10 tips for Moving house when you’re blind

I’ve seen a couple of blogs and videos about this topic recently. I could relate to some of the points very well, and other things made me think “no, there’s no way I would do that!” Not because the ideas themselves were bad, but because they just wouldn’t work for me. We are all different and that’s what makes us interesting.

It got me thinking about the whole idea of moving, because it can be quite a stressful time. Here are 10 tips that worked for me. If you’re also blind, they may also work for you, or at least they will give you some things to think about. To be honest, a lot of these apply whether or not you’re blind, but there are a few extra things to think about as well.

I’ve moved several times as someone who’s living on their own, and also as someone who’s moving in with a partner, so I’ll be pulling from all of these experiences when I write the tips. Also, I’m not just a blind person – there are other things that shape who I am, what I find difficult, and why I would choose one solution over another. The same goes for anyone else who writes an article like this – so there’s no one right way of doing things.

1. Decide what help you actually want and from whom

This is a very personal thing. I usually want as little help as I can get away with – not because I want to prove how independent I can be, but because people trying to help with moving usually end up stressing me out! I have systems and my way of doing things that makes sense to me, but wouldn’t necessarily make sense to other people.

Of course I needed help with the actual removals – someone to drive the van and people to shift the furniture and boxes. But in terms of the packing, I did it all myself. I used it as an opportunity to sort stuff out before I packed it, and if I pack the boxes, I know where things are. I politely declined every offer of help with packing and unpacking, because I knew I would feel better about doing it all myself and being clear where things were. This way also meant that if any random stuff was left as a trip hazard, it was my doing! Even if I did do that, I generally remembered that I had done it!

S was actually good to have helping when I packed up last time because he followed requests – “please can you ….” Meant that he would do that thing, and not other things that he thought might be helpful. I can work with that!

Some people have a removal company pack everything for them as an additional service. I would hate this, but if the idea of packing stresses you out, it is an option.

I did get a company in to professionally clean the property though because it freed up my time for other things.

On the day it can be helpful to have someone with you other than the removal company, but it’s good to be clear in advance what that person is there for and what things you might need help with. It’s no good if the removal company starts asking them questions that only you know the answer to. This is a bit easier if you’re moving with or moving in with someone.

If you live alone, what things will you need to ask before everyone leaves for the day? This can include things like how the heating works if you haven’t got an accessible system set up, how the oven works, where the fuse box is, or where the light switches are. I only have light perception, but I don’t want to sit in the dark and some light switches are not in obvious places! Possibly not something for the first day, but it’s also good to know how to turn the gas and water off if you ever need to.

2. Make a plan

This plan can cover all kinds of things, and how much detail you want to put in it will depend on what kind of person you are. I love my spreadsheets and had one with tabs from everything – from potential properties to what was in the boxes to whom I needed to contact.

In terms of the move itself, it’s good to think of a timeline so that you can get things done in time, leaving yourself enough time, even for unexpected last-minute things such as helpers dropping out or running out of boxes!

This is the same for everyone and would include things like getting quotes from removal companies (sometimes they come round to look at how much stuff needs to go), to packing everything up, handing back keys and doing a check-out visit if the property is rented, getting the property cleaned, knowing when people need to be paid and how to make the payment. If you’re having people to help you, who is available on what day, and how are you going to get to the new house on removal day so that you can unlock it and not delay the removal company.

If you have animals, who will look after them on removal day? When I had my guide dog Cindy, she stayed with me and was really chilled out, but it might be easier to have someone help you with looking after animals on moving day itself.

3. Make sure that other people can follow your labelling

I got some help with making labels that were easy to read and that had the names of the rooms on them. They didn’t say what was in the box because they weren’t for me – they were for the people moving the boxes. Once they knew what each room would be used for in the new house, they could make sure that each box made it to the right room.

I also prepared more of these labels for the furniture, so at least each piece of furniture ended up in the right room. I put a Braille label on each sheet, but not on each of the labels. I stuck the correct labels on, and this meant that someone could prepare a batch of them in advance for me to use as I needed them.

I also gave the boxes numbers and had a list of what was in each numbered box.

4. Try to visualise the space and how you want the furniture

This is easier if you can visit the new property more than once before you move in, and if it’s not full of someone else’s stuff. But if you have an idea of where you want your big pieces of furniture, you can ask the removal company to put them in place straight away. It will also help you to figure out if things will fit – as long as you know the measurements for your furniture and can measure the space in the room.

You can always change your mind afterwards, but I know with my current office, it definitely helped to know where I wanted things because some furniture is quite heavy. Also, if you’re blind and you can visualise the lay-out of the rooms in your mind, it will make it easier for you to negotiate them when you move in. If it’s hard, try using Lego!

People learn at different speeds. Don’t expect to have everything memorised on the first day. You may take a wrong turning once or twice – it’s not the end of the world. You’ve got a lot to think about, so if you tend to be a perfectionist as I do, remember to give yourself a break!

5. Keep things that you will need close at hand

For me this was things like laptop, coffee-making stuff, handbag, phone etc. If everything is everywhere, it’s hard to locate exactly what you want, so keep a bag or box with the things that you will absolutely want first, or that would stress you out most if you couldn’t find them. This box can even travel with you so there is no chance of it getting misplaced.

It can also cover basic things like cutlery – during one move I got a take-away after what felt like a really long day, and we spent ages looking for forks because I hadn’t kept some out!

6. Have a plan for unpacking and be clear about priorities

Decide in advance whether you want to do all the unpacking yourself, or whether you want help. If some of the things belong to you and someone else, such as things for the kitchen, who’s responsible for sorting them out?

I’m not bothered by boxes in the first couple of days or even weeks. My plan is to get things moved from the box to the place where they are going to be. This means that someone trying to help by unpacking boxes and leaving stuff out of the box so that the box can be taken away is going to drive me wild! Sometimes you need to communicate your plans and expectations with the people working with you so you’re all pulling in the same direction.

7. Make a list of people who need to be notified of your move

This is something I did prior to the move so that it was easier for me to just go down the spreadsheet and tick them off after I’d notified each company or person. Some things didn’t turn out to be as accessible as I’d hoped. In some cases it was just an email. Sometimes I needed to fill in an online form, which may or may not be accessible. Sometimes we’re still back with the dinosaurs and there are local services that will only accept paper copies of forms that may or may not be available online. You may need to organise some assistance with these if the address change forms are not accessible. This was easier when I was moving in with S, and more of a pain when I lived on my own!

8. Make plans for where you’ll need to go in the first days

This was more relevant when I was living on my own. It’s definitely a good idea to book an online grocery delivery for the first time so you can focus on getting everything set up – unless you really want some time out of the house.

I’ve always done online shopping, so finding out where to get a pint of milk in the first couple of days was never an issue for me, but if you don’t know the new area, it’s important to think about where you will need to go, how you will learn the way, and whether you want to ask anyone for help with this.

