How far should we really go when fixing other people’s problems?

It’s one of those rambly posts with more questions than answers, so be warned if you’re not a fan of those!

People wear me out sometimes – in a way that my dog never did!

Not all people – although having a job, which I love, but which involves a lot of people contact, I do get to the point where I’m all peopled out sometimes and just want to be left alone in the bath or with my book. This doesn’t include S – but sometimes if I’m feeling overstimulated, the last thing I want is more social interaction.

But no, I’m not talking about that.

I’m talking about the comments I read on social media or blog posts.

“You should cut her out of your life”

“Demand that they”

“You need this right now…”

“You’ll never feel better unless you”

“Your problem is that you…”

“you need to eat more/less/try … and then you’ll feel better/then your medically diagnosed condition will be gone! I know that, even though I have no qualifications and don’t actually know anything about your problem or medical history!”

You get the idea.

When did we all become such experts about what complete strangers should do with their lives, and why do we have to be so emotionally charged and demanding? How can we sound like we have the definitive answer when we might not fully understand the problem? We go straight in there with our solutions, without even fully understanding the context or what consequenses our great advice might have. Hey, it might even make the problem worse – but never mind. The main thing is we were seen to contribute somehow!

It makes my head hurt!

It’s not that I haven’t fought for my rights or put people in their place or made sure that someone did their job properly. But all this advice about someone else’s life? Is it really justified, when we can never completely have all the facts from a few lines on Facebook? Isn’t there a better way to show we care?

Ok, there are stories online that just make me angry or incredibly sad. There are stories that make me want to get involved and offer up a suggestion of something that I’ve tried. There are times when I see a way out of a situation, or just want to tell someone to hang in there because I don’t actually have anything useful to add, but I equally don’t want to just click on past as ifI hadn’t seen it.

But sometimes people aren’t actually asking for our advice. They just want a place to offload their feelings, or someone to listen in a world of people growing gradually worse at doing just that.Listening. Without interrupting or offering well-meaning, but unqualified advice.

Paper, or rather a laptop keyboard, is patient. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t chime in with “yes I had a vaguely related but completely different situation like that and I…”

I’m not saying we shouldn’t empathise, but so often people don’t even get a chance to finish their story because someone else is champing at the bit to add their input, give some advice, or share how they felt in a similar situation. But it’s not about them right now. It’s about the person who wants to share.

I wasn’t going to write about this today. It wasn’t on my list of blogging ideas. But it just kind of hit me as I was reading the comments on someone else’s post. I felt a bit sorry for her.

If any complete stranger starts a comment with “you’ve got to” it immediately makes me want to say “no I haven’t”. Childish? Maybe. But I don’t like being told what to do at the best of times! Never mind by a complete stranger! You win me over with reasoned arguments. There are a couple of people who I’ll listen to just because of who they are – I value their opinion whatever it is – but that kind of respect has to be earned and that list isn’t very long!

Have you considered …? Do you think it would help if …? Have you heard about …? Did you know that …? … might help. You could try …

Sometimes I think people just want to be seen as publicly helping, or an expert on a particular topic, and it’s not even about the one who wants help.

Also, the thing I did before reading random blog comments involved offering up suggestions on a Facebook post – one that was written by someone whom I don’t know, whose child I don’t know, and who lives in a country with a completely different school system to the one I know. She did actually want advice, and hopefully mine helped, but I hope I didn’t boss her around like some of the other comments I’ve seen today.

I think most of the time we want to help. When it’s our friends, we want to be seen to be giving support. We genuinely care. Sometimes it makes us rage to see friends being treated badly or taken advantage of.

I know how that feels to want to charge in and put a friend’s world to rights. But sometimes you can push people further away if you do that. Nobody wins. As long as that friend knows they can come to you for help when they need it…

We can’t make other people’s decisions for them.

Then there are the Facebook rants where people want all their friends to agree. We only ever get one side of the story.

If a friendship falls apart and someone starts ranting on social media – is the other person really to blame, or just a bit more classy because they’re not up for a Facebook mud-slinging match? Is the person who shouts the loudest always right? How much fake news is there in our own newsfeeds because people only present the part of the problem that doesn’t make themselves look bad? How much do we question what we read so that we can get the full context before jumping on the bandwagon and condemning people who have no right to reply because they’re not even aware of what is being written about them?

