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Contemporary topics in science

This innovative and flexible module lets you tailor your study by choosing from a list of topics across all science disciplines. To whet your appetite, you might wish to study about autism, nutrition, chemistry, citizen science – or astronomy, with an online telescope! This module makes use of OpenLearn and other OU topic content. Depending on the topics you choose, you may focus on one topic in depth or study three different topics. The end-of-module assessment will explore your science understanding along with the skills you’ve developed to be a successful science student.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. Any credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Module

Module code
SXM150
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
10
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
OU SCQF FHEQ
1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

This flexible, wholly online module allows you to focus in depth on a single topic or to study a selection of three shorter science topics.

Single topic choices include:

Galaxies, stars and planets
This topic explains how the Sun gets its energy, how astronomers observe the Sun and its interior, as well as introducing the planets and their satellites.

Molecules, medicines and drugs: a chemical story
Focus on the chemistry that underlies the development of drugs and medicines that relieve pain and effect cures. And how drugs interact with and affect their target areas in the human body.

Plants and people
Explore the role plants play in our lives, in food, biofuels, bioplastics and medicines – as well as their role in combating climate change.

The frozen planet
Explore the wonder of the polar world and learn how ice has shaped and controls our planet.

Alternatively, you can combine any three shorter topics from the following:

An introduction to exoplanets
Consider the planets beyond our Solar System. Could there be life on them? In this topic, you’ll explore the fascinating new era of exoplanet studies.

Astronomy with an online telescope
Develop a hands-on understanding of telescopic observations using the Open University’s own robotic telescope facility COAST. You’ll learn about stars: what they are, how they produce light, and their evolution over time.

Citizen science and global biodiversity
Focus on biodiversity and explore how anyone can contribute to and be involved in identifying and recording wildlife, as a citizen scientist.

Discovering chemistry
This topic introduces some fundamental chemistry: from atoms, chemical elements, and the Periodic Table to chemical reactions and the formation of large molecules.

Microgravity: living on the International Space Station
Focus on the physics of microgravity environments, including the International Space Station. You’ll discover how microgravity environments are used to study ageing, quantum physics, bacterial resistance and planet formation, as well as consider moral questions such as the cost of space exploration.

Moons of our Solar System
Learn about the fundamental processes that have shaped moons, the relationship between our Moon and Earth, and the space missions that have taught us about moons. You’ll discover the amazing diversity of moons in our Solar System.

The science of alcohol
Learn the chemistry and biology behind the production of alcoholic drinks. How are flavours generated? How do scientists ensure the safety of what we drink? You’ll explore the long- and short-term effects of alcohol on our bodies.

The science of nutrition and healthy eating
This topic introduces the biology, chemistry and physics behind nutrition. Are we really what we eat? How do we know what is in our food?

Understanding antibiotic resistance
Explore the history of antibiotics. How do antibiotics work? What is antibiotic resistance and how does it spread?

Understanding autism
This topic introduces the autism spectrum, how it’s experienced by different individuals and families, and why it’s a global concern. You’ll learn how ideas about autism have evolved and explore diagnosis, causes, intervention and life-span development.

You will learn

This module lets you focus your learning on topics that are of interest to you. Alongside developing your understanding of some key scientific concepts, it will enable you to practice and improve your written communication skills. In addition, as this module is delivered online, your online-learning skills will develop. You’ll also participate in reflective practice around your skills development.

Vocational relevance

By studying this module, you’ll improve your scientific knowledge as well as your skills to communicate science-related information. You’ll also develop your use of digital tools in an online environment. As an independent learner, you’ll demonstrate the ability to plan and reflect on your learning. All these skills are very useful, not only for further study, but also in interviewing and employment.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

There are no tutors on this module. However, a team of specialist study advisors will be on hand to support you as you study. You’ll be able to contact them via an online forum through the module website.

As might be expected from a module with ‘contemporary’ in the title, this module looks at topical issues. To support this, there may be a small number of online tutorials facilitated by the module team. These will be run in the OU’s Adobe Connect online rooms, accessible through the module website. The tutorials are optional and will follow an informal, workshop format, where you and your fellow students can discuss scientific topics in the news. There are no face-to-face tuition events.

Assessment

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

You will be expected to submit your end-of-module assessment online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must contact your study advisor to get agreement to submit your assessment on paper.

Future availability

Contemporary topics in science (SXM150) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2020.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.

Regulations

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

    Course work includes:

    End-of-module assessment
    No residential school


    Entry requirements

    There is no formal pre-requisite study.

    This course is for people who are new to the subject area. You need little more than an interest in science and the motivation to discover more.

    Mathematically, you need only to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers. The structured teaching will take you to a level at which you’re happy to use maths as a tool in a range of scientific contexts. Should you wish to refresh your maths skills, we provide a ‘maths skills ebook’ to help you with, for example, fractions, percentages, reading graphs and tables, and scientific units.

    To cope with the written material, you should be able to read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of a professional magazine or quality newspaper.

    If you’re not sure you’re ready, talk to an advisor.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    03 Oct 2020 See description £516.00

    Registration closes 24/09/20 (places subject to availability)

    Register
    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2027.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a computer, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    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 monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

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

    Employer sponsorship

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

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module 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 module.  

    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, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

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


    Please 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 valid for modules starting before 31 July 2021. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 19/09/2020.

    What's included

    You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • course-specific module materials
    • audio and video content
    • assessment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access
    • an online forum where you can talk with other students and get support.

    This course is delivered entirely online.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.