Before I moved into one of my other houses and after it had been confirmed, I spent a bit of time with a friend practicing the new route to the station so that I could get to work. That was one of my top priorities.

9. Try to be realistic with your expectations of yourself

When we moved into our current house, we’d made plans with friends for that evening. The problem was, I was done with social interactions by about 3 o’clock. I wanted to shut the door and not deal with another person – apart from S – for the rest of the day. If I’ve had a difficult or strenuous day, the last thing I need is people – even if they are my friends! I knew that, so it would have been better if I hadn’t made plans.

10. Break things down into manageable steps

I think that’s one of the reasons I like my lists and spreadsheets so much – they break my day, week, or projects down into bite-sized chunks that make it all feel more manageable.

It doesn’t have to be finished by the end of the first day. But each box of stuff put away, each person told, or each room that feels like home is one step closer to getting the job done!

If you’re blind and have moved house recently, are there any more tips that you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

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December products – new haircare favourite, mango goodness, and festive treats

I didn’t get round to finishing this post in December, but I wanted to do a kind of update – it is an empties post of sorts, but it also highlights some of the new brands and new skincare products that I’ve been trying. Let me know if you’ve tried any of these, and if so, what you thought of them!

Aveda

I was given a sample size of the Aveda almond and cherry shampoo along with something else because I helped fix a problem on a website – so it wasn’t paid for by me, but not gifted by the brand either!

I had never tried anything from Aveda before and this shampoo smelled amazing. It was nice and gentle on the hair too, something I appreciate after trying a different one recently that made me feel like my scalp was on fire. I’ll definitely be buying the full size of this along with the conditioner because I think the best way to try things out is to use the shampoo and conditioner together.

Bare minerals

I’ve never used anything from this brand before – mainly because mineral make-up is harder for me to use as someone with a visual impairment, but I didn’t actually know that they did skincare as well.
I got a sample of the Skin longevity serum in an advent calendar and I really enjoyed using it, though it’s not cheap! You’re supposed to use it with a Bare Minerals foundation, which I didn’t, but I would be interested in trying out more skincare from this brand.

Body shop

I thought I’d tried out everything from the mango range, but then I discovered the mango Eau de Toilette! It’s the same juicy mango scent as the rest of the range. To be honest I use it as more of a fruity body spray than a perfume, and I’m really sorry it’s gone! I’ll be replacing it soon!

I’d been avoiding the vanilla scents, but Halloween came round again, so I thought I’d try the vanilla pumpkin hand cream – and I really liked it. It smelled good enough to eat. I think I don’t like pure vanilla on its own, but the pumpkin just gives it something else and I hope they bring it back again next year! I haven’t linked this because it was a Halloween special.

I picked up the spicy vanilla body yoghurt, one of the 2019 Christmas scents, because I had a mini of the shower gel in the same Christmas scent and quite liked it. This scent is very sweet though and if you’re used to more fruity scents, you may want to be a bit less generous at the beginning. The first time I wore the body yoghurt, I slathered it on like I normally do and then went in the car to get some tiles. By the time we’d reached the tile shop I was finding the scent overpowering and not feeling too well! This has never happened with a body lotion or yoghurt before. Since then I used a bit less than I usually would, because this is a fairly strong and sweet scent, and I was fine.

I was having some problems with my face being really sensitive and reacting badly to a mask that I’d tried, so I wanted a moisturiser that would be really gentle. I had tried the vitamin E cream before, but I also wanted to try the aloe one. I really liked it – it did lock in the moisture, but was gentle too and is made with fewer ingredients so keeping it nice and simple. It’s formulated without colour, fragrance and preservatives – which means it’s a good idea to get it used once you’ve opened it, but it also means there is less to irritate it if you do have sensitive skin.

La Roche Posay

I got this vitamin b5 serum in the pick and mix samples from Feelunique. You just pay postage and then you can get five samples for free. You also get the postage back in the form of a voucher that can be spent on Feelunique.

Some of the samples are quite small, but this was a generous one – a folder with 8 sachets for 8 days of use. People tend to descend like vultures if anything good comes on the selection, even though you are only supposed to make one selection each month. So I was lucky to get this.
My skin definitely liked this serum, but you should make sure it has had time to sink in before going in with anything else.

Little butterfly London

Actually I think this is for babies – or at least for mothers with babies – but the dewdrops at dawn body lotion came up on Latest in Beauty, and I decided to give it a try because I hadn’t heard of the brand before and other people were giving it good reviews. It was a full-size body lotion too, and as a 9 item box subscriber, this worked out at £2 for me, which is much less than the actual value. I liked it – it is gentle on the skin, whilst still feeling like you’re putting moisture back. I liked the pump, but it was really hard getting down to the bottom because the packaging is very stiff plastic, and I felt a bit bad because I know I wasted some.

Lush

I’m too late to talk about these really because they were Christmas specials, but I tried out the polar bear bubble bar – which was fresh and minty, but not in a way that was overpowering, and the Santa bubble bar on a stick, which smelled amazing! The polar bear was definitely the best value for money in terms of the bubbles it produced, but if they come back next year, I’d buy either of them again.

Natura Brasil

I was trying out some new products from Feelunique and I came across the Ekos Castanha Body Cream, which seems to be sold out at the moment. I wanted to mention it though, because the cream came in a cardboard box that had Braille on the side. I’ve never seen it as a product marketed towards Braille readers – in fact I didn’t even know it had Braille on until it arrived – but it was lovely to see accessible packaging like this. I don’t know whether this brand puts Braille on all of its packaging, but I think it’s cool, so wanted to give it a mention here!

Rituals

I got a 10ml sample of the Ritual of Dao night balm from the Feelunique Pick n Mix. It lasted a long time because you really don’t need a lot. This is something to put on your hands at night because it is very quick, as you would expect for a balm, and it doesn’t sink in very quickly. It smells great though and your hands do feel soft in the morning.

Shay and Blue

I’d tried a perfume from this brand with the blood orange scent, but then I got this black tulip one in an advent calendar. I don’t think it’s something I would have picked up usually, because I don’t tend to go for floral scents, but I really liked this. It’s different, and maybe it’s just because I got it in winter, but I think it’s a nice wintry scent – a bit spicy and heavier than I would usually wear in the summer.

Vitamasques

This was a lovely Christmassy product from the Pip Box. It’s a cranberry and apple face mask – packed with vitamin C! A lovely pamper treat and festive too! My skin liked it and it wasn’t massive – I don’t have a big face and I like it when I come across masks that fit me properly!

If you enjoyed this, you might also like my November post that was about new products and testing out some high end samples.

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Making our own chocolates at Dr Choc’s in Windsor

This is the next in my series about finding things for us to do on Groupon. Things that I didn’t even know existed nearby. Things that S and I can do together to experience something, learn something new, or do something we haven’t done before.
On a Saturday afternoon in late December, we found ourselves back in Windsor, where we visited Doctor Choc’s. We’d been there before to buy slabs of coffee or orange chocolate, but I later discovered that you can do chocolate making workshops there too. So of course we had to go back.