I’m just churning out questions here, but it’s something I’ve kept noticing, so I decided to write about it.

It’s not that I’m anti-social media either. Yes, there are some bad practices that need to be challenged, but ultimately social media is just a tool that we can either use well or badly. The choice is ours.

People have been giving unwanted or really bad advice for years and years – think of some of the crazy wives’ tales. But social media does give us a microphone to reach further than our immediate circle of friends, and that is something new.

So yes, go and help people, give them advice if you can, show you care, encourage people to stand up for themselves when others want to keep them down. But don’t tell people how to run their lives, what diet they should try, what they’re doing wrong, or the only thing that will work if they want to fix their problems. Often there are many solutions and what worked once for you might not work this time. Offer suggestions, but the final choice is not yours to make.

The daft part about this is that people who read my blog probably aren’t the people who would do any of these things. That’s the other problem.

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Life of a mature student – how to find time for studying when you don’t have a fixed timetable

When I was at school, it always filled me with dread – that first week back when you got your timetable. I was fine once I knew what was happening, but the thought of whether my Monday morning would be full of my least favourite things such as maths and PE always made me a bit anxious – until I knew what my week would look like for the rest of the year, and then it was ok.

Generally I enjoyed school. But I felt better when I knew how it would all fit together. Which rooms I’d have to go to and when. Which homework tasks would be set on which days. Then there was order to the chaos!

Sometimes people seem to think that I was just born organised, but there’s more to it than that. As human beings, we generally take the path of least resistance, and being disorganised stresses me out way more than planning a bunch of systems and processes does. I know we’re not all the same.

So, with no lectures to attend, how do you get organised and plan your study time for a long-distance degree course?

How does it work at the Open University?

The Open university is different in that you don’t attend weekly lectures. Most learning happens when you’re working through the materials on your own. Some may find this lonely – I find it liberating because you can set your own schedule and are not restricted by what others are doing.

There are tutorials, which in a way can be like lectures, but there is a list of them for you to choose from, so you’re never tied to having to be in a specific place at a specific time, unless you want to attend a particular face-to-face event, or to go to all of your own tutor’s tutorials. The tutorials are not mandatory, but they can be useful when you’re planning your assignments or if you don’t understand something.

I opt for the online ones, and so far there have been tutorials available on weekday evenings, so I can just hop on to the call from my desk after work. That works well for me because I don’t actually need to take time out of work to do it.

There are some deadlines, such as assignment deadlines. In my last module, there were six to do.

Some people leave them to the very last moment, but again, that would stress me out too much – what if I got ill or something? So I did most of mine around a week before the cut-off date.

Otherwise though, you don’t have someone sitting there telling you what you should be doing, and you don’t have a group of people sitting in a physical space together, working through the materials together. There are forums where you can ask for help, and most modules have a Facebook group, but you really need to be responsible for your own learning strategy and time management.

The weekly planner

I don’t know whether everyone uses it, but I find the weekly planner on the student home page really useful. Ok, there is a certain satisfaction to ticking off tasks and sections of the book once they’re complete. This makes the percentage bar go up and you feel as though you’re getting somewhere!

More than that though, the content is broken down into weeks. I found it really helped to follow this plan and pretty much stuck to it all the way through the first module. I find it bizarre that the week starts on a Saturday, but I just choose to ignore this and pretend that it starts on the Monday!

There are no penalties for not following the planner though – nobody checks – and you’d only have problems if you missed one of the assignment deadlines.

Some people will try to cram everything in at the end. Others will steam off ahead and ask about things that nobody has even seen yet! What people do is really up to them, but if you’re doing a collaborative activity, complaining about the fact that nobody else is participating when it is in fact you that is 4 weeks ahead of everyone else is not going to make you any friends!

General tips for staying on track with your studies

Whether you’re at the Open University or doing other distance learning courses, these tips might help you to work through your study materials.

