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Credit transfer - Robert Topping

Robert was attracted to the OU because of its flexibility, which meant he could continue to work while doing a degree.

Robert Topping was attracted to OU study because of its flexibility, which meant he could continue to work while doing a degree. Although at first the online tutorials were quite daunting, he soon felt comfortable participating, and found the discussion forums very helpful. Robert had done some prior study at a conventional university, but often felt there was a lack of meaningful discussion of the course content with his fellow students, unlike at the OU. Robert also found it invaluable learning alongside different types of practitioner. He has no hesitation in recommending the OU to prospective students, but does point out the need to put in the requisite number of hours’ study each week. Robert is currently partway through an OU Masters degree and feels that studying with the OU has opened up opportunities for him in his day-to-day work.

The main thing that attracted me to OU study was the flexibility. I was able to take on my course as well as maintain a full-time job as an area youth worker. In addition, I was able to pay for my studies through OUSBA, the OU’s finance system, in monthly installments rather than as a single lump sum.

I wanted to top up from a community development degree to the youth work degree to be professionally qualified and few places in Northern Ireland offered that. I found The Open University and decided to give it a try. I applied for credit transfer. It was handy enough – all done online. I was able to register online too.

Studying with the OU was different – I was used to going into a physical university building. However, it gave me the flexibility to fit my studies around my work schedule and other things I needed to do. If I had to attend a meeting, I could reschedule my studies for later that evening and top up my hours as I went along. The University gave me a planner and study guide for my course, so I knew that there was recommended reading and work to be completed each week. It was fine because I could work my life around being at The Open University.

The support I had was great. We used an online tutorial system called Elluminate, which meant we had tutorials using webcams. This was daunting at first, but I soon felt at home once the conversation got going. It also meant I could go back and listen to the tutorials again, see the PowerPoint slides, hear the discussions and make notes – unlike being at a conventional university. My tutors were brilliant – one was based here in Ireland and one was in another part of the UK. One was still a practitioner, so she knew and understood the situations we talked about. I was able to phone and email my tutors to talk about things. I was in groups with people doing centre-based youth work, school workers, faith-based youth workers, people employed in social work, counsellors and even teachers. There was a great deal of experience to learn from and good practice to share; I definitely benefitted from the wide range of backgrounds in my group. I had great peer support too. I could ask questions on the discussion forum at any time and someone always got back with a bright idea or suggestion. Having the app meant that I always received a notification when someone had responded. Students would share their different experiences – things they had tried – and theories that support practice. There was always plenty to chew on, from theories such as Gestalt to transactional analysis. It gave me a great insight into youth work theory and practice across the UK. I would hear about things that I found interesting and would then try to build these ideas into my own practice.

"The main thing that attracted me to OU study was the flexibility"

Because of the flexibility, I could get ahead in my studies before going on holiday so I would not fall behind. I just had to make sure that I prepared my assignments well and studied hard for my exams.

I could attend tutorials in my house! The technology meant that we could be put into break-out rooms, write on the whiteboard and make group presentations. We could even click on an icon to show that we wanted to speak – it was brilliant.

To anyone considering OU study, I would say: Go for it! Especially if you have other commitments. The flexibility really helps. Worries about finding time around work or getting someone to mind the kids don’t apply with OU study. Having said that, it is important to put the hours in – there is work to be done and it is best not to fall behind. The study planner really helps, so stick with it. The youth work course asked for about 16 hours each week and the placement element meant that the needs of the placement had to be factored in too. But many people studying youth work are already working or volunteering and this can count as a placement. Stick to the time frame and keep focused and committed.

The course was definitely relevant to my day-to-day practice as a youth worker. In terms of theory underpinning practice it was brilliant because of the wealth of experience of everybody, from every part of the UK and even overseas. Also, studying alongside different types of practitioners – social workers, counsellors and so on – opened my eyes to the bigger picture in working with young people.

My degree has also opened up opportunities in my current job. I had to be professionally qualified. The Open University gave me the opportunity to top up my previous qualification to achieve that goal.

It wasn’t easy – it took commitment. But I really achieved something and it’s encouraged me to do more training, so I am now halfway through a Masters degree programme with the OU.

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