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Signals and perception: the science of the senses

This sensory neuroscience module uses fundamental concepts from biology, chemistry, physics and psychology to explain how we interact with our environment through the senses and is therefore an opportunity for you to study an interdisciplinary topic. For each of the senses, you’ll investigate how sensation begins with a stimulus that is converted into an electrical impulse; how that is transmitted to the brain; and how the brain combines these messages – to arrive at a ‘perception of the stimulus’. The module is designed to be accessible to students pursuing a wide variety of degree studies.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module

Module code
SD329
Credits
30
Study level
OU SCQF FHEQ
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

Student Reviews

The course systematically goes through the different senses - the stimuli that lead to a sensory response, the receptors, the...
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I loved this module. It is probably my favourite of all the ones I've completed en-route to my BSc(Hons) in...
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What you will study

The module explores the ways in which exciting ideas and findings at the forefront of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology have transformed our understanding of how we experience the world through our senses. It provides an understanding of:

  • the nature of the communication signals (e.g. light for vision, sound for hearing, molecules for taste and smell)
  • primary transduction mechanisms that convert signals into electrical impulses
  • the common nature of the transmission and processing of the resulting electrical signal within the nervous system
  • sensory disorders and treatments.

The material is divided into six blocks, presented in three printed books, beginning with two blocks introducing the senses and the nervous system. These blocks are designed to give you sufficient neuroscience background to work through the remainder of the module and include online activities to maximise your understanding of this essential information. Blocks 3-6 also include online activities, as well as additional resources which can be accessed online.

Throughout the module the emphasis is on the commonalities and integration between the sensory systems, as you examine the processes from sensation to perception for each sense as well as the impact and treatment of impairment or loss of sensory systems.

Block 1 Introduction to the senses. This block introduces you to the human senses, concentrating on observations and experiences that raise questions about how the senses work.

Block 2 Introduction to the nervous system. In this introduction to neuroscience, and in particular to the neuron, you’ll look at the way electrical impulses created by external signals of whatever kind are transmitted throughout the nervous system; and where they are processed and give rise to our personal picture of the world. You’ll also explore the techniques that are commonly used in investigating the senses.

Block 3 Somatosensation describes the somatic sensory system including how we sense and perceive touch, pain and our own body position and movement. The latter is often considered a hidden sense and in this block you will explore the impact of its loss. You will also cover the multidisciplinary treatment of pain.

Block 4 Hearing and balance. In this block you’ll explore the nature and properties of sound waves; the specialised anatomy and functioning of the ear; and how auditory perception arises, including for speech and music. This block also focuses on the vestibular system, which is housed within the ear, and how this system gives rise to our sense of balance.

Block 5 Vision. This block is exclusively dedicated to how we sense and perceive visual information. It is the longest block, in part because the most is known about vision but also because vision is in many ways the most complex of the senses. In this block you’ll cover the nature and properties of light; the optical system of the eye; processing of visual information within the brain; and how we perceive different elements of the visual scene such as colour.

Block 6 The Chemical Senses. The related senses of smell and taste as well as the sense of flavour are the focus of this block. The topics covered include the molecular characteristics of substances that we smell or taste; the nature of the receptors involved; the coding of smell and taste and how smell may be used in diagnostics.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. The tuition for this module will be online using video conferencing software. There will also be forums that will act as a virtual self-help group and enable students to support one another.

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


Entry

The module should appeal to students from many backgrounds, and will be of particular interest if you enjoy interdisciplinary study. It is suitable if you are specialising in biology, chemistry, physics or psychology, or following a degree in health sciences.

This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably with The Open University.

You are expected to have a basic science background. The OU level 1 module Exploring science (S104) and one of the OU level 2 modules Cell biology (S294), Human biology (SK277), The molecular world (S205), or The physical world (S207) would be ideal preparation.

If you are working towards our BSc (Hons) Health Sciences, you should have completed your OU level 1 and OU level 2 study before starting this module and we recommend that you study The science of the mind: investigating mental health (SDK228) as part of your optional OU level 2 study.

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the module, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For SD329? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the module or whether you need a little extra preparation. This can be viewed or printed from the Are you ready for science? website.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Register

Start End Fee
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 Not yet available

Registration opens on 12/03/15

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.


Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 28/11/2014.

What's included

Study books are provided in both printed and online format. All other materials, including assignments, are delivered online via the module website.

You will need

Some of the web activities in this module use the HTML 5 system. In order to display this you will need Internet Explorer 9, the latest version of Firefox or Chrome or other modern HTML 5 compliant browser. If you have a computer with a Windows XP operating system, you will need to install Firefox or Chrome or other modern HTML 5 compliant browser for these activities, as you cannot use Internet Explorer 8.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

If you have a disability

Many parts of the module rely heavily on complex diagrams and learning is often supported by drawing on your own experiences of sensory perception. You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. You can obtain more information and advice from the SD329 module manager.

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. The written study material in comb-bound format can also be provided on request.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.