Life as a mature student series – L161 – exploring languages and cultures

As I mentioned before, I’m doing an open degree. Not so much because I love the idea of studying an eclectic mixture of modules. More because I hate the idea of doing an entire semester of solid maths, and that’s what I’d have to do if I took one of the conventional IT routes. And as I’m doing the degree for myself and my business, I want the flexibility to set my own curriculum.

So last academic year I did two modules – TM129, which I’ve already told you about, and L161 – exploring languages and cultures.

Why I chose the module

For a start, it’s relevant that I did choose the module. I know for many who are studying towards language qualifications, this module is mandatory. I got the impression that some STUDENTS felt THE SAME WAY about it as I do about the compulsory maths, but at the same time, if you decide you’re going to hate something before the first week is even up, you probably will.

That may have changed – I did my usual thing of not lasting too long in the Whatsapp group. It was friendly and supportive, but there were soo many messages. At least with something like Facebook you have threading of sorts and you can se what’s interesting for you. WhatsApp is just an enormous snake of messages, and maybe I’m just too old for it! Over 1000 emails in one of my (information)inboxes doesn’t stress me out as MUCH AS 200 WhatsApps every time I open the chat! Anyway I digress – but I just wanted to make the point that attitudes towards the module may have changed as it went on.

My overall thoughts

I teach English to adults, mainly in other parts of Europe, and I thought that this module would be good for me because it looks at questions around how our culture and use of language can shape the way we see the world, do business, and interact with others. You don’t have to speak other languages to do the module, but I found that it helped. I can’t say that much of the material was completely new for me, but it was interesting to look at other people’s experiences. I think people are really interesting, so enjoyed reading case studies and listening to people’s experiences.

The cultures and communities content reminded me a bit of my sociology A-level, and it’s probably the area in which I learned most, because we looked at resources and personal accounts from parts of the world with which I was not as familiar.

The intercultural communication section gave me some more ideas for my podcast, as this is something that I like to discuss with guests there, so as to help my learners communicate more effectively, and understand some of the often subconscious thinking behind how they or others interact and behave. So that was good.

As someone who works in online adult language education, I felt some of the material didn’t explore fully what is possible nowadays, and how people are choosing to use technology to support their language learning. I didn’t get the chance to explore this final part further though as our final assessment was cancelled due to Covid19.

Accessibility as a blind learner

The books were made available digitally. There was more reading involved in this than some of the other modules that I’d done, but it was also probably one of the most accessible. As long as I can read the text in an accessible format, I’m in the same position as everyone else. Diagrams were mostly given text descriptions for those who could not see them.

The assessments were text-based, so again, no accessibility problems there.

My tutor was really good, taking time to find out about my additional learning needs and how she could support me.

The two areas where I’d like to see improvement are the accessibility of the platform used for tutorials, though this is a university-wide issue, and better accessibility of video content. Transcripts are invariably provided for those who can’t hear the audio, which is great, but I’ve yet to see audio description for 3rd-party video. A lot of the time, these videos are explaining something or relating information, so it doesn’t really matter what people are doing. However, if you’re going to study non-visual communication and use video, there should be another file or at least a document to give blind students an understanding of how the characters are communicating non-visually. This affected my ability to complete a couple of the tasks independently, but not my overall mark.

The assessment

The TMAs were harder than I had expected them to be, which surprised me a bit. I don’t find writing difficult, but you really need to tune in to the expected structure for the essays, and to be able to cram a lot in to very few words. Most f my blog posts are longer than the maximum word allocation for the essays, and as someone who enjoys detail and exploring concepts, this was a challenge!

The other thing was that prior to this, I’d been studying IT modules. Does your code work? Yes? Well then you’ve probably got a decent mark. Could you do the maths? There’s a right and a wrong answer for maths. If you lose individual points, it’s easier to look back and see where you screwed up.

Writing an essay is more subjective than that. I don’t mean the markers are subjective – they have a set of criteria to work to. We did get the chance to look at these criteria, though I think it would be more useful if this section came earlier in the module.

Also, it’s marked on a sliding scale. So there are levels, and the level you get determines the number of points, and ultimately the percentage. There is no half-way between these levels. It’s either one or the other.

Yes, you can look at the information for the TMA, but I certainly didn’t have the same sense of how good the TMA was likely to be as I do with most of the IT modules, where the allocation of points is broken down a lot further and it’s more about wrong or right answers. I actually prefer this, but I am glad that I tried at least one module from the language faculty and I was happy with my distinction!

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