  • Don’t leave everything till the last minute. Your brain can only absorb so much information at once, and cramming is a risky strategy, especially if unexpected personal circumstances come up, there are technical difficulties, or you discover there’s something that you need more help with.
  • If your course provides a timetable, try to use it. It can make three big books of information and tasks feel a lot more manageable. If you don’t have the material broken down for you, invest the time in making your own weekly planner, taking into consideration any holidays or weeks when you know you’ll have less time.
  • Understand that you’ll be able to sail through some sections because it’s something you know already or something that comes naturally to you. Other things will take a bit more time. With me, it’s always the maths, but I know that and can plan in extra time for it.
  • Once you have your weekly plan, try and break it down further. I generally try to do a bit each weekday and then finish off anything I didn’t manage at the weekend. I’m lucky because I’m self-employed and can set aside some time for this during working hours if I need to. But whether you do it in your work day or a bit each evening – you need to work out what works best for you. You may find it better to have two longer sessions at the weekend – but then bear in mind that there is less time for slippage. Blocking out time in your diary can help – I put mine in like meetings that I have to attend. There will always be other things that need our attention, which is why it’s useful to schedule study time in advance.
  • Find somewhere that feels like a place for working, and try to work there. Set it up in a way that’s comfortable, with less distractions, and try to make it somewhere where you won’t be disturbed. Keep all of your books and materials there, so you won’t waste study time hunting around for them. Try to limit distractions there. I just use the desk in my office, but if you don’t have that, try to identify a place where it will be easy for you to work.
  • Focus on what you’re doing, not what everyone else is doing. I understand that some people feel more relaxed if they can get themselves a few weeks ahead and hand in their assignments as soon as possible. That’s cool. But some people like to brag about it, which is not so cool. The people on your course can be good allies – you can help one another, have interesting discussions, and be there on days when either of you has had enough. But ultimately you are never going to see these people again unless you come across them on another module. So sure, be inspired by them, but don’t let them make you feel inadequate if someone is boasting about how quickly they did a task or how easy something was for them. What’s really important for your success is how you’re doing.
  • Don’t leave it too late to ask for help. I can’t move on to the next section if I don’t understand something because it will keep bothering me. I won’t be able to stop thinking about the thing until the thing has been resolved! In some ways this serves me well, but I have seen other people really struggling alone with things and only admitting it very late in the module. There are so many places to get help – tutors, other students, friends, the internet. Some of these people will be under more pressure as exam or assignment deadlines get closer, so it is often better to get your questions in as they come up. Sometimes rereading the same thing multiple times won’t make it any clearer – you need to find another strategy to understand the concept.
  • Know when to take breaks. I’m better at this if my partner is around. When he isn’t, I’ve been known to still be sitting at my desk at stupid o’clock trying to get something finished! But generally that’s a one-off. We aren’t machines. We need basic things like sleep, food, water, exercise. It’s tough because distance learning students often have a whole bunch of other stuff going on such as jobs, family commitments etc, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It won’t help if you burn yourself out because you overestimated how much you could do in one sitting.
  • Expect to have good and bad days. I wasn’t fond of one section in my last module. My motivation levels were down. I couldn’t wait to see the back of it! But that’s normal. Each module covers a range of information and some things will be easier for you than others. Some things will be more interesting than others. Don’t let how you feel about yourself and your ability to do the whole course be determined by how you feel about one particular task.
  • Celebrate the small wins – it makes you feel good before moving on to the next assignment or chunk of learning. Who doesn’t like a celebration? But seriously, breaking the material down into more manageable pieces can certainly help if at first you feel a bit overwhelmed.

Do you have any more tips? Let me know in the comments!

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Life of a student – the first 4 months of my Open University course

Back in October I wrote my first post about my studies, before the first module had started. It was exciting, and in some ways I didn’t know what to expect. My previous experience with the same university, but a different subject area, had not been great in terms of accessibility for visually impaired students, so I guess I was a bit apprehensive, even though it seemed a lot of progress had been made in terms of accessibility.

Now it’s four months later and I’ve nearly finished two out of three blocks in my first module. So how’s it been?