This is not a sponsored post – just something I decided to do with S and that I’d like to share with you.

We were a bit early, so we browsed around the shop for a while until it was time for the workshop to start.

I don’t know what the maximum numbers are, but nobody else had signed up that day, so it was just us and the member of staff running the workshop, which made it a really personal experience and gave us time to ask questions, or for me to get a bit of extra help when I needed it.

The workshops take place in an area behind the counter where there is a large table for dipping and decorating, and where the three chocolate machines full of their molten goodness are.

Rings came off, and I had to squeeze my unruly mane into a hairnet – I haven’t done that since I was about 12 when I used to do dressage competitions!

What we made

Our first task was to make the shells for the filled chocolates. You choose plain, milk, or white chocolate, and hold your mould under the chocolate machine so that you can fill three of the sections in the tray. As I couldn’t see where the chocolate was going to come out, I needed assistance lining mine up, and then to get rid of the excess.

The chocolate making room

When the shells in their mould were taken off to cool, we moved on to bigger, more shallow moulds. The tray had room for three bars. You could go for three of the same type, but both S and I wanted one of each – a plain, a milk, and a white chocolate bar.

Before we filled the trays, we chose from a range of jars which toppings we wanted to use. There were all kinds of things – nuts, seeds, fruit, chocolate decorations. I chose ground coffee beans for my dark one, chocolate buttons and a sugar butterfly for the milk, and guava pieces for the white one.

We then filled the moulds for the three bars and brought them back to the table where the decorations were waiting. They set fairly quickly, so it was important to get the toppings on so that they would set into the chocolate. They were then taken away to cool.

The next step was to pipe chocolate fondant filling into our shells. I’ve done icing with a piping bag before and I won’t get an award for the most beautiful piping, but I got the chocolate filling in the shell and this was easier once I’d worked out how fast it was coming out and how hard you needed to squish it to get the right amount! When this was done, we went back to the chocolate machine to give our chocolates a bottom that sealed the piped filling inside the shell.

Chocolate machines producing white, milk, and dark chocolate

The final part involved a cup of molten chocolate into which we dipped some pre-formed truffles. You put them on a stick, slosh it around so it’s covered, then remove it whilst not losing the truffle off the end of your cocktail stick. It’s all in the angle apparently! The truffles were really big, and we also dipped a couple of pieces of candid fruit. The remaining chocolate wasn’t wasted – it was set with a wooden stirrer in it for use as a hot chocolate spoon.

The café

The Groupon deal we got also included a drink at the café upstairs while we waited for our chocolates to set. I got hot chocolate in a cute little jar and it was very rich and very good. There was also a wide selection of cakes on offer – I didn’t have one because we were going to another event in the evening, and truth be told I’d rather fill up on pure chocolate than cake, but if you want some chocolate cake while you’re waiting, that’s no problem!

I enjoyed this experience – both because we learned a bit more about how the chocolates are made, and because we went away with some delicious chocolates! I think it’s a good activity to do with a friend or as part of a larger group. The staff were friendly and helpful, and you don’t have to have any prior experience or particular creative skills!

From an accessibility point of view, help was available if I wanted it, either from the member of staff or from S, but I was also able to participate actively in the workshop.

So if you like chocolate and can get to Windsor, I’d definitely recommend it. Also check Groupon to see if the deal’s still running!

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Lego is for adults too!

We use Lego for all sorts of things in our house.

When we needed to renovate the garden and change it from the overgrown danger zone of weeds and rubble to something that we could actually use, we built a Lego model to show how we wanted the end result to look. Sketching it out would not be useful to me, but if I could feel where things were going to go, I could have meaningful input.

When I was struggling with picture descriptions of technical diagrams on my course, we recreated them using Lego bricks. Descriptions are good enough most of the time, but sometimes you need a physical representation in front of you to get across a concept.

As a child, I created all kinds of things with Lego – not so much following how things should be built because I couldn’t see the diagrams, but creating my own. It’s a versatile, tactile toy – and there were horses too!

Now, as an adult, building Lego is also a fun activity for S and I to do together. You need good teamwork skills, especially when one person can’t see what you’re trying to build, or the steps that you need in order to get there.

You see it as an activity in team-building workshops, or even language learning classes, where one person gets to see the instruction pictures and the other has to build something based on the instructions from their partner.

That’s real life for us and it can be fun creating something together.

So that’s what we did on Christmas Day! We built the great hall from Harry Potter, and Hagrid’s hut, and a thestral-drawn carriage! (I had told S that I wanted to arrive at the wedding in a carriage drawn by fathiers, the mythical creatures from The Last Jedi. No chance of that seeing as fathiers don’t exist, but I have a thestral now!) And of course Buckbeak is adorable! But where was Fang?!

We laughed, we got frustrated when we thought one of the over 1000 tiny pieces was missing (it wasn’t!), we built something together, and we really had to think about how we communicated ideas – always a good skill to have. It was funny too that we both had the idea of buying Lego, among other things, for each other!

I’ve been to the great hall at Harry Potter world – you can read about it here. It was a lot of fun, but I think the best way to really understand how something like a building looks is to touch a shrunk-down 3d model of it. I don’t like touching random architecture in the real world – it’s often dirty, and in any event it doesn’t give you the whole picture – just lots of tiny, often insignificant random parts.

We created a slightly terrifying bendy snake, the great hall with all its tables and elaborate windows, impressive doors and arches, the tower with multiple levels, the phoenix, the huge roof beams, and all the little embellishments. Then there was Hagrid’s hut, with the pumpkin patch, the horrid executioner and poor Buckbeak, who was chained up.

Back of Harry Potter Great Hall and Hagrid's House Lego sets showing inside of buildings

I have read about some online text-based instructions for Lego. I think this is a really cool idea, but as we didn’t use them, I can’t review them here. I’ll certainly come back to it though if I get any sets and download the instructions so that I can try to do it myself. I wouldn’t get the colours right though unless maybe the colour sensor on my Seeing AI app could help me distinguish them.

I think the role of Lego in my life has changed now as an adult. I’m too old for the creative play that a child enjoys, but it definitely comes in handy for practical things, and I like the way that it can give a 3d representation of things from films that have previously only been described to me, or places that I’ve been loads of times, but still have no 3d image in my mind of how they look. Now we’ve built it, I plan to leave it up. Some people have pictures on the wall – so do I as it happens because my horses are a statement about what I like – but 3d scenes are also a lot of fun and a cool tactile addition to a room!

Thank you Lego, and thank you S!

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Visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard and my distant relative’s story

This month has been a challenge – partly because I had two assignments to be submitted along with doing my full-time job, but mainly because I’ve had a tooth infection and they are horrible! My dentist has been great and even fitted me in at the weekend, but I’ve been in a lot of pain, which has meant I’ve had to cancel some of the fun things I’d planned this month, and I’ve only been doing what absolutely needs to be done. I have the extraction of a wisdom tooth still to come before Christmas!

