back to article Verity's further education

The story so far: I stumped up nearly £1000 for an OU computer course (M885 Analysis and design of enterprise systems: an object-oriented approach) and was surprised when the second piece of homework was based on a paper by Madanmohan and De' comprising, in part, plagiarised gibberish. I drew this to the attention of my OU tutor …


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  1. Hollerith

    a robust discussion on El Reg

    I am moved and touched that the OU feels that it has fulfilled its goal, that is, a robust and open discussion of the set paper and issues around it and its content, on a 'blog' not owned by and having nothing to do with the OU. This is selfless dedication to intellectual debate indeed! In fact, they appear to value a robust debate outside of their ivied halls more than, say, within.

  2. Jonathan

    Thank you Verity Stob!

    For a bit of comedy on a Tuesday morning. I do hope the OU gives in and admits its mistake, now that its dirty laundry has been aired to the world, but I doubt this will happen.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    ha ha!

    What a bunch of idiots.

    The critical point, Ms. Dillon, as noted by Verity, is that you gave her answer zero marks even though you are saying that she gave the only possible correct answer, given your supposed reasons for posing the question that you did.

    That is enough to be a blatant admission that you are simply lying to try and cover your sorry little backsides.

    You're in a hole. Please stop digging.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    Reductio Ad Absurdum

    You are clearly flagellating an expired equine here. Public and, as in this case, charitable sector authorities never, ever admit to fundamental shortcomings in their performance.

    However they do, unlike the commercial sector, enter into slanging matches with their clients.

    Circular logic is their barrier to all self-examination. "A person in my position should know best in this matter. I have been appointed to this position so therefore I know best."

    Don't argue with a local Council and don't expect an educator to admit their position isn't god's truth. In short, no good will come of pushing these tossers with your logical arguments.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Allow me to explain it for you...

    Markov generated plagiarism = "academic source material".

    Textual rorshach test = "valuable lesson in critical thinking"

    Popular multinational online IT journal = "blog".

    When sifting through the optimists and pessimists you will always find the odd person who sees the glass as half-cantaloupe.

    I think, for an educational institution, having a flexible approach to facts is probably a little like misspelling your name at the top of the test. You wouldn't have gotten any marks for getting it right, but you damned well better get the boot posterior-wise for getting it wrong.

  6. Thomas

    What a mess....

    I hope it all works out for you in the end, V.

    OU really is not doing itself any favours through this.

  7. MarmiteToast


    I for one will not touch an OU course based on this.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Oh dear ...

    I'm going to leap a little to the defence of the OU here - as an organisation they provide a vaulable service of education to many who would otherwise be unable to pursue it ...

    I'll put my cards on the table, I am an OU Tutor, NOT I hasten to add on that course, and I wholeheartedly agree with V. I, personally, would have argued the point with the course supervisors on V's behalf, I also am disappointed that the tutor in question "Hasn't read the course" - if this is his first tutoring on a course, then he will have had the material some weeks in advance of the students, and, as he doesn't have the written work to do, really has no excuse for not having read it ( I would have gone and reread it upon being asked ... ) - I personally have ( as a former student ) seen a vast difference in the quality of tutors and I felt inspired by the good ones to help others and by the bad ones not to perpetuate suffering - which is why I took up my post.

    Please give the OU a chance, perhaps the PR department are, like all PR depts, trying to save face in a rather embarassing situation - but some of us, nay I hope most of us ! - are better than that, and are inwardly groaning at this cock up.

    Sorry V.

  9. Martin Gregorie

    And another thing....

    I notice that the course prospectus makes no mention of Open Source, code reuse or commercial use of Open Source. It is purely a course on Object Oriented Design using UML.

    The decision to use Open Source or other pre-existing components is merely an implementation detail and as such is outside the stated scope of the course. This makes the Madanmohan and De' paper totally irrelevant to its stated aims.

    This course's author is a perfect fit for the old saw: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.".

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nul points

    Interesting that you managed to get 0 marks on an essay .... Darrel Ince taught a section on Project Management when I did an MSc in Computation at Oxford (he came across from MK one morning a week for a term) and he strongly recommended answering the question he'd be setting in the exam part of the course because "as its an essay you can't get it completely wrong so you'll always probably end up with around half marks for the question" then he added the rider "of course, you can't get full marks either for the same reason" .... anyway, not being interested in "average marks" I ignored the essays and, I gather, ended up significantly above average :-)

  11. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge


    "When sifting through the optimists and pessimists you will always find the odd person who sees the glass as half-cantaloupe."

    You sir, win the internets.

