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Science: plants and people

This course explores the crucial role that plants play in the everyday lives of us all. Plants and their products are important not just as staple foods but also increasingly as biofuels, bioplastics and medicines, and even for catching criminals and in combating climate change. Science: plants and people is one of a series of 100-hour flexible online courses introducing fascinating topics in science. It allows you to learn about this topic just for interest and enables you to try out a new area of study before you commit yourself to further study. You can register and begin this course at any time and will have at least 6 months to complete it.

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code
SG073
Credits
This is a non-credit bearing course.
Study method
Distance Learning
Short course cost
See Registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

What you will study

Plants form the basis of all life on Earth. There is an astonishing variety of uses that plants are put to by humans, but these uses, as well as climate and environmental changes, can threaten the very survival of many plants. This course aims to demonstrate the reliance humans have on plants and their products, while pointing out the challenges that plant life currently faces.

Through a range of topics that look at some of the most interesting aspects about plants, the course explores the crucial role that plants play in our everyday lives. Plants and their products provide the staple foods for all humans, and they are becoming increasingly important as biofuels and medicines. They can even have a role in catching criminals and combating climate change. The potential use of genetically modified staple crops for feeding an increasing world population, the techniques of micropropagation and modern ways of cultivating plants on different scales are also covered. The course also discusses the potential health-related benefits of plants and their products, including looking at the world’s favourite drinks, tea, coffee and alcohol, and at the botanical aspects of the drug marijuana. Finally, the importance of conserving the diversity of our natural heritage – in the UK and globally – is set in both a historical context and a vision for the future.

The core of the course is a richly illustrated ebook, Why People Need Plants. This has been written in four thematic parts by experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and The Open University. A series of online video and audio clips present some topical issues. Through a practical activity you’ll investigate the basis of flower and leaf colour. Specially-written OU study materials provide additional background science. They also guide you through Why People Need Plants and the other components, with interesting questions and activities to help your understanding and to develop scientific skills.

By the end of this course you should be able to:

Demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of some of the basic facts, language, concepts and principles relating to plants. In particular you should be able to demonstrate an understanding of:

  • the composition and properties of plants
  • how to record, analyse and interpret experimental data relating to leaf and flower pigments in plants
  • the different ways in which plant products have been utilised by humans
  • the environmental risks posed to plant survival and the mechanisms available to overcome such risks
  • the contribution that science can make to informed debate on issues arising from the use of plants and the threats posed to plants and their habitats.

This course will require around 80–100 hours of your time in total, which can be spread over at least 6 months. Register online today and start tomorrow – no need to wait!

The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in distance learning:

  • The convenience of accessing its clearly presented and sequenced materials, activities and support whenever suits you and wherever you have access to the protected course website – if you prefer, you can print key materials to work on them offline.
  • The support of an expert learning adviser who can clarify study materials, answer questions and help you relate the course to your specific needs.
  • An online interactive quiz that you can attempt as many times as you wish to help you test your own learning.
  • A statement of participation from the OU which you can use to demonstrate your engagement with the course. (N.B. The course does not carry academic credit points.)

Some of the pages within the course contain links to external sites. Accessing these sites is part of the allocated study time for the course. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you.

Learner support

Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, library, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.

Teaching and assessment

Assessment

There is no formal assessment on the course but you will be able to assess yourself on your factual knowledge through an online quiz that gives detailed feedback to help your learning.

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.


    Entry requirements

    The course is designed for people who are new to the subject area and although a little basic knowledge of general science would be useful, all you need is an interest in plants and the benefits that they bring to the world. You’ll have to understand some basic science, such as biology and chemistry, in order to do this. If you have read popular books and magazines on the subject, you will find the course develops your understanding and introduces topics that you have not met before.

    You should be able to read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of a professional magazine or quality newspaper. Mathematically you need only to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide simple numbers.

    You can study at your own pace and attempt the online quiz at any time before the end date for the course. Information about the end date is available when you register and will be at least six months after registration.

    If you want to see if this material is suitable for you, try a sample of the study material.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    At anytime Flexible - see Entry requirements for more detail £165.00 Register

    Ways to pay

    Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa/Delta or Visa Electron.

    Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

    What's included

    All learning materials, activities and study support are delivered entirely online, including the PDF of the externally published Why People Need Plants.

    You will need

    Basic scientific calculator.

    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:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

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

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    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. 

    If you have a disability

    The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs. If you are a new learner with the OU, make sure that you look at our website.