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Human biology

You’ll learn about the major human body systems (cardiovascular, respiratory, excretory, endocrine, nervous, digestive, reproductive) and their major dysfunctions, as well as look at multifactorial conditions related to lifestyle choices. While learning the basic science, the material will also emphasise the richness of interactions between the individual and their environment. You’ll learn human biology in an interdisciplinary context; relatable to a variety of backgrounds, whether science, technology, the humanities or the health professions. It will enable you to appreciate how such knowledge is relevant to issues in health and disease.

What you will study

In this online module, you’ll study nine core topics and one chosen topic.

Topic 1: Human variation and diversity – The sequencing of the human genome has revolutionised the way scientists and health professionals think about human health and biology. In this topic you’ll explore the way our genes direct aspects of our behaviour and how our genome interacts with the environment. You’ll also discover the role of genes in the synthesis of proteins.

Topic 2: Cells and cancers – The skin is the largest organ in the human body and is continually being renewed. You’ll explore how the cells of the skin work together to repair and maintain its integrity. You’ll discover that accumulative mutations in the DNA of skin cells, largely because of exposure to the sun, can lead to skin cancers.

Topic 3: Nutrition and digestion – Worldwide, a third of adults are overweight or obese and this is fuelling a global increase in heart disease and diabetes. You’ll explore the importance of a healthy diet and learn how the body extracts nutrients from the food we eat.

Topic 4: The nervous system – This topic opens with the case of the man with the 7-second memory, illustrating the fragility of the human brain. The average adult human has over 85 billion brain cells, each capable of generating electrical signals. You’ll learn how brain cells achieve this electrifying feat and how they use chemicals to pass information from one brain cell to another. As well as exploring the different parts of the brain and the peripheral nervous system you’ll also learn about the senses and how the brain can be fooled!

Topic 5: Hormones and homeostasis – Hormones play a critical role in controlling physiological processes and maintaining the body’s internal environment. You’ll explore what happens when these homeostatic mechanisms fail, causing conditions such as diabetes and hypothyroidism. You’ll also discover how hormones are abused to improve performance in sport or to accelerate slimming.

Topic 6: The immune system – Our bodies are under constant attack from a host of pathogens. In this topic you’ll discover how the cells and components of the immune system defend the body without destroying it. You’ll learn how vaccinations prepare the immune system to fight disease and why there’s not yet a vaccination for the common cold.

Topic 7: Respiration – ‘Don’t hold your breath’ is an expression you’ve probably heard many times, but may not have thought too much about. In this topic, you’ll study why respiration is so important for life, including how air enters and leaves the lungs, the many dynamic factors that control breathing, and some diseases that affect respiration

Topic 8: The cardiovascular system – The heart of a 72-year-old will have beaten roughly 2.5 billion times, demonstrating the robust and resilient nature of the human heart. In this topic, you’ll learn how the heart and blood vessels work together to ensure that there is a continuous supply of blood to the body and why the control of blood pressure is important for human health.

Topic 9: The kidneys and homeostasis – The first organ offered for sale on the internet was a kidney! This is because without functioning kidneys the chances of long-term survival are limited. You’ll learn that kidneys clean the blood by removing excess water, minerals and wastes, as well as regulating blood pressure and secreting hormones.

Chosen topic: The musculoskeletal system – You’ll discover how bones, joints, muscles and nerves work together to allow movement of the body. You’ll also learn about the various roles that calcium plays in this system.

Chosen topic: Stress – Stress is a major cause of human disease and mental health problems, yet stress can also be beneficial. You’ll explore this conundrum.

Chosen topic: Fertility and reproduction – You’ll explore the topic of infertility in both men and women. You’ll learn about the hormonal and cellular events that prepare a woman’s body for reproduction and pregnancy. The topic concludes with the birth of a human child.

You will learn

As well as studying key physiological and anatomical principles of human biology, you’ll also develop your skills for further study in health and biological sciences, including evaluating evidence; handling numbers; presenting data; writing skills; and using information technology.

Entry requirements

You need appropriate knowledge of biology or health.

You’d normally be prepared by completing OU level 1 study as part of one of our health sciences qualifications, having passed Questions in science (S111), Science: concepts and practice (S112) or Science and health (SDK100). Alternatively, Introducing health and social care (K102) or Investigating psychology 1 (DE100) would be suitable preparation.

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

What's included

All of the study materials for this module are provided on the module website.

You will need

You’ll find it useful to have a simple calculator, as well as a notebook and pen for note taking and working out your answers to self-assessment questions and activities.

You may need either a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of diagrams or graphs you’ve drawn to include with your assessments.

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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part. If you want to participate, you’ll likely need a headset with a microphone.

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).

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SK299 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Human biology (SK299) 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 2024.

Course work includes:

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

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