  12. Dr Stephen Jones

    Never say sorry

    Ms.Dillon seems as incompetent as the OU's Computer Science staff.

    From this story, the main criteria for securing employment at the Open University appear to be:

    a) Lie with a straight face

    b) Never say sorry

  13. Roger Greenwood

    Lets face it

    Verity :- you should be setting courses not taking them. If they don't just give in and award you the certificate they want sacking. If they had admitted this cock-up at the start we would have forgotten about it by now, or we might not even have heard about it. Mess with the media at your peril!

  14. Peter Simpson
    Paris Hilton

    Thank you for exposing the emperors' lack of clothes.

    I have been following your tribulations and your four point plan for OU makes complete sense. If OU were sensible enough to follow your suggestions, they could only come out ahead in this.

    Who would have thought that "publish or perish" might lead to junk papers...

    //Paris...currently doing this course as well

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    postgraduate critical thinking

    I must be becoming an old fart - it used to be that the purpose of an undergraduate degree was to teach critical thinking. As the Physics prof said at graduation time: "After three years of undergraduate physics, you're not a physicist yet - but we hope that you are able to *think* like a physicist".

  16. Hugh_Pym

    Might I plead with the OU...

    ... not to kill the hard won reputation of the OU just before I finish my degree.

  17. Richard

    Is it just me?

    Or did a paragraph from this article end up in the Loebner prize coverage instead?

    "However, one of the organisers did suggest that the obvious machines didn’t really answer questions - they were quite vague or definitely evasive, obviously picking up on key words, and building an answer around those, rather than what they had been asked."

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And that, children

    is called a fisking.

    And a thoroughly well deserved one as well. It also demonstrates the vacuity of the average PR bod; one might have thought that an academic (er, well) institution might have employed someone better equipped to make an argument.

    Very bad for the OU and makes one doubt the validity of all their material.

  19. Mike

    Any monkey can get a degree with the OU

    It's like doing your driving licence, stump up the cash, do enough modules and eventually you'll get there. I've seen this t of thing before (not OU) when a lecturer did something stupid and tried to pretend it's a "learning tool", made a girl cry, didn't apologise and was subsequntly backed when a complaint was made. This is why degrees from certain universities are more prestigious, and some are 'also rans'.

  20. Adrian Jackson
    Thumb Down

    Re: Thank you for exposing the emperors' lack of clothes.

    I think it's too late for the OU to come out *ahead* by following the four-point plan. But at least they would come out of it slightly less far behind and facing in the right direction, rather than continue their present blithe gallop towards universal mockery.

  21. Piers

    [+1] Verity Stob!

    OU, please see me after class.

  22. Luther Blissett

    The OU and the ice pick - a tragedy

    I read that the OU stashed its cash with an Icelandic Bank, and now cannot get it. It's not alone of course, but where might the OU stand in the creditors' pecking order for the siphon from the public teat that is nu labour's "solution" to the financial crisis? An interesting thought - does it rank more or less important than a cats' charity? Serious parts of the OU do not look fit for purpose, and that should certainly be a criterion for deciding who next to balti-bailout.

    When the denizens of higher education no longer know or understand the difference between propositional and predicate logic and metaphorical logics there is no distinguishing real knowledge from the junk, nor any obstacle to confecting junk (into) narratives. Which then become the modus vivendi, the ne plus ultra, the summum jus, the summum bonam (etc). Just look at the bollox on that.

  23. Bob Starling

    Watch out Australians

    At the rate they're digging their hole you are about to be joined by some OU idiots.

  24. Anonymous Coward


    Texas is going to have to lose a couple times if OU is going to have a shot at the championship.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To be fair...

    To be fair, TMA 1 is always a bit of a diddy exercise. Given the flexibility of course choice it's very difficult to set a meaningful first task, so the first task is just set (so they tell me) in such a way as to check the incoming students' abilities in presenting an argument and their use of appropriate terminology.

    It's just a shame that they seem to think that this relieves them of the need to critically assess the question for relevance, in this particular case. Nothing similar has happened to me to date.

    Anne Onny-Muss

    (A moderately happy OU undergrad)

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Nice blog

    Nice Fisking too.

  27. Z

    Oh dear

    There's something eminently satisfying when PR puff utterly fails and actually causes more ridicule to the target!

    Excellent piece of investigative journalism V, I applaud you for throwing back attempts at fobbing you off.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Thank you...

    First time after several years of following The Reg (The Blog? ;-) that I feel compelled to make a comment.

    Verity and Andrew - this is one of the best acts of journalism I have ever come across. The OU should be ashamed of themselves. Like all establishments, you will always get rotten apples, but it is the ability to put up your hand and apologise for a mistake that separates those we should aspire to and those who deserve to be ignored.