The topics

The first module that I chose is called Introduction to computing and information technology, which, as the name suggests, gives you a basic foundation in a number of topics, that you can then go on to develop, depending on which path through the degree you choose.

Block 1 was really varied and interesting. Some things were more familiar to me, such as writing basic HTML and recording and manipulating sound. These are both things I do all the time at work, even if the sound production for the podcast is done using different software. It felt nice to know that I wasn’t completely starting from scratch in these areas!

Other things included a basic introduction to how computers have developed over time – not at all technical, but I didn’t know much about the history, so that was good.

Some of the maths gave me a headache, but I discovered quickly that it was more the way some concepts were being explained and not that I was just too stupid to be able to do it. More about the maths in my do I really hate maths? post.

We also looked at considerations for product design and then usability testing for websites, which is something I offer with a specific focus on accessibility. Some of the design concepts were a bit harder for me to visualise as someone who doesn’t know things that most others take for granted such as what certain icons look like (I just care about what they do and that they have been labelled properly) But this didn’t prevent me from understanding the concepts or answering the questions.

We also had an introduction to databases – the ideas for which weren’t new, but the writing of basic queries was.

Block 2 was less enjoyable for me because it focussed on programming, in itself not a problem, but it was taught using a horrid visual programming language, which involves dragging blocks of code around with your mous and assembling them to create programmes. I can’t use a mouse and neither can I see animated characters moving around on my screen.

I really wish we could have started with something less visual and more applicable to real life, but you have to wait for the next module before you start learning textual programming languages. This made me sad, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least the theory and concepts would be useful, even if the practical stuff required me to rely more heavily on a sighted assistant than I would normally want to.

I told my assistant what I wanted them to do and they gave me feedback about what happened visually, because the resulting programmes only run in the inaccessible software where you create them.

I went into the module knowing what I was getting in to, but all of the routes through the IT degree begin with these first two modules, so there was really no way round it. On the plus side, the most inaccessible part of the whole degree is done, because if there’s another module with such a high content of inaccessible material, I’ll just choose another – the advantages of choosing an open degree where you pick all of your own modules!

This module has three distinct blocks and block 3 is about networking. It looks a lot more interesting than block 2, although the main reason I didn’t enjoy block 2 was the programming language itself, not the concept of programming, which if written in a textual language, should be very accessible. And after all, I’m a linguist. I like languages and the rules that govern how you can use them. These rules are adhered to even more strictly in programming, than in languages such as English with its many exceptions to grammar rules, so there’s even less room for error.

Keeping on track

You get an online planner on your student home page and you can see what content you’re supposed to cover each week. It seems some people like getting weeks ahead and then showing off about it in the forums. I’ve no problem with getting ahead, but do you really need to keep going on about it?

Anyway, for most of the weeks, I set aside some time each day in my calendar and did part of that week’s work. I treated it like any other task I have to get done throughout the day and built it into my weekly planner. This worked well, although it took more effort to get my act together and stay motivated during block 2 because I wasn’t enjoying it as much.

Over Christmas I just really wanted to be done with it, so I got ahead of myself, finished the block and submitted the assignment relating to it.The end of the block wasn’t as bad because it looked at some of the concepts we’d been learning in the horrid visual language, and compared it with the same code in Python and Java – only simple things, but they made much more sense to me and gave me hope for the future!

The materials

I get printed books like everyone else, but I can’t use these, so I have been using the online versions of the books. They’re great! You can have the whole block appear on one page, which makes it really long, but then it’s easier to navigate the book using Jaws and jump around the document via the headings.

There are also downloadable or audio versions for people who want to learn that way, and it’s definitely good that more options are available now than there were when I was first looking at studying

a different module many years ago.

At first the image descriptions were missing, but afterI flagged this, my tutor was quick to help me track them down.

Working online

For me, working online is the best part. You don’t have to go anywhere. You don’t have to shift a load of access technology somewhere. You don’t have to rely on inaccessible printed books, or stacks of Braille books like I had at school. Braille books are great, but they take up a lot of room!

As someone who is self-employed, I’m lucky that I can set aside some time for study, but not having to go to physical lectures means that I can fit the work in when I have time for it, andI don’t have to work around a preset schedule. I love that!

