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Science project course: science in society project

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This is the project module for the BSc (Honours) Natural Sciences. You will undertake an individual investigation of a topic within the area of natural sciences, such as: climate change; agriculture; biological conservation; nuclear power; or genetic engineering. You’ll cover the underpinning science and place your chosen topic in its broad social context, analysing it in relation to communication, risk, ethics and decision-making. You’ll need access to scientific literature, probably from electronic library sources. The study materials provide a guide to planning and conducting project work; help with searching and using the literature; and writing a report, but ultimately this is a chance for you to plan and execute a piece of work for yourself.

What you will study

Early in the module you will be guided by the study materials and by your tutor to choose an appropriate topic to investigate in depth. Unless you have access to an academic library, you may find that you have to spend up to two thirds of your time in the early part of the module online, identifying suitable material to inform your choice of project topic from the electronic journals available via The Open University Library. You will need to develop a good understanding of the science underpinning your chosen topic and also to be able to explain this clearly to a non-scientist. However, the distinctive feature of this module is its emphasis on aspects of the interaction of science and society. How can the science behind controversial issues best be communicated to the public? How can the public’s understanding of the very difficult concept of risk be enhanced? How can the public have a say in what science is done on its behalf? Each project should consider communication, risk, ethical issues and decision making in the chosen topic.

Entry requirements

SXN390 is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject.

You should study this science project module as the final module of your BSc (Honours) Natural Sciences, as you will need to apply knowledge and skills from your prior studies. Normally you should have passed at least 60 credits of the OU level 3 requirements for the your degree – as well as Science in society (S201) or its predecessor Science in context (S250) – before embarking on your project module.

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 Your Science Level 3 Project Course? 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.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

What's included

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

  • a study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

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

You will have a tutor who will initiate contact at key points during the module, will mark and comment on your written assignments, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Your tutor will support you in the process of researching your independent project. Much of your contact with your tutor will be by email or computer conferencing. There is no face-to-face tuition for this module. 

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


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

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper. The end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted online.

The TMAs help you to record progress with your investigation and build up the elements required for the project report. The project is a serious piece of science writing and comprises a substantial part of the examinable component. You will be expected to keep a log of your project work and to submit your cumulative log with your TMAs and with the examinable component.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SXN390 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

Science project course: science in society project (SXN390) starts once a year – in February.

This page describes the module that will start in February 2021.

It will run until at least February 2022 – before which, we’ll review its future. Following a review, we’ll decide to either offer it beyond February 2022 or replace it with a similar project module.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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