The exam is over, and I think it went okay, but I’m not at all confident that I’ll have passed this one – hopefully the results will be released around the start of December like they were last year, I’ll be very interested to find out whether I’ve managed to scrape a Pass 4! Anyway, now that it’s over and done with, it’s time for a good navelling-gazing session about M366 as a whole…

This course is a bit of an odd one – it’s the only OU computing course I’ve come across that seems like an actual “computer science” course rather than a programming course. As such, I think it places very different demands on the student than, say, M263 – at times, it felt more reminiscent of my days writing meandering English Lit assignments than any computing course I’ve done! So I think part of my dissatisfaction with M366 is just down to me not expecting the course to be quite so humanties-like.

Moving on to more specific criticisms, I found the tone of the course books a bit waffly and too conversational at times, and the TMAs suffered from some frustratingly vaguely-worded questions. And NetLogo – I’d almost forgotten about NetLogo! The inclusion of the NetLogo/BehaviourSpace exercises in the course seemed pretty much pointless, and I didn’t find the language interesting enough to learn it for its own sake (which, given that most of the other OU courses I’ve done were programming-based, was quite a surprise!). The JavaNNS exercises weren’t too bad, but the “M366 Course Software” application was just bizarre – the content was mostly text, so it could easily have been an additional PDF document, or even a website, rather than an odd little Java program. Kind of strange that a computing course would handle the tech side of things in such a patchy manner, I think.

So there’s a lot to dislike about M366, from my point of view. But if you can get past all of these little frustrations, the actual subject matter of M366 is really fascinating, and well worth studying. I particularly enjoyed learning about genetic algorithms, swarm intelligence and those awesome Braitenberg machines – I’ve spent many a happy hour reading around these subjects online, and I think studying M366 has sparked what will probably be a long-term interest in swarm/collective-based AI (robots and insects, a winning combination!).

Ultimately, though, while artificial intelligence is a brilliantly rich and rewarding subject to study, I just don’t think taking M366 is a particularly good way to go about doing so – at least, it isn’t yet. The course has only been going for a couple of years, so I expect that the quality of the course materials and assignments will be refined over the next few presentations. To paraphrase one of the students in the course forum, it seems like there’s a really good course inside M366, just waiting to get out – hopefully it will emerge (ha!) sooner rather than later!

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