    All necessary steps to check this properly has been taken. Even if a Masters in an IT subject is not awarded (which I very much doubt), there should be some recognition for the services given to journalism!

    Good luck in extracting the truth...


  29. Seán

    What a pity

    I have fond memories of the OU from all those bearded wierdos pointing at circles and expounding formulae. What a pity that they are actually just a bunch of fucking incompetent crooks.

  30. this


    ask for your money back.

  31. Glen Turner

    I wonder how many T R Madan Mohans there are


    5 Jan 2006, 0115 hrs IST, SEETHALAKSHMI S,TNN

    BANGALORE: In a major embarrassment to the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B), an associate professor of the institute has been accused of copyright violation and plagiarism.

    The professor — T R Madan Mohan who teaches production management at the institute — has quit. The issue came to light after another professor at the institute, who has co-authored an article with Mohan, tipped off the director last week, about the alleged copyright violation. ...

    Note the years: Paper published in 2004 (perhaps written in 2003). IIM-B sacks an assistant prof in 2006. OU course contains plagiarised paper in 2008. IEEE notes plagiarism in 2008.

  32. iamzippy

    Life On Mars where I got all my 'OU know-how'. Me and my mate Sam Tyler.

  33. Rob Beard

    "It is ironic that this blog"

    Hmm, I bet the feeling that the OU underestimate the powers of the Vulture Central overlords.

    Good on you El Reg for standing your ground. I don't see why the OU just don't accept their mistake and say sorry, in the long run it'll not hurt them half as much as the bad publicity that they're getting from all this.


  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    perhaps the confusion was down to the redesign makeing el reg look a bit on the bloggy side

  35. Neoc

    Re: And another thing....

    @Martin Gregorie: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.".

    You forgot the third line: "Those who can' t teach, lecture".

    Having gone through a couple of Unis for various bits of paper, I guarantee you some of those lecturers are capable of nothing more than sitting in front of the class and reading the projected Powerpoint presentation. Not *explaining*: *reading*.

    Thank goddess the tutors had a clue or the whole class would have flunked the exams.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    critical journalism or hack's bLog - it's el reg to me

    Strange. In schools, teachers are no longer permitted to declare that a pupil was wrong in case it causes them irreparable mental damage - awe the poor delicate things. My own experiences at college and university and helping A.N.Other complete numerous maths courses with the OU were all very encouraging Verity - I hereby award you 11/10 for effort, 11/10 for homework and 11/10 for perseverance - please don't let this mindless imbecilic jobs worth put you off. As a science postgraduate from a respected (and physically located and world renown) University I can also confirm that the words, "media relations" are what one expects to be expelled from the anus 24 hours after consuming of the word "spin".

    @Anon 14th Oct at 21:28 re: "blog?" - Amen to that broth/sist-er.

    Neoc - I believe it's "those who can't teach, become critics" but it amounts to much the same these days.

    Anon because I'm currently looking into teacher training (with the OU)

  37. Anonymous Coward

    wit not humility

    The OU should not try to put it right by apologising.

    Rather they should try to post a statement of sufficient wit to make up for the lower quotient in Verity's recent posts - as she's been dealing with this serious subject.

  38. Dominic (The Pimp) Connor

    A great shame

    I got my degree the easy way. The government gave me a grant, and studying was my full time job (OK, there was other stuff), and I didn't have to do a hard day's work and then discipline myself to study.

    I'm now a headhunter (all that education wasted), and respect people with the drive to get through the hard options. That's not universal. Many other HHs fixate on the "top schools", as do some employers. But I have argued with some success that OU and other part-time degree holders have many of the work qualities that an employer has bitched to me as lacking in some of their staff.

    So how stupid does the OU behaviour make me look ?

    As it happens I did Maths/CS myself, and some of the stuff we got to read was shit. I teach programming myself these days, and I still cite "algorithms + data structures = programs" as the worst programming book ever written. Behind "101 basic computer games" since at least the 101 stuff worked.

    But all the texts had been read by the lecturers,some had been written by them, and where we disagreed they engaged in honest debate with us. I recall asking some questions of outstanding stupidity (with hindsight), and of course it is the interaction that made me wiser, not the dumb consumption of the words of the wise.

    The thing that concerns me most is that phrase in the first article that the tutor was "not in a position" to criticize the article. My tutor, one Richard Bornat more than once asked people "did the really pay you to write this ?" when researchers presented papers he found substandard.

    He was right sometimes, and wrong others, but again a qualified tutor should be able to argue with the source of any article in which he teaches.

  39. Nano nano

    The other OU ...

