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Verity's further education

How the OU can restore its reputation

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Stob The story so far: I stumped up nearly £1000 for an OU computer course (M885 Analysis and design of enterprise systems: an object-oriented approach) and was surprised when the second piece of homework was based on a paper by Madanmohan and De' comprising, in part, plagiarised gibberish. I drew this to the attention of my OU tutor, and then to the OU course chair. Neither was interested, and instead urged me to "[take] the paper at face value irrespective of any doubts you may have". Eventually, the IEEE admitted the plagiarism.

El Reg's Andrew Orlowski contacted the OU to try to find out what was going on. He received a most peculiar set of replies, culminating with a wild suggestion from their communications director Derek Prior that the choice of a garbage paper had been deliberate, that anyone noticing that the paper was duff was 'right on the money', and that my reaction had been 'exemplary'. But he was then unable to explain why my attempts to point out exactly this information had been shrugged off, and my answer to question 2 awarded null points.

As a Reg commenter astutely observed, it seemed to be a case of the OU emulating Captain Mainwaring's fondly-remembered but unconvincing attempts to claim credit retrospectively: "Well done, Pike - I was waiting for somebody to spot that."

Return of the PR person

Now the OU has put in another PR expert to sort it all out for us (Mr Prior presumably having retired hurt). Jane Dillon, head of media relations, sends us the following comment, which she hopes "in the interest of balance" will appear in its entirety.

Certainly, Ms Dillon. Here you go:

The Open University has given The Register a full explanation of the use of the article questioned by Verity Stob. To date, that explanation has not been fairly represented in The Register's reporting. The first two chapters of this postgraduate course are meant to equip students with skills to critically examine sources of new information in this emerging field of knowledge, which is a standard expectation of any postgraduate education. The assignment in question tests students' ability to critically evaluate content. The text is not part of the teaching material for the course, but a means to let students demonstrate mastery of the first two chapters of the course. It is ironic that this blog, and subsequent posts, largely illustrate the purpose of the course: the encouragement of robust and open debate.

This seems to me to be a reiteration of Mr Prior's position, adding very little and addressing none of the big issues, but let's walk through it a bit at a time.

The first two sentences are a matter of the Reg's word against the OU's, which I cannot usefully discuss. You must make up your own mind, dear reader. That brings us to:

The first two chapters of this postgraduate course are meant to equip students with skills to critically examine sources of new information in this emerging field of knowledge, which is a standard expectation of any postgraduate education.

Actually I think Ms Dillon means 'the first chapter' where she writes 'the first two chapters', as by the time we were supposed to attempt question 2, we had only read chapter 1 of the course. (By the way, Ms Dillon, I still have all the PDF files relating to M885 to hand. Do let me know if by any chance you are missing some or all of them. Don't want to be fighting a lost cause with one hand tied behind your back.)

Even allowing this, I am afraid I don't recognise chapter 1 from Ms Dillon's description. Let me sketch it for you. It's one of those introductory chapters that starts with a dismissal of that ever-popular straw man, the waterfall development process, discovers iterative development and all the associated advantages, then goes on to provide summaries and definitions of familiar OO terms such as 'object' and 'class' and 'UML' and 'pattern'. And that's it. No equipment for critically examining sources of new information that I can see. What would such a thing look like?

But perhaps I have missed it. If Ms D would like to cite any passage of chapter 1 that supports her suggestion, I would be intrigued.

The assignment in question tests students' ability to critically evaluate content.

Indeed, it tests it to destruction.

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