T171 You, Your Computer & The Net (2001)

Level 1, 30 points.

As with any level 1 course, T171 is designed partially to reintroduce students to education and to get them used to the "OU Way", and in specific this is a compulsory course in the IT & Computing degree. The course has since been restructured (more on that later), so my experiences here may not still be relevent. Also, this page is written some time after the fact, so recollections may be a little foggy.

The course was divided into three modules, as follows...

Module 1: You

I almost gave up hope on this module, now thankfully removed from the course, which consisted of an introduction to computers in general and covered such in-depth topics as how to start up applications in Windows and how to connect to the Internet. There is clearly a need for this sort of material, but not for me. Luckily things picked up in the second module.

Module 2: Your Computer

The primary thrust of this module was the history and development of the personal computer, based around the highly readable Accidental Empires by Robert X. Cringely, whose own history was something of a topic for debate, as well as assorted material on the web. All stuff that I found pretty interesting, including the history of the microprocessor and the development of the personal computer from the Altair to the modern Wintel PC, the groundbreaking research at Xerox PARC, the growth of the software industry, and more.

Module 3: The Net

This has since changed, but when I took the course, much of the third module was based on Where Wizards Stay Up Late by Katie Hafner and Matther Lyon, a book which some on the course found rather stodgy, but I enjoyed its detailed account of the development of the ARPANet, the seed that eventually grew into the Internet. The module added extra material to expand on the text to include more recent network developments, including the basic workings of the TCP/IP protocol suite, the architecture of the Internet and, of course, the Web.

The Revised Course

From 2002, T171 saw a number of changes. Essentially, Module 1 was spun off into a separate, short course for those who wanted a basic introduction to computing. The other two modules remained in substantially the same form, but with the set book on the Net module changed to A Brief History of the Future by John Naughton (an OU staffer), a good read covering a much wider view of the development of the Internet than Hafner & Lyon.

The course's third module was changed to cover e-commerce by means of Blown to Bits by Philip Evans and Thomas S. Wurster, a book which I found rather stodgy, being pitched more towards business-minded readers than techies like myself.


This was an enjoyable course in general, though I was disappointed by the first module, as I am probably rather more technically minded than the core audience. However, this is primarily a history course, with a bit of applied technology, so was probably an important step to take to provide context and an alternative viewpoint to the courses I planned to take later. If I'd taken the course a year later, I am sure I would have got more out of it, but those are the breaks -- I'm already a long way past this stage, so no point in dwelling on that.

This page last modified: 2005-05-13.