Before all of that though, in the first week of December, S and I went to Portsmouth historic dockyard for the Victorian Christmas fair.

I’d been looking for different things for us to do, and I found this on a local what’s on site.

HMS Victory

I’d been to the museum before as a small child. I remember going on one of the ships and thinking how hard life must have been on there – in uncomfortable hammocks with only basic food rations. But I don’t remember a lot, and I think you focus on different things as an adult.

My family has a connection to the dockyard too as one of my ancestors, Seaman Charles Legg, served on HMS Victory. I didn’t know until after our visit, but there is apparently a board outside it with all the names of the men on there, and his name is among them. I think we will be going back – there is so much to see and I think it would be easier to see the ships when the Christmas market isn’t there. So when we go back, we’ll make a point of trying to find his name.

HMS (his Majesty’s ship) Victory’s most famous battle was the Battle of Trafalgar, fought against a combined French and Spanish fleet in 1805. Charles Legg was there and he was injured at some point, possibly during the battle itself.

It was strange really – we were surrounded by all the fun of Christmas celebrations, but I couldn’t help thinking that there were many who set out on the ships and never came back.

Charles Legg did come back though. We have a letter that was sent to him following his return, awarding him some money because he had been injured in service. The letter is dated 3rd December, 1805, and it’s cool to have this piece of history relating to one of our ancestors.

Charles Legg was a seaman, so he wouldn’t have had an easy time. He would have been one of those living in the cramped conditions, with the constant noise of the engines, the heat, the hard manual labour. I wondered whether he too was walking through the places where I had been that day, over 200 years ago.

Christmas market

This was shortly after the attack in London Bridge, so it felt like there was more security. Bags were checked before entering, and it’s the first time I’ve seen armed police at a Christmas market.

It was full of all the usual things that you can buy at Christmas markets, and I stocked up on some delicious cheese! There was plenty of music to get people in a festive mood, including live bands playing Christmas songs.

No mulled wine for me this year, but I enjoyed a hot chocolate instead!

Owls

You might wonder what owls are doing at a historic dockyard, but in the past, birds of prey were transported on ships, so it wouldn’t have been unusual to come to the docks if you had purchased a bird from overseas.

The demonstration we watched was given by Raphael Historic Falconry who weave historical details into their displays, so that adults and children can get a better understanding of the relationship between people and birds, and how this relationship developed over time.

I liked the way that information was given from the bird’s perspective, without trying to give them human characteristics that birds don’t have. They’re motivated by the need for food. They don’t do things to please the handler, as a golden retriever might, but they are driven by their need to eat, and this drive has to be harnessed and built into any training that they do.

A demonstration was given to show how birds were carried on a cadge, or a kind of portable perch used for transporting birds of prey to the place where the hunt would take place. This was no easy job for the cadger because they were carrying an expensive load over what might be difficult terrain. This is where we get the term “cadge a lift from” because if you were visiting a family or hunting with them, your bird might get a lift on the cadge.

Two birds on a cadge being carried by audience member

We also saw how the birds were trained to hunt things that were not live prey, but were made to look like live prey. I also got the answer to the thing I’d been wondering about – if they are so food-driven, why do they not eat the prey themselves? If it is covered and they can’t see it any more, they lose interest – especially if they are offered some other food. It doesn’t matter if that food is not such good quality – they get food and are satisfied, while the real catch is taken away for the people to eat.

HMS Warrior

We didn’t have time to visit all the ships, but we did explore HMS Warrior, the, which was Britain’s first armoured battleship, and the pride of Queen Victoria’s fleet.

The ship is on a number of levels, which you reach by going down steep steps, holding on to rope banisters. The ship was steam powered, so it would have been loud and no doubt really dirty for those guys working down in the engine room. We saw where the men would have eaten, slept, and where the food was prepared. There was no room for people to keep their possessions with them, so they had to keep their things elsewhere.

Officers had individual cabins, but the rest of the men lived in very close quarters. 600 men lived on the ship, divided into thirty-four groups, with up to 18 men in each.

Much of the work on the ship was very physical – it wasn’t all about the fighting – there were plenty of other tough day-to-day jobs that had to be done. For example, it took 100 men to lift each of the ship’s four heavy anchors, which weighed 5.6 tonnes. Other jobs included manning the guns, raising and lowering smaller boats, operating the sails, and cranking the pumps that moved water around the ship. Hammocks were slung above the guns, and the men ate close by. Uniforms were essential, and hats had to be worn at all times unless there was bad weather. Hats were important too because your wages were counted out into them each month.

We’ll be going back

The main reason for going was because of the Christmas fair, but there was much more to see in terms of the history. We’ll probably do our usual thing and take a week off sometime in term time and go when things are a bit quieter so we can have a good look around on our own.

Have you visited the Portsmouth dockyard museum?

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Life as a mature student get that assignment finished and submitted

Due to the way that my courses work, I’ve had to submit two assignments in the last two weeks. One a week. One was considerably longer than the other, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier – being allowed to write fewer words when you have a lot to say can be such a pain.

I see plenty of tips about starting early and not procrastinating and they don’t really resonate with me because generally I don’t procrastinate. As a child growing up, I wasn’t allowed to. Homework had to be done when I got it. Chores had to be done before I could do fun things. That was the rule, but even when there was noone there to enforce the rule, it had become part of my mindset. Don’t have the thing hanging over you if you can get it gone and out of your life. Start the day with the thing you’re dreading so that it won’t be taking up brain energy for the rest of the day.

But there are other things that I’ve learned – some of them more general, some of them specific to studying at the Open University, so I decided to share them here while TMAs (tutor marked assignments) are still fresh in my mind.

1. Give yourself time

I don’t just mean time to do the assignment, although that’s important. Think about the way you work and which things you find easier or more difficult.

For example, I know that I can write pretty quickly, but maths-related problems always take me longer. If you have a look at what you’re going to need to do, you might be able to break it down into parts, and then work out which parts will take you longer. That will help you when you’re planning out how much time you’ll need, and you can go easier on yourself by leaving more time for the things that you naturally find more difficult. You might have other strategies too, like doing the easier parts first, or starting with the more difficult ones to get them out of the way. Or you might be like me and find that it offends your sense of order if you don’t do things in the order on the question sheet!

2. Check the forums

Sometimes they can generate a lot of traffic, but particularly your cluster or tutor group forum may give you useful information. It’s true you can’t ask direct questions relating to the assignment, but tutors may post up handouts from their sessions, useful materials, or information relating to the assignment. It’s also good to keep an eye on the news section of your home page because if errors are found in the assignment questions, updates will be posted there.

Also, your tutor is there to help if you have questions, but they’re in a better position to do so if you don’t approach them half an hour before the final cut-off date! All the tutors I’ve had so far have been approachable, helpful, and responsive.

3. Make a plan of what you want to say

My problem is often the word count, especially for essays or essay-based tasks.