This kind of course means that you spend a lot of time working on your own. Some people might miss the company, but I don’t. I can work collaboratively, but I don’t need other people to be around for me to stay motivated. In fact, working on my own in my quiet office is my favourite thing!

There are a couple of tutorials in each block. There’s a range of dates and you book in for the ones that you want to attend. I only want to attend online ones and whilst it’s easy to book them, the system used for accessing them is not very accessible for screenreader users.

In fact it’s the worst kind of inaccessible – the flaky kind. Sometimes it works and other times the screenreader loses focus and then you’re done for unless you leave the meeting and come back. The app didn’t seem that good either, although I haven’t tested it with an active meeting room link.

Basically I can attend and hear everything that’s going on, but due to issues with my screenreader losing focus, I can’t access the chat window reliably. To be honest I don’t care much – I can email any questions in at the end. It would be nice to participate more, but the tutorials aren’t really used much for discussion or working on projects – it’s more about the tutor explaining things. At school I was often that kid who knew the answer, but never put her hand up, so although I’d be happier if they switched to something more accessible, I don’t feel it affects my overall experience too much.

Also, my tutor has a list of all the tutorials I booked in for, and he contacted the other tutors to ask that they send me their slides in advance so that I can read them outside of the conference software. Usually the slides are made available afterwards.

In more general terms, my tutor has been quick to respond to emails, answering questions or chasing things up when I haven’t had what I needed.

Contact with others

Most of the time, you work on your own. That’s not to say that there is no contact with others, but you have to be a bit proactive and hunt it out. Still, there are plenty of opportunities to find others on your course.

There is a list of forums on the main website, with a specific one for each module. I’ve also found some Facebook groups (one for each module, and also some more general interest ones). There’s a Slack channel, which isn’t used heavily, but it’s there. There’s a Discord channel, which I honestly haven’t bothered with much because the app was a bit annoying, and I don’t think much is happening there. At the other end of the scale, there’s a WhatsApp group that I had to leave because it crashed my phone and I didn’t want to download 250 messages each time I wanted to look at it.But yes, anyone who’s looking for more contact with other students can join the Whatsapp group and their phone won’t stop buzzing with social interactions!

I attended a face-to-face meet-up too, which was nice enough, but there was no one there from any of the IT courses. So whilst it was nice to have a chat, it wasn’t that beneficial in terms of the course.

If there’s a problem, you have to be more direct about addressing it than you perhaps would in a face-to-face setting where people can see you.

These past few weeks have been tough, not so much because of the inaccessibility, but because of how being more dependent made me feel. I tend to withdraw if I’m not ok, find a solution, maybe hunt out one person that I trust to talk about it with, and then come back and be more sociable. That’s fine for me, but if someone really needed help or support, they would need to be upfront about it, because otherwise people wouldn’t know. So you need to be able to communicate somewhere, either to your tutor or in one of the groups, if something isn’t ok and you need help with it.

Assessments

I’ve completed two online assessments, received 1 assignment back, and submitted the second one. I’m not going to go into my marks here, but I’m happy with them – apart from some points I needlessly dropped by not double-checking something – grr!

Overall thoughts

Overall I’m enjoying both the online study experience and the introduction to computing and IT module. I didn’t enjoy the last block, and if any blind person who uses a screenreader is planning to do this module, they will need to bear in mind that they’ll need sighted assistance for the practical tasks in block two. All of the actual work needs to be your own, but you’ll need someone to move your mouse to drag the code blocks around and describe what they see.

If I hadn’t had such a good assistant with whom I can work well, my experience would have been much worse!

But I want to focus on the positives, because the theory and concepts I picked up in block 2 will help me when it comes to the introduction to Python in the next module. Also, block 3 looks a lot more accessible, so in accessibility terms, I think the worst is over.

In more general terms, I think it’s natural that for whatever reason, whether it’s to do with accessibility or just what you like and are good at, you’re going to like some parts of a course more than others. That’s life. Yes, it would have been better if a text-based alternative had been available to the visual coding language, but it wasn’t and I kept plodding on through. Sometimes you just need to get things done so you can move on to something else.

