemes for the easy questions are very flexible".

The tutor isn't responsible for setting the course material, the questions or the marking assessments. It's a part-time job. The real responsibility in this case, course M885, fell to Dr Lucia Rapanotti. Dr Rapanotti gave Verity the distinct impression of not being very familiar with the material either, but passed on the assurance that it had been endorsed by "a prestigious peer-reviewed journal", and advised the student to answer it anyway.

But not only was the Madanmohan and De paper gibberish, it was irrelevant to object-oriented analysis: Designing and implementing object models. It wasn't the first time students had been set a puzzling example.

In another question on the same course, students were posed a question based on a paper called Ten Commandments of Formal Methods …Ten Years Later, by Jonathan P. Bowen and Michael G. Hinchey (IEEE Computer, 2006). Formal Methods, which went out of fashion in the mid-1990s, has nothing at all do with object-oriented analysis. One may as well ask students to describe why unicycles are no longer popular.

We mailed Dr Rapanotti and the head of the department, Darrel Ince, requesting interviews.

"I don't even see it as a story," the Open University’s PR guy Louis Delafloret told us. One man's gibberish might be another man's work of genius, he suggested, "like Jane Austen".

"Sorry to disappoint you but I will not be giving you an interview," Ince replied, loftily. "You will be getting a detailed rebuttal." Eventually word was passed down from the elusive Dr Rapanotti, in the form of a 125-word statement.

She explained that, "The article was used with full confidence of authenticity expected of this global leader specialising in peer-reviewed technical articles." Yet she completely failed to address the issue of why the article was nonsense, or why it had been chosen. As an exercise in answering the question, this merited as a “fail”.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Download alert: Nearly ALL top 100 Android, iOS paid apps hacked
Attack of the Clones? Yeah, but much, much scarier – report
You stupid BRICK! PCs running Avast AV can't handle Windows fixes
Fix issued, fingers pointed, forums in flames
Microsoft: Your Linux Docker containers are now OURS to command
New tool lets admins wrangle Linux apps from Windows
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
First in line to order a Nexus 6? AT&T has a BRICK for you
Black Screen of Death plagues early Google-mobe batch
prev story

Whitepapers

Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Driving business with continuous operational intelligence
Introducing an innovative approach offered by ExtraHop for producing continuous operational intelligence.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?