It’s not so much that I waffle, but I like detail, and I like to be thorough. This sometimes works against me and I spend more time reducing the word count than it took me to write the essay or answer in the first place. This is tedious.

I’ve still not found a way around this completely, but I find it helps to make a list of the key points and start fleshing them out afterwards. This helps me to see whether I need to cover less ground, or cover more points with less words. It gives me a framework to work with, which in turn cuts down on my editing time, or prevents me from trying to include more detail than the question requires.

4. Try to look at the deadline and work backwards

I don’t like working under pressure if I can avoid it, and sometimes you can’t. But I try to get my assignment in at least one day before it’s due, because you never know what’s going to happen. This week on the deadline day I went to the dentist and came back feeling awful. I had to write the rest of the day off and spent most of it in bed, unable to feel my face or think straight. The following day wasn’t much better. I was so glad I hadn’t left it to the last minute.

Sometimes it’s possible to finish early and get the assignment in. I did this last Christmas when I really wanted to be finished with a block and forget about it during the Christmas holidays. So I submitted early. However, this isn’t always possible, especially if you have to show evidence of group activities that are in the timetable the week before the assignment.

The way that works best for me is to try and have my documents finished one or two days before the deadline, preferably with the chance to come back to them one last time with a fresh mind. I always find last-minute changes that I want to make during the last read-through, and it’s hard to get some mental space from what you’ve been writing if you don’t have the chance to step away and come back before it has to go off.

5. Understand the different types of marking

I’m doing different types of modules, and this is something I’ve had to learn this year. Last year I only did IT modules. Of course you can’t know how the tutor will mark the assignment before you get it back, but if it’s a programming question and your programme does what it’s supposed to, you have a pretty decent idea that you’re on the right track. The language faculty is a bit different. So far I’ve had to write two essays and it’s more about whether you’re answering the question in the right way, referring to key concepts, and arguing in a way that’s in line with the marking criteria. I actually find it harder, because it’s not a clear “right” or “wrong” like with a maths question, where there are definite right or wrong answers.

So, if you’re doing a module that’s marked slightly differently from what you’ve been used to, use your first TMA to get to understand how the TMAs for that faculty work, and try not to worry if it’s very different from what you’ve done before.

6. Be careful what you say online

At the beginning I thought I’d have lots of contact with other students, but to be honest I haven’t found myself being particularly sociable. I read through the forums and the Facebook groups are very quiet. I think it’s because people prefer to use WhatsApp, but the big WhatsApp groups tend to get on my nerves more than they help. I find them frustrating, because it’s a big stream of comments, with no way of threading or sorting them. Each to their own though, and if people like them, that’s cool.

If you go outside of the university forums though, the channels aren’t monitored, and some groups are self-monitored better than others. I’ve become aware of problems where people were found to be discussing answers to questions, sharing work, or crossing the fine line that puts you on shaky ground if you want to prove something was all your own work. This isn’t a smart thing to do, especially on public social networks where anyone can take a screenshot and use it against you!

perhaps I err too far on the side of caution, but at the same time I’ve seen people doing things that could put their qualification at risk because I don’t think people really consider how what they do and say online can be traced back to them! I’m sure it happens all the time with face-to-face meetings at universities that people attend in person, but with distance learning, pretty much everything is online and you don’t really know who the other people are in your WhatsApp chat or Facebook group.

I’m not saying don’t use the groups, but I am saying be careful when it comes to conversations about TMA questions that stray into discussing the answers.

7. Don’t make any important decisions about your future if you’re stressing about a TMA

Last week I was having the “why am I putting myself through this” and “did I make the right module choice” discussion with myself. Some things are naturally going to be harder than others, but in the same way that it’s best not to make any important decisions when you’re upset, angry, or under the influence of alcohol, it’s also better to wait till after the TMA goes in before you make any decisions about your future. It could be that you do need to change direction, but thinking about it when you already feel stressed can make everything feel worse and the problems feel bigger.

I managed to figure out that what was really causing me problems was the way the TMA was structured differently from the last two modules I’d done. Sometimes I don’t respond well to change, or when things happen in a way that I don’t expect, or that doesn’t seem logical to me. I realised this was affecting how I felt about the assignment and the module overall. After realising this, it was easier to work out what I was going to do about it and then it didn’t feel so bad.

Sometimes you don’t feel good just because nobody likes assessments, but it’s worth trying to figure out if there is something else that’s bothering you so that you can fix it and move on.

8. Word count – be careful not to chop too much

I usually get my word counts right on the number – because I’ve reduced a longer text down to exactly the right number of words. This may be by chopping out bits that weren’t essential, taking out filler words, or finding ways to say the same thing with fewer words.

It’s worth running through the text again though, because even if your word count is now right, chopping sentences or paragraphs can affect the flow of the text and make it feel a bit disjointed if you’re not careful.

Reading the text aloud can help you to see whether this has happened.

9. Get it gone!

It’s good to be thorough. I’ve definitely had students who could have got more marks if they’d just reread their work and fixed the typing errors or things that didn’t quite make sense.

However, sometimes you get to the point where you’ve done all you can. Rereading the answers, swapping out words or rewriting paragraphs stops adding value if you’ve been at it too long. In fact, you could end up tying your brain in knots and making the text worse than it had been half an hour ago.

It’s good to know when it’s time to say “I’ve done my best. This is as good as it’s going to get. I need to send it off now!” Even if that means sitting there hovering over the “submit” button until you finally just have to click it and be done with it!

10. Stop thinking about it

Some people find this easier than others, but once it’s with the tutor and you’re waiting for it to be marked, there is really nothing more you can do. Yes, I know it’s possible to resubmit work, but just as there is a cut-off date, there needs to be a cut-off date in your mind too, because worrying about it past the point where you can do anything to improve it won’t actually help.

Sure, there are things that you can learn for next time, but it’s like going to a job interview – you do the best that you can do on the day, and then it’s out of your hands. Worrying about what you could have said or should have written will just keep your mind going round in circles, and it may not actually be as bad as you think.

Any more?

There’s more I could have written here, but these are the things that I’m going to remind myself after Christmas when my next assignments are due in because they’re most relevant to me.

Do you have any more assignment tips? Let us know in the comments.

Also, if you enjoyed this post, you might also like how to get study done when you don’t have a fixed timetable.

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Meeting owls from Apollo Falconry

I mentioned in my good things in November post how I’d found some things for us to do on Groupon. One of them was the owl wander with owls from Apollo Falconry. It’s worth checking on Groupon too if you’re thinking of going because the deal that I got may still be there.

The experiences are run from a couple of locations, so don’t get confused as we did. If you book via Groupon, you need the address in Oxfordshire on the Groupon page, not the address on the falconry website, which is about a 30-minute drive away.

When we arrived at the hotel, we checked where the birds would be and walked down to where we met Konny and her birds. She brought the owls out one at a time so that we could meet and find out about them. We were the only ones there that day – there are good things about booking in the middle of the week during school term time – so we had plenty of chances to handle the owls and ask questions.