I’ve basically got a week off now because next week people are supposed to be working on their assignments and I’ve already finished mine. So I’ll enjoy that and then I’m looking forward to starting the networking topic.

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Good things in November

I’m trying to get my November favourites in before the end of November because tomorrow is the beginning of Blogmas! It’s a bit shorter this month because some of the things that I’ve been enjoying will get their own post as part of my Christmas content. I’ve been enjoying getting ready for Blogmas over the last couple of weeks, so I suppose that is a kind of favourite before I’ve even started!

1. Mango products!

We went for dinner with some friends who clearly know me very well! We hadn’t seen them for a while and I was given my birthday present – some delicious mango chocolates, which are not in the picture because by the time we got round to taking it, they had already been opened or eaten, and a selection of products from the Body Shop’s mango range. I think someone has been reading my blog!

There were firm favourites such as the mango shower gel, the mango body butter, and the mango body yoghurt – all of which I can definitely recommend. I also got the mango lip butter, which contains mango oil and smells good enough to eat, and the mango body scrub, which I hadn’t tried before, but which is a soluble sugar scrub. I don’t usually use physical scrubs, but if I do, this is the best type because it’s grainy and you get the scrubbing action, but because you’re using sugar particles, they dissolve and don’t stay around.

So all in all I’ve been walking around smelling like a giant mango!

We talk a lot about the Body Shop®’s festive scents, but if you know someone likes a specific line from the Body Shop, you can just as easily put together a lovely gift from that line.

2. Feelunique pick ‘n mix

I won’t talk about this at length because I wrote a post about it, but I enjoyed finding another way to try out some new products to test on the blog!

3. Toffee apple

This is really random and I hope my dentist isn’t reading this – but S brought me home one of these after bonfire night and I was intrigued to try it because I’d never had one before. The sweetness of the sugar and the crunchiness of the apple – I don’t want to think of how many calories were in that, but I’m glad I tried it!

4. New shampoo

I usually try out new shampoos and conditioners together, but on this occasion I just got the Aveda almond cherry shampoo when I was putting through a Lookfantastic order to claim my Glossy points. I thought I’d give it a go and had been meaning to try something from the brand for a while. I should really get the conditioner as well, but I was happy with Its performance and love the cherry scent!

5. Tili Urban Jungle

I don’t usually shop at QVC, but from time to time they bring out beauty boxes. The Urban Jungle box costs £20 and contains 11 products. The shower gel alone can cost £10 when it’s not on offer, so provided you would use most of the things in the box, it’s a good deal. I gave away the dry shampoo and the eye shadow, but even so, it was still worth my while and a chance to discover some new brands.

6. Completing the first part of my first module

I couldn’t bring myself to write that getting my first assignment in was a favourite, but we covered an interesting range of topics in the first module from website design to databases to creating sound media content. Some things weren’t new to me, whereas others really made my brain work (yay for binary and hexadecimal calculations), but all in all it was a good block and I passed my first two assignments!

The current block is not as much fun for me, but I am just focussing on getting it done so that I can move on to something more interesting and relevant.

7. More work on the house complete

It’s a work in progress and we have more plans for things that we want to do, but after my accident in the Summer, getting a bannister for the stairs came higher up the priority list. I didn’t have an accident on the stairs, and I can walk around unaided most of the time, but the leg is weaker and I don’t trust it yet, so having a bannister instead of the open stairwell makes me happy!

8. Shout out to our postman!

I do a lot of my shopping online, which only increases as Christmas approaches. Most of the delivery drivers are fine – apart from the ones that don’t knock even though you’re in, or the ones that leave a card saying “We left your package either on your property or with a neighbour” – very helpful!

I guess our postman sees more of me than many of his customers, but it’s the little things – he knows I have to make a dash down the stairs and also that this is harder for me at the moment, so he doesn’t just drop the parcels and run – or even worse, take them back. Time is money, but he waits. He also knows I’m visually impaired and usually says how many packages there are, rather than just handing me the bottom one and hoping I’ll realise it’s actually a stack of boxes. Just little things that make life easier.

What have you been enjoying this month? Let me know in the comments!

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Student life – do I really hate maths?

