Over the last five years I have been studying for a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) with the Open University in my spare time… I don’t have a lot of spare time but, as they were topics that interested me and I was reading books on them anyway, I thought why not get a qualification at the same time?
The first three years of the degree went fine – I did the sensible one 60-credit module per year route, spending a reasonable amount of time on readings and assignments and getting good marks. In the fourth year (my final 60 credits of Level 5/Year Two) I got a bit bored though – I found the politics module I was studying rather dry and boring and, whilst my marks were still good, I started to wonder why I was really doing this.
Last year (August 2013) I felt I had to make a decision- quit where I was with 240 credits and maybe take it on at a later date, or really go for it – take both Level 6/Year Three modules at the same time and just get it out of the way… and that is what I did.
So there I am being a full-time academic running a Psychology programme and now taking on 120 credits of a tough degree… and then came the opportunity to complete my PCET teaching course. I’d been banging on about doing this but having no opportunity to do it for the last five years so when the university came up with a plan that allowed me to do it I felt like I could hardly turn it down.
It was a ridiculous state to be in… something had to give. I wanted all of these things but it simply wasn’t possible to do all the things I needed to in the time I had. And so I made my choice… readings for my PPE got a cursory glance (if at all); the 36 hours per week of suggested time on the degree was an hour or two at most if I could fit it in. Essays were written in the final three hours before the submission deadline. I went into one of the exams having done no revision other than what I could cram into the half hour sat outside the exam hall (I was pretty sure I’d failed that one coming out but just managed to scrape a pass mark).
Given the amount of time I spent on learning over those final 120 credits, and the amount of weighting given to those modules when calculating the degree classification, I’m actually very proud of that 2.2. Given the circumstances it was achieved in I doubt many people would have done so well (I also passed my PCET and did lots of psychology stuff throughout the year, for the record).
I can imagine though that without the above context many people would say ‘Oh, you only got a 2.2 in your degree’… not only is that below the magical ‘2.1’ that is now seen by many students as the ‘acceptable’ level of degree to be achieved, but shouldn’t I be doing better than that? After all, I’ve already got two other degrees, a Masters and a PhD… what happened?
And that is why I want my students (all students actually) to know this – because even I, with all of the advantages that my abilities and prior learning could take to that degree, couldn’t circumvent that issue of not giving enough time to my studies. I didn’t have the time to read the things I needed to read, to develop the arguments I needed to improve my understanding, to write in a way that would show my understanding. If I can’t do that then why do so many students think that they can?
I have known many students (not just my own, but students across many universities and many different courses) who don’t spend time on readings, on writing essays, on revision for exams – certainly not the amount of time required. Classes on active reading strategies are poorly attended, books on writing and revision lay dusty on library shelves. Talk about amount of ‘notional learning hours’ is met with horror by some. And that is fine… as long as you are prepared to accept what that piece of paper says at the end of it all.
There are a number of reasons why students may not be able to do all of the work required – some may just be lazy and not work hard enough; some may have hectic lifestyles that don’t allow them to devote the time they need; others may think they have enough ability to get by on what they are doing. I would put myself in that middle category- I didn’t have the time to do my degree justice. I had choices I could make – I could have not taken on those modules, suspended studies, dropped something else to focus on my studies. Those choices were mine and mine alone.
I’d have loved to get a 2.1 or a first on my PPE, but the choices I made meant that it wasn’t to be. Most students have those same choices to make – and they have to be made, because if I can’t get above a 2.2 putting in minimal effort then neither can most people. So make your choices… because you have to live with the outcomes.