Billie the barn owl

Actually we heard Billie long before we saw her! It wasn’t the kind of sound you expect from an owl, more of a screech, but she seemed to want to be out and interacting with us.

We were given thick gloves to wear so that our hands were protected from the talons and the owls had somewhere to land. The idea is that you lift your hand up and make a fist, then the owl will come, land on it, and take the food from Konny. Some of the owls were happy to stay around for a while after taking the food, whereas others flew straight back to the perch.

Billie needed no encouragement. She flew straight to the glove and was happy to chill out there for a while. The only thing she wasn’t sure about was a dog, off the lead, whose irresponsible owner didn’t call it back. S ended up herding it in the other direction. But seriously people, take notice of what your dog is doing and if it’s potentially causing a problem for others, or could be in danger itself, call it back and use your lead!

So, Billie was the smallest, but probably the most up for interaction, and of course food. The owls don’t really care about the people who have come to see them – their main motivator is the food – but this natural instinct to fly for food can be used to train them. It’s also important that these owls get exercise by flying, because this prevents them from becoming overweight. They have learned that flying to the glove will be rewarded with food, so that’s what they do.

They don’t hunt for food themselves and see people as the food provider, but they will fly to get their food – mainly chicken, which has been killed and chopped up in advance.

Billie has been socialised from a young age, being introduced to lots of different environments and noises so that she can become accustomed to them and is less likely to be spooked at events with the public.

River the tawny owl

River is a tawny owl, the one that makes the sound most of us think of when we think of an owl calling late at night. I didn’t realise until yesterday that this call is made up of two parts – the female, followed by the male (or males). We didn’t hear the mating call from River, but she made cute little trill sounds when she was being fed!

River the Tawny Owl

River was a bit bigger than Billie, and she the tawny owl shape is more short and squat than the barn owl. They blend in well with the trees and if they feel threatened, they will make themselves thinner to hopefully blend in even more and stay undetected by predators.

River was a bit less sure of herself than Billie, partly due to another dog – this time on lead – but still something to look at and worry about. There was quite a lot going on too – a train going by, some workmen building etc. She was a little hesitant at first, but after a while she got the hang of it and was happy to fly to the glove. A bit like me before the first coffee – it takes a while to get going, but after that it’s ok!

She didn’t land as solidly as the others, but she kept trying, and in some ways that’s more admirable. It’s easy to do something when you know you can do it, but not so easy if you aren’t so sure.

Of course the owls don’t go through these thought processes – they just want the food. But I still think it takes more effort and determination to do something if you’re not quite sure you’ll make it!

Koby the European Eagle owl

He was the biggest and the star of the show! He answered back in a way that made him sound a bit like a cat saying “no”, although really that was just his way of interacting. Konny talks to her birds a lot, and they all communicate in their own way!

Koby the European Eagle Owl

Koby is much bigger than the others and I could feel the air as he flew by, occasionally being bopped on the head by a wing as he flew back to the perch! That’s what you get for having short arms! He seemed happier on the perch – his safe place – but he would come over for food, his favourite being chick’s heads, and then fly back.

He has a five and a half foot wing span, which means in flight, he is wider than I am tall! A big, impressive guy!

Final thoughts

I thought it was great that they all had such distinctive personalities. Barn owls are my favourite anyway, and Billie was full of confidence, despite her tiny size! River was quite sweet and her initial lack of confidence made us keep willing her to do well! Koby was big and loud and a bit like a teenager who didn’t feel like doing as he was told, until he was tempted off the perch!

Spending an hour with Konny and her owls was a really interesting experience and one that I’d recommend to any of you who like owls, experiences that get you out into nature to learn something, or learning who just want to learn more about animals.

This Groupon link for Opollo Owls is correct at the time of publishing.

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Donkeys, days out, and drafting Christmas content – good things in November

Well, another month is nearly over, so here are some November highlights!

1. Festive content plans

I’m not doing Blogmas this year, but I do have some festive article planned, and while I did enjoy doing Blogmas the last two years, I think I might even enjoy it more this year because I can really focus on the articles without feeling a pressure to write every day. The first article is already up – 15 things you can do to have a Christmas that is better for the planet.

2. Feeding the swans and ducks

At the beginning of the month, we had to go in the general direction of Windsor, so we decided to stop off and have lunch there. This turned into a chocolate-buying trip because the restaurant wasn’t open, and after going to get change for the parking machine, S came back with some bags of duck food. I think it’s a great idea – provide food for people to buy rather than people giving the ducks random things that are bad for them. They were so noisy – it was fun to hear them squawking as soon as I threw food out.

I tried to spread the food out so that the ones at the back got a chance, and got way closer than I planned to a pigeon who was chancing his luck. They have no shame. I wasn’t trying to feed him, but he had obviously learned that tourists are a good source of food!

Kirsty feeding the swans

3. Food discovery – chocolate orange croissants

Who knew that these were a thing? I didn’t, but picked some up when browsing the bakery isle on the Ocado app. That’s one of the things I like about this kind of shopping – as a blind person, if I went to a shop, I’d have to know what I was looking for and ask people to find it. Browsing isn’t easy if you can’t see what’s there, and it’s not fair to ask someone to list every single thing that they can see. Who even has time for that?

Shopping online gives me the chance to discover new things on my own, in an accessible way, and in my own time!

4. Skincare discovery

I’ve always avoided face oils. I don’t think the first ones I tried were the best, but I’ve really started getting into them, especially as the weather has got colder. I got two in my Lovelula boxes and then noticed a couple on Latest in Beauty too. Obviously some are better than others – the Balmonds one that I mentioned in my October review is still my favourite, but I have tried a couple of others and have really noticed a positive difference in how my skin is looking and feeling.

I like the ones with pipettes best because they are less messy. I think that’s what put me off originally – the thought that they are a real faff, but I was pleased to see that most come in this type of packaging now.

5. Subscription boxes

My favourite subscription this month was the Pip box – I used all five of the items this month. Of the three boxes that I got from them as a birthday present from my mum, I think I’ve seen about one product before, and that was Dr Botanicals, so I didn’t mind. Otherwise they are really good at finding new products or those from new companies, in a way that some of the other boxes don’t manage. This is a really nice box, especially if you are looking for natural, cruelty-free skincare.

6. More donkey encounters

There was another adult only open day at Miller’s Ark, so we went back with some friends to see our farmyard friends. I met Antoinette the donkey for the first time and spent a lot of time talking to her and grooming her. Donkeys have a calmness and patience that could teach us humans a lot!

There were also some cheeky, greedy goats, playful pigs, hungry sheep (who kept being pushed out by the goats), and of course the gorgeous golden retriever!

7. Groupon

I’ve known about Groupon for ages now, but it was only when I found out that the alpaca encounters were on there, that I thought it could be a good way for me to find other things for us to do. I don’t see most forms of advertising that people use, so anything I can get by way of email alerts about events or activities gives me more options. I’ve booked four things for us to do so far in December and January, – both experiences and things to learn – and I’ll report back soon. But as well as the discounts, which is one of the main reasons why people use Groupon, it’s a good way to find out what’s on your doorstep – especially if you enjoy staycations as much as we do.