This is a new section on my blog to talk about my experience of being a part-time student. It’s not going to be subject-specific, so you don’t have to be interested in IT, but studying for my degree is part of my life now and there are going to be things that I want to say about it!

One of the things that I’ve had to revisit in my studies is my relationship with maths.

Maths was never one of my favourite subjects at school.

I passed my GCSE, and it was a decent enough grade, but it was not as good as the other subjects that I really enjoyed and did well in.

I spent years 10 and 11 at the bottom of the top set. I even begged my headmaster to put me down a set, because I was tired of being the last to understand things, but he wouldn’t! Because my results showed that I could do the work, even if I didn’t find it as easy as subjects like English and languages.

But everyone else in the class got things first time – or it seemed like that to me – and the only way I passed was learning a set of instructions like a parrot, but not really understanding the reasons for each step. I don’t learn well that way, but it got the job done.

I spent a lot of time feeling that I was missing the point. It was illogical to me. Half the time I couldn’t even work out why we would ever want to do those calculations in real life.

Now I’m an adult. I use maths all the time in the context of running my business. Working out sales figures. Working out what percentage of the year’s income came from each marketing activity. Working out how much people have left on their account or by how much web traffic increased when compared to the last month. I use maths all the time. I love numbers and have sooo many spreadsheets.

In fact sometimes friends and family members laugh because I have a spreadsheet for most things – but if they need that information, they know I’ll have it!

Anyway – back to maths. I began to suspect that maths wasn’t the problem. Maybe I just need to se why we have to know something. I have to understand the practical reason before I can see the point or how we could apply it. I’m not good with abstracts.

But then last week there was an exercise on my course and I just couldn’t do it (binary to decimal conversions if anyone’s interested, but it’s not relevant to what I’m trying to say!) I read the explanation several times, but it was just words and numbers swimming around on the page. Reading it again didn’t help. Reading it really slowly didn’t help. Going for a coffee and coming back to it didn’t help. Not a good sign as there was an assessment coming up and I was sure it would be in there somewhere.

I asked S to explain it to me without showing him the book. He did. I got it. I could answer the questions on the test (and get them right!), but not by using the explanation in the book. It didn’t work for me.

Someone else on the course had the same problem as me. Others didn’t. I don’t think the book is bad – it’s just that people learn in different ways.

Then today there was another exercise. This time I did understand the point and when I did the self-study exercise, I got it right as well – but the explanation seemed strange to me. Why would you do it that way? It’s not logical. Maybe my brain’s just wired differently from the person who wrote it, but at the end of the day, if you get to the right answer and understand how you got there, who cares?

Except – I care, because I left school thinking I just wasn’t that good at maths. How many other young people are leaving compulsory education thinking that they’re not good at something, when really they just weren’t being taught the skill in a way that made sense to them?

I work mainly with German-speaking adults. Some of them say they’re not good at English because they never understood the grammar at school.

Some English teachers hate teaching grammar. I don’t actually mind teaching it. Most of the time there are patterns and rules that you can follow, and these rules can be your friends because as long as you understand them, they help you not to make mistakes. Of course there are always exceptions. But I’ve seen that people leave my lessons with a better understanding than when they came in, and that makes me happy! People have told me it’s not actually as bad as what they learned at school, and it makes more sense!

In terms of my relationship with maths, I’ve had to revisit it, because it’s part of my course. I’ve elected not to do half a year of pure maths, because I don’t think I could take it, but it pops up throughout the other modules that I’m taking. It’s still harder than the other parts of the module, but not because I don’t get the concepts. Sometimes I just need to find a different person to explain it or a different way to think about it. That’s ok.

Maybe young people today are at more of an advantage. If I don’t understand something or I want to know something, I ask a friend that might know, or I look for the answer online. Ok, there’s terrible information out there too, and you need some degree of internet literacy to work out what’s going to help, and what will just confuse you more. That’s a problem in the language teaching space too. But if what your teacher is saying makes no sense, or you need the information in a different way, it’s much easier to do that now than when I was at school and Google wasn’t my friend.

