This will be my last post. I’m done. This is a warning post for anyone studying or thinking about studying with the OCA. If you stop reading now take away this point: READ THE SMALL PRINT
Here’s what happened, the history. I shall try to make this a fair review of my time with the open college of the arts.
The Art of Photography
In 2012 I signed up to do the photography degree pathway, the art of photography module. I was in a bit of a photographic funk with my underwater work and thought doing a course would give me some new ideas to think about. It was a bit basic for my skill level at the time (I’d been persuaded in the Flickr forums not to APL (skip through) this introduction course/level because then I could lean the oca way of doing things, how they like the work submitted etc. All the bits you’re expected to know by level 2). I don’t know how, because it was clearly written in all the many pages of regulations, but I’d got it in my head it was 6 years for the first level (3 modules at 2yrs each). Despite being 6yrs in total they only allow you 4yrs to do it (makes no sense). More on this in a minute.
I was really excited for my first assignment, I thought I could really make a go at interpreting the simple course text in an imaginative way. Then my amazing tutor left. The next tutor I had was alright, nice enough, but whereas my previous tutor was from a fine art photography background this new one was from a commercial photography background, not interested at all in any creative interpretation, you needed to stick to the brief from the client (ie the assignment task text) plain and simple. This wasn’t what I personally needed at this point. I lost interest a bit I admit, especially after my assignment 2 feedback where he basically said not to do any more assignments using underwater photography. Around the same time I went on a few oca study days where I got chatting with the tutors and other students about the topics covered in the later photography courses (landscape or people, etc). According to the OCA tutors I spoke to nature photography is not artistic enough to be considered in the art world. Most of the people I dealt with in the OCA were very pleasant, I cannot say the same for one tutor I spoke with on a study day, he made me feel about this small (fingers very close together) in front of another group of students for liking to make nature photography. He proclaimed ‘it’s not “art”‘ (he’d obviuosly not heard of Duchump, anway he’s wrong of course as anyone who’d been to the Natural History Museums Wildlife Photographer of the year exhibition, or ever looked at anything done by David Doublet or Alex Mustard knows). Something along the lines of “if I want to see a picture of an eagle I’ll just google it, they all look the same….. perhaps the only way you could make it interesting is with taxidermy“. What a thing to say to someone who loves nature photography! Anyway, I’ve got off topic. Suffice it to say my productivity took a dive and I concentrated on my first passion, my underwater photography over the summer. I got the course finished and assessed but it had taken basically the full two years. Now I was running behind!
Digital Film Production / Having a Baby
I signed up for the film/video module thinking I might be able to do it concurrently with the digital rights one which they offered at the time. I’d enjoyed the small amount of video that I’d done and wanted to be better (I even filmed my own wedding) and the other photography modules did not look that appealing. Digital Film Production was quite interesting and the tutor was good but oh so time consuming, what a poor choice on my part. I tried to combine it with holidays and work to some effect. I did two assignments and got part the way through part 3 when I feel pregnant in 2015. A full time job, and sitting editing video was too much for me and the baby. I let the OCA know but they said you have 12 years, we can’t give you any extra time, most other distance learning institutions give 9. OK then. Thanks. By the time I came out from my post-natal funk and started checking emails again that course had expired unfinished. My bad I suppose.
Western History of Art / mismanaged expectations and officiousness
I phoned the office to see what my options were. I should have exited at this point! The lovely lady in the office explained that I could borrow a year from the level 2 time allowance to do my two extra courses in but there could be no more extensions after that for level 1 and I would need to leave the degree. She said that even if I didn’t manage two course I could at least do one and get the Higher education credits. It’s possible I could then use those to APL should I reapply to another degree. As it turns out she was misinformed. I really should have read the student regulations more closely. READ THE SMALL PRINT. I have just busted a gut and completed this course, on time, and submitted my request to have my work assessed in the march assessment (giving me until Jan 15th to do all the rework from feedback and tidying up) but then I got this email from the OCA
I am notifying you that you have been withdrawn from your degree a you have failed to complete Level 1 within the maximum 5 year timeframe. If you have obtained credits then you will receive a transcript from UCA. If you have obtained enough credits for an exit award then this will be requested for you and the paperwork forwarded from UCA. It is your responsibility to ensure you notify us of any address changes.
As you have been withdrawn from the degree then you are no longer eligible to have any additional units assessed as assessment is only available for student enrolled on a degree programme. I have therefore removed the assessment application date you had previously submitted for History of Art 1: Western Art
You will be contacted directly from Student Finance in the future regarding any outstanding loans – if applicable.
Being kicked off the course was expected, what I’m particularly aggrieved by was not being able to get my work assessed. I rang up, and explained my history and the nice lady on the phone was sympathetic and also confused as to why I couldn’t be assessed if I’d completed the module in time. I had to ring again to speak to the Academic registrar. We had a very unpleasant conversation where she explained that it’s her job to make sure that people who didn’t complete the whole of level 1 within the 5 years were withdrawn from the degree programme. She sounded like she was reading from a well versed script. Apparently it’s not just the module they are marking but the progress to date (which I’m not sure I’m buying) there is no recourse and no way to be assessed if you’re not part of the degree. Other students have told me they have also had trouble with taking time off (for illness etc). Also interestingly, for me it was not two years per course in actuality, I started this in December, it says 400 hours. I worked out I could do 400 hours in two years but the course ended at the end of August! No wonder I was struggling for deadlines! Another student told me she did get March to March so I don’t know what went on there. My tutor for this course was lovely and patient when I didn’t manage her deadlines and in the end I got this module all done in time, crucially not the whole level 1.
It sucks and I’m devastated but there are some silver linings. At least I don’t have three months of rework to do to prep for the assessment! I’m free to pursue my newly rediscovered enjoyment of art, drawing and painting (which I hadn’t done since school). If I had not done this art history course (or if I had quit when I realised it wasn’t going to be possible to do this one and another in time) then I would not have rediscovered that. Before this all kicked off I was hoping to come back in a few years when my daughter is a bit older and change to the creative arts pathway (which looks much more interesting than the photography) but they couldn’t pay me enough to reapply to the OCA again.
- The OCA isn’t a flexible option if you have many commitments in your life or your circumstances change. Thus might be true of all distance learning I don’t know.
- If your passion is nature photography the photography pathway is NOT recommended
- Read the fine print and note down the dates, don’t try and add up the course allowances.
- You can start the course whenever you like but you may not get the full two years as it ends Aug 31st
- They told me that the HD credits only last for 5 years from the point of exit (but this may be different at other institutions).
What’s next for me?
I’m going to start a new blog. I enjoyed the art history and as I mentioned rediscovered my love of drawing. After 20years absence I need to relearn my skills so a self-taught approach seems the most flexible for me. I’ve been posting my new work on Instagram @scuba_suzy. I also have an underwater photography backlog to go through. There’s always creative live and books from the library, I can start on all the things/ideas that I had to put off because I was spending my every spare family-free time doing this! I don’t think I’ll be wanting for things to do and I dont think I’ll miss it at all.
Find me here:
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/scuba_suzy
- Underwater/personal blog: https://suzywalker.wordpress.com
- new drawing blog? (I’ll edit this when I’ve thought of a good name).
To cheer myself up I went to Barbican to see the new Banksy (there are two under the tunnel by the cinema).