Surviving the OU editor David Wells reflects on a recent visit to the Open University campus and believes students are in safe hands.

Last month I was cordially invited to visit the Open University campus in Milton Keynes. It has taken me a couple of weeks to soak up the experience of the day and jot down my thoughts to share with you all. Despite learning a number of things on my big day out, the main thing that occurred to me from the visit is that Open University Students are in safe hands.

If you want to read a thorough more coherent account of what we got up to then Leanne Goodall’s recent blog post explains it extremely well.

Studying for an Open University degree means that we are posted out the materials, directed to the correct spaces online and left to our own devices for much of the time. So an chance to go and visit “the mothership” or the “centre of the universe” (I’ve heard it described in both of these ways) was an opportunity too good to pass up. On Wednesday, August 26th I ventured down the motorway to Milton Keynes to visit the OU campus.

After leaving Birmingham at 7am and hitting only moderate traffic I rocketed into MK at around 9am. With time to spare I found a shopping centre and grabbed some breakfast. Despite my good timing I managed to get myself lost in the shopping centre and suddenly there was a danger of arriving late. Luckily I found a way out of this labyrinthine structure and drove to the campus which I had already located earlier when I arrived in town. I was on time -slightly early even- and in good spirits.

I had been promised a parking space near to reception and I was a bit concerned that I might not be able to find it. Nonsense! One turn through the barrier and a signpost led me to the car park and a little orange board with my name on. Board moved and car parked, I was all set as the reception walkway was directly opposite.

walton-hallWhile expecting a hefty amount of fellow students and bloggers to be sitting in the room, as it turns out I was the first, and only, person there! Fellow blogger and Surviving the OU contributor Leanne Goodall was en route and along with her travelling companion Steve we were to be the only three doing the mega-tour. Fair enough. OUSA boffins Jess and Heather made me extremely welcome with tea, coffee and plenty of cake.

Heather had planned that we were to take over on social media for the day and after battling with the wifi connection and finding out exactly what we could log into I managed to post on Facebook and Leanne got Twitter up and running. We were posting under the OU Students accounts and Leanne soon made it on to Instagram and even got a Pinterest post sent out. I was busy updating Twitter as the STOU account and flitting back and forth with the OUSA official logins as well.

Space researcher Ben Dryer then showed us around his lab and explained in some detail what he does on a day-to-day basis. I must admit that some of it went over my head but I managed to take in enough to learn that Ben has a pretty cool job and he even works with NASA and the European Space Agency.

Shhhh…you’re in the library!

Throughout the day we found ourselves on Periscope, a relatively new live streaming programme. Attaching the OU phone to a selfie stick and parading around the library, legacy garden and numerous other places was a challenge but great fun and the amount of hearts we had floating around the bottom of the screen apparently means we were a hit.

libraryOne of our periscopes took place inside the library where we managed to find one of the librarians (Selina) who had been watching the live stream and came along to give us a tour. Not only was Selina a great tour guide but she was a natural in front of the camera. We visited the Digilab, searched for book requests given live by our Periscope audience and perused the glass cabinet collection of vintage Open University materials.

Following a great lunch provided by the OUSA (thanks Jess and Heather) we meandered around Walton Hall, a tree sculpture that was apparently formed after a lightening strike and then on to the aforementioned Legacy Garden. The Garden was beautiful and by this time the rain has eased off and the sun started to appear. Leanne and I went back on to Periscope and I went through my OU journey and spoke a bit about my graduation.

Time for Lunch

Time was ticking along a lot quicker than any of us anticipated and before long we back indulging in tea, coffee and cake inside the OUSA offices before we went into the “interrogation cubicle” (joking!) for a chat with Jess and Heather about their work with the university and giving our personal experiences. What struck me about them is the passion and drive they have to help Open University students and are trying really hard to improve the website, the service and overall experience. Heather got some audio interviews, we received an OU gift bag with pens, stickers, tea bags and other goodies before finally leaving the campus and embarking on the big journey home.

Overall this was a fantastic experience and it was a pleasure to spend the day in the company of such great people. The OUSA are doing such a great job and they are so receptive to new ideas and really want to engage students and help them. Even if some things may not be so clear, like the website layout or the structure of student elections, they are working hard to improve the message and help out as many learners as possible. As I said at the beginning of this post, the Open University Students are in safe hands.

Have you ever visited OU campus? Do you have any questions or did you enjoy this article or find it useful? Please LIKE/TWEET/SHARE and drop a comment below with your thoughts. Either way let’s get the conversation going and help each other move forward.