Sometimes it did happen when I was at school. I had a friend who would ask me to explain what we did in German class, and she said I made it easier to understand than the teacher. Maybe that was the beginning of my teaching career – who knows. But essentially we were giving her the same information, just in a different way. I never did my friend’s homework for her, but she had the tools to do it herself, rather than thinking she couldn’t even attempt it.

So now it’s made me wonder – are there other things that I thought I was rubbish at, that might not be all that bad? I just didn’t have the right teacher! We’re not all going to be good at everything, but I do think it’s sad if people give up on things when really what they need is just a different approach or a different way of learning.

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Back to school – it wasn’t like that when I was at school!

If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to make you feel old, it’s looking at how the education system or life as a student has changed from when you were at school.

Ok, I’m only in my 30s, and I’m not actually going back to school! But stay with me here!

I don’t even know if I mentioned this on the blog, but I’m starting a course with the Open University in October. I’m doing an IT degree, which will last for 6 years, because I’m doing it part-time around my other work.

This is not my first attempt to study with the OU, but the first time didn’t work out because unfortunately the materials for the course I wanted to study could not be provided in an accessible format. I don’t really want to dwell on that, but things do seem to have moved on in terms of accessibility. It’s not 100% accessible – things rarely are – but we are working on strategies for me to get round the problems that I’ll encounter. On occasions, a sighted helper will take instructions from me to interact with graphical interfaces and do things that I can’t do because I can’t use a mouse. Diagrams will be provided with descriptions. I will work from online copies of the materials, rather than printed books.

I’ll probably write more about the course when it’s started – I know that some of my readers will be more interested in what we’re doing than in my beauty product posts, so it will add a bit more diversity to the blog. I plan to make it a regular feature.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

The Open University students’ Association is active on Facebook and Twitter, so I decided to follow their page. I then had an idea that there may be other groups out there – local groups, special interest groups, or course-specific ones.

In terms of networking for business, online networking is my thing, much more than face-to-face, so I thought this could be a good idea.

I joined some groups. I got accepted. Suddenly I had the chance to virtually meet up with others setting out on the same path as me.

That doesn’t mean I’ll never go to a face-to-face event, but I just find online easier – unless of course I’m in a group where all people do is post pictures that I can’t see. Then it’s not fun.

But if people are talking to each other, I’m on more of a level playing field. I don’t have to worry about eye contact, finding my way around, or noise sensitivity. Messages can be answered one at a time, rather than feeling that people are talking to me from all sides. Some of it’s blindness-related. Some of it’s sensory sensitivity-related. But either way, online is great!

But when you join groups like that, people can get a snapshot of you – where you are – who you are as an individual – what makes you really you. I don’t share my heart and soul on Facebook, so it’s probably not that revealing, but I’ve chosen to link to both of my sites, so you can get a fair idea of the kind of person I am.

My profile picture with the wolves is maybe not the most glamourous, but it’s also unique to what I love – how many people have a genuine picture of themselves casually hanging out with a couple of massive wolves?!

Some of my articles are set to public, because they are in the public domain anyway and might drive traffic to my sites. But still, you can get some idea of who I am without even exchanging a message with me.

That never used to be the case. When I joined a new school in year 12, I didn’t know anyone and had to build up a picture of who was around, whom I wanted to try and befriend etc, all based on our interactions.

If anyone starts talking to me in one of the groups now, I can click on their profile to see who they are, or at least the version of themselves that they want people to see.

Then it got me thinking about schools.

When I was at school, we didn’t have social media networks. What would I have posted if I had? I was the Hermione Granger type, so probably a lot of stuff about learning and school that others didn’t care about! Or horses. Some of it would probably make me cringe now. I’m no less opinionated than I was then, but I choose my battles more carefully!

But children nowadays? If they have a Facebook account, it means they’re never really away from their friends, or people who definitely aren’t their friends. I can see the advantages of staying in touch, but there’s also this idea that you never really get away from people whom you haven’t chosen to share your life with. As an adult, it’s easier. As a child, I imagine that must be quite tough at times.

This is a pressure, and a challenge that people of my generation never had to deal with, so we don’t really know what it’s like. That struck me today as I was signing up to Facebook study groups!

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