8. Making an advent calendar

I’m not going to report on advent calendar contents as I did last year, but I am doing something different this year. I looked at a lot of the beauty advent calendars and was a bit unimpressed – there were a lot of the same products cropping up, and most of them had about 25% of products that I wouldn’t use. Ok, I could put them in a giveaway, but then I could just buy products for a giveaway if that’s what I was going to do, and some of the most expensive products were the ones that I wouldn’t use.

S suggested – I think he was joking – but anyway he asked why I didn’t just build one myself to make sure that it contained things that I liked. Of course I took the idea literally and did just that! You can spend as much or as little as you want. I got my contents on Feelunique, and got between 50 and 70% off most of it – even before the Black Friday sales. There are always special offers there. Now I’m looking forward to treats that I will enjoy, with no palettes, tanners, eyeliners or dry shampoo in sight!

9. Spinner rings

This is something I found through another blog. It was a recommendation for the Stimtastic shop, where you can buy stim toys for anyone with sensory-seeking needs. I was tempted by the weighted lap bunny, but the shipping from the US would have been horrendous. Still, you’ll probably be hit with shipping charges anyway, so it’s better to do a bigger order rather than several smaller ones. I got several spinner rings – my favourite is a bird in flight, which is in different positions as the ring goes round. I also have a spinnersaurus, a dinosaur one, and one with planets. The rings are well made with interesting designs.

10. The cheese advent calendar is back!

The first shop had sold out, but S kept looking till he got me one! Chocolate is great, but I now have a small packet of cheese goodness for every day in December! Did anyone else get one, or something savoury, rather than a traditional chocolate calendar? Let me know in the comments!

Have a wonderful December!

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15 things you can do to have a Christmas that is better for the planet

I’m not going to do Blogmas this year, but I do have some Christmas content planned, and this is the first in my series of festive posts.

I’m not going to suggest things that are a good idea, but that I have no intention of doing myself. That seems a bit hypocritical, and I want to be real!

I think hand-made gifts are fab, but my craft skills are rubbish! I enjoy shopping, and we will have meat on our table this Christmas. But here are some things I do, or that I’ll be doing this year to make Christmas less of a strain on the planet.

1. Think how much food you really need

It’s easy to get carried away buying food, and nobody wants guests to go hungry. But if you end up throwing half of it in the bin, you’re wasting money and you’re also wasting the food. Buy a bit extra if you want to, but especially when you’ve got things with a short use-by date, think about what you and your guests are really likely to eat.

Following on from this idea, if there are things that nobody likes, don’t buy them just because of tradition. We don’t like Brussel sprouts or Christmas pudding, so I won’t be buying either of them!

2. Defrost your freezer before Christmas

If your freezer is full of ice, it will take more energy heat and you will have less room for food. Defrosting it before you buy your Christmas food means that you’ll fit more in there!

3. Be creative with left-overs

Don’t just throw food away because you have some left over. Think of other things you can make such as turkey curry, or home-made soups with left-over vegetables. If you didn’t eat all the fruit you bought, make some smoothies. If nobody finished the cheese board, cheese and crackers makes a good snack on its own.

4. Don’t leave lights on all the time

If there’s nobody there to enjoy them, you’re wasting electricity. Lights left on overnight when you’ve gone to bed are a fire hazard and outside lights can be confusing for wildlife.

5. Consider giving someone an experience or doing an activity with them

If you think your gift might end up at the back of a drawer, never to be seen again, maybe you can give someone an experience. This could be connected to their hobby, something new to learn, a new experience that you think they would enjoy, or something that they can do together with you. In our busy lives, sometimes gifts that involve spending time together are the most meaningful because you make memories together as well.

6. Use recycled or recyclable wrapping paper

Shiny paper with glitter can’t be recycled and it has to go straight in the bin after it’s been ripped off. Nothing with cellotape on it can go in the recycling. If you don’t use half a roll of cellotape, it’s easy enough to pull it off and then, as long as the paper is recyclable, it can go in the recycling. Just make sure you’ve removed any ribbons or other things that can’t be recycled.

Some people are now avoiding using cellotape altogether.

7. Consider using things other than wrapping paper

There are lots of options. Last year I bought a material sack for some of my gifts. This can be used for storing things or reused the following year. The same applies to gift boxes – I have a stack of them from 2 years ago that are now used for other things.

I’ll be honest and say that I’ll still be wrapping presents, but I am going to make better choices with wrapping paper this year.

8. Try to buy locally from small businesses

I love Christmas markets, and they are ideal for this. Not only do you have the benefit of finding some unique gifts that you won’t see in stores, but you can also support smaller local businesses at the same time.

Again, I have bought and shipped presents, especially when buying specific things like books, but I get some gifts from the Christmas market too.

9. Rent a Christmas tree

I didn’t even know this was a thing, but apparently there are garden centres that let you rent a Christmas tree and return it in January. The tree comes with a root and is growing in a pot, so after Christmas it can be returned outside.

There is an ongoing debate about plastic or real trees – plastic is bad for the environment, but killing loads of trees and not replanting them isn’t great either. We have had the same plastic one for the last five years and it will be good for many more, but if you want a real tree, renting one that can go outside again in January seems like a good idea to me – and I love that smell of real trees!

10. Grow your own Christmas tree

My Granddad used to do this. We brought the tree inside in its big ceramic pot, and after Christmas it was replanted in the garden. All was good – until the day the dog got tangled in the wire for the lights and pulled the whole thing over, covering the carpet with soil. The dog and the tree were unharmed, but my Nan was clearing it up for ages! But anyway, the idea of a tree that isn’t just chopped down for Christmas has always appealed to me more, providing you have space for it in the garden.

11. Recycle your tree

IF you are going to get a real tree that has been cut down, many councils offer recycling schemes so for unwanted trees. Just make sure you take off any tinsel or sparkly things before putting it out for recycling.

12. As well as the reindeer, think of feeding the birds

I was always convinced that we should put dog biscuits out for the reindeer. Maybe that was my not so subtle way of saying I knew what really happened to the food for Father Christmas and Rudolph!

The reindeer might not enjoy your tasty treats, but the birds will, so at this time of year when it’s harder for them to find food, why not put something out for the birds as well?

13. Take re-usable bags when you go Christmas shopping

For reasons mainly to do with accessibility, I do most of my shopping online. Yes, there is more packaging this way, though all the cardboard goes in the recycling or is used for disguising the shapes of awkward gifts. If I’m doing an order from a particular shop, I try to get everything that I want from that shop in one go. It cuts down the postage costs, but it also usually generates less packaging.

But, if you are going to the high street or Christmas market for your shopping, remember to take a bag for life with you. It’s not just that those 5p charges mount up, but one shopping trip can generate a lot of unwanted carrier bags.