    I believe that Oxford Uni also does a distance-learning MSc in Software Engineering - or it did a few years back.

    Try them.

  40. Sam


    El Reg is a blog?

    So what's the Sunday Times, a pamphlet? Where do they get these idiots from?

    Actually, a heads up to the Times Educational Supplement sounds like an idea.....

  41. Andraž Levstik

    Not always true

    > I think, for an educational institution, having a flexible approach to facts is probably a little like

    > misspelling your name at the top of the test. You wouldn't have gotten any marks for getting it right,

    > but you damned well better get the boot posterior-wise for getting it wrong.

    Not true... we actually got marks for putting our names and so on on the piece of paper for the test... A whole 2/100 for anyone that was capable of doing that...

    It's amazing how many people have problems answering that basic of questions... And this at college level...

  42. dominic bird

    enough of the OU bashing

    I have completed a number of OU courses and I have never had any problems with the language used in their course material. The material was regularly updated and clearly written.

  43. Alan Gregory

    credit monkey???

    Well it all seems a bit of OU Bashing is in Vogue this year. I wonder if the writer who comments that any monkey can graduate with an OU degree has attempted to do so? Or if he has even got a degree? Or if he is one of those people who imagine that having a MCSE is somehow equivalent to an undergraduate degree?

    Getting a degree isn't easy, at whatever age or university. If it were then everyone would have a degree, a situation that appears just as far off today as it ever has despite the current gov's attempts to get us all into the ivory towers. The OU degrees are just as difficult to achieve as other institutions, in fact until fairly recently a post-grad degree with the OU involved more work (18 months f/t) than a more traditional University (Durham 12 months f/t). As some may have recognised I used the past tense as this issue has since been addressed and now very few post-grad courses take less than 18 months, levelling the playing field somewhat.

    The OU is like many other institutions, populated by individuals of differing levels of ability, some good, some less so. I can honestly say from experience that in six years with the OU, I have had issues with the abilities and knowledge of just two tutors and one member of the management team in Milton Keynes. Maybe I'm just an argumentative sod or maybe I'm just lucky but compared to some other universities and workplaces I have experienced, the OU is a shining beacon of best practice.

    The course mentioned does appear to be worth giving a miss though.

  44. Frumious Bandersnatch

    advice for the OU

    Sack your PR department.

    In these straitened economic times, it's a good idea to get rid of dead wood. I understand that this may cause considerable upset and hardship for those being given the boot, and I would like to think that those in the PR department so fired would find some work elsewhere. However, given that they've obviously shown that they (and, by extension they their entire "profession", though I may be painting with too broad a brush) can provide zero value (that's being charitable) with their current skillset, I would advise them to consider further education before attempting to re-enter the jobs marketplace.

  45. John

    Hit and Miss

    I am in the middle of doing a degree witht he OU and have to say that the modules have been hit and miss at best. Some use language so obscure and provide very poor outlines of what they actually want from you it is rediculous. Others however have been spot on, my main gripe however is that some of the computing modules are woefully out of date. I did one last year on networking that made little to no mention of switches, it was more of a history lesson than even teaching basic principles of networking.

    On the whole however I will stick by them as I have had nothing but good tutors who have engaged with me when I have questioned the standard of materials used.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    Those who can't teach

    No no no. It's supposed to be:

    "Those who can't teach, manage."

    You know it's true.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OU Courses

    I am not surprised, that you found the OU wanting. In an introductory Humanities course it is pushing post modernist anti science which was comprehensively debunked 4 or 5 years ago . In this, we are asked to support the view that spiritualist table rapping is is just as scientific as any other ' science ' and that Darwin isn't right, he just had all the big guns on his side. When I complained, I was told to just go along with it. I pulled out of the course.

  48. Richard Spencer

    OPEN and not-OPEN!

    Sadly I have found over the last few years that the OU is not OPEN to criticism of course material or assignment questions. Equally it has become clear that tutors (Associate Lecturers now) are not encourged to pass student concerns up, nor their own. If they depart from the marking scheme they appear to fear that they will probably not have their contracts renewed.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    ARgharhgagr @ Unis

    Sounds like the local Uni I tried tolerating down here (University of Tasmania)

    All my enthusiasm for the course disappeared around week 5 when in the DB course half a lecture was used to show how to use Excel as a front end to MySQL (no *real* probs there) and the other half how to use MySQL as a front end to Excel ("You won't be examined on this!!")


    Paris, 'coz she's no doubt got the stuff that the local Uni is infected with.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Those who can't teach, manage

    dammit - yes - thanks AC ;o)

    Those who can't manage, become critics.

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