14. Think about whether you want to send Christmas cards

I haven’t sent Christmas cards for years now. It’s nice to receive them, especially from people far away who you don’t see all the time, but it can get a bit much if you send them to all of your colleagues/customers/local friends.

If you are going to buy cards, can you find some out of recycled paper? Can you do some good at the same time by supporting a charity? Can you get them with no glitter or sparkly things so that they can be recycled if the recipient doesn’t want to keep them?

I have cards from when I was about 5 years old, and generally keep them if someone has gone to the trouble of making one or getting one Brailled. But you can’t keep them all.

Some people suggest e-cards, but if I’m not familiar with the site, I am dubious about clicking the links – there have been cases of emails posing to be e-cards that really unleash a virus or download spyware as soon as you click the link. So I don’t recommend sending e-cards – but how about just sending a personal message to people on one of the hundreds of channels we now have available, or making time to meet around Christmas time?

After all, good things come out of spontaneous Christmas meet-ups! I should know – the fact that a group of our friends couldn’t find a suitable date was how I ended up suggesting S and I meet up on our own nearly five years ago! He invited me to dinner and things went from there!

15. Recycle Christmas cards

If you have cards that you aren’t going to keep, look at which ones are recyclable and pop them in the recycling.

Another way of doing this is something my Nan used to do – if you find some with nice pictures, cut the picture out, use it as a gift tag next year, and recycle the rest.

There are plenty of other things that you can do. I specifically haven’t mentioned some of them because I don’t plan to do them, but I think every little helps, and if we all do even a few of these things, it can make a big difference.

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Life of a mature student – TM112 – introduction to computing and IT

This is the next in my series of posts about the modules I’ve completed at the Open University.

TM112 is the second level one introduction to computing and IT module. It follows TM111, which I wrote about earlier this year.

Anyone who is planning to study TM112 in the future should check the Open University’s website because there may have been some changes since I completed it, but this post is about my thoughts on the module.

The first thing to say is that this module starts in October and April. I did it in April, after TM111, but not all modules have a version that starts in April. Some start in February and some only start in October, so when you’re planning for the year ahead, it’s good to bear this in mind.

The content

Block 1 – essential information technologies. This module took a closer look at the hardware components of computers and mobile phones, how data is stored, and what happens to data when it is deleted.

The most interesting part for me was a case study that showed how some of this knowledge can be used. It brought the theory to life and although the dialogue was a bit over-simplified in places, it showed how someone might apply the theory to a real problem.

My least favourite part was probably using latitude and longitude information to look up locations on online maps, but that’s probably because this part was not very accessible to me as a blind student.

There are a number of maths questions, but you can see why they are relevant, which I feel makes it easier to do them. I really struggle when I’m just asked to work out a calculation and I can’t figure out why anyone would want to know that particular answer!

Block 2 – problem-solving with Python. This was an introduction to writing programmes in Python, to draw images, perform calculations, or analyse data. There’s plenty more you can do on the subject, but it is an introduction, and it gives you a good feel for what you can do, how the language works, and practical ways to test your knowledge and understanding.

I sometimes found myself writing the actual code and then writing the pseudo-code afterwards (breaking down the problem and basically making your thought processes understandable for others). I don’t recommend this – it’s very bad and you’ll probably come unstuck when you get to more complex problems – but when you can already see in your mind how the code should look, it’s really hard not to try and skip the planning steps! This is why I was always getting in trouble in maths lessons for not showing my working out!

Overall I enjoyed this block though and I really wish we’d had it in TM111 because in terms of writing code, it was a lot more logical to me than OU Build!

Block 3 – information technologies in the wild. This was about securing data, threats posed by hackers, surveillance, digital freedom, access to information (including government restrictions and search algorithm bias), and the law.

This was a more theory-based block, but I think it’s important to discuss these issues, take a critical look at the information we are exposed to rather than just taking it on face value, know what’s legal, and come to informed conclusions on questions that affect our online experience or what we do with our data.

The assessment

The module is assessed by means of three tutor-marked assignments.

There are also interactive quizzes to do –they don’t contribute to your marks in the same way that electronically-marked assignments do, but you do need to include screenshots to prove that you have worked through the materials. This is where you show things such as your ability to code by writing or amending programmes. There are also multiple choice questions, some of which were harder than they looked if you’re a literal thinker who can think of reasons why a statement might be false if you understand it exactly as it was written. Sometimes I overthought them. You can try most of them more than once, but you lose marks by attempting things a second time.

The tutor-marked assignments are spread throughout the course and follow the training materials. After each week, you’re guided to which part of the assignment you should look at or attempt. I thought this was standard OU procedure, but it isn’t, and now I see how helpful it was! If you can, it’s a good idea to do the quiz and assignment questions as you’re going along because then you just have to check through everything and make any final improvements before sending it off.

Accessibility – studying as a blind student

Although I enjoyed bothTM111 and TM112, I have to say that TM112 is more accessible to someone working with a screenreader. Some sighted assistance is still required, but the nature of the programming element makes it a more level playing field because you’re writing code in Python, a language that you can type on your keyboard as well as any sighted student can, rather than asking someone to drag things around with a mouse on your behalf as I needed to in TM111.

Some of the activities are visual in nature – the drawing ones were a bit dull for me and I still needed someone to check that my outputs were what I expected them to be. Still, if you read the code with a screenreader or Braille display, it is possible to find your own errors and work out what the programme is likely to do, much more so than with OU Build, which was used in TM111.Not all of the Python programming activities involve drawing – there’s also calculating and number crunching, giving you examples of programmes that do something useful or that you could adapt and implement elsewhere.

Students are encouraged to use the OU’s IDE, but this isn’t accessible with Jaws, the screenreader that I use, and I didn’t test it with others. After speaking to other blind programmers, I decided to use Eclipse. It has more functionality than the OU’s simplified IDE, but it works with Jaws, and that was my main consideration.

Figure descriptions were provided for all diagrams. Most of the time, this was fine. On a couple of occasions, some concepts were explained through diagrams, and I think tactile diagrams would have been more useful. In the end I got someone to trace my finger round the diagram in the book. Eventually I understood it, but not all concepts need to be communicated visually, and if it’s just a concept explanation that’s driving you crazy because you’re not a visual thinker, sometimes the easiest way is to do what needs to be done in the activities and then find another explanation of the concept online.

Final thoughts

I enjoyed this module and was glad that I did it. I think it fits well with TM111, and taken together, they introduce you to a good range of areas that you may want to pursue in greater depth at a higher level.

As a result, you are likely to find some things easier than others. Some will be straightforward and others will have you reading the same thing multiple times! I accepted this was normal.

I liked the fact that different people wrote different parts of the module, because it exposed you to different writing and explaining styles. I think there were less oversimplified and sometimes overstretched analogies than there were in TM111, and this made me happy.

I was happy with my result and I would recommend this module to anyone who is either on the IT route, where it’s a mandatory module anyway, or anyone who is doing an open degree and thinks it looks interesting.

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