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Communicating science in the information age

Anyone with an interest in how and why we communicate science will benefit from this interdisciplinary science module. Using case studies and articles, you’ll consider how science is communicated in different settings and genres, through a range of oral, print and digital media, and what frameworks and methods have been proposed for studying these communications. You’ll explore how scientists communicate with each other and look at the role of public engagement activities, science museums, popular science books, science theatre, television documentaries and newspapers in representing the sciences. The critical literature review – part of the final assessment – is excellent preparation for the MSc project module (S810), which students are expected to study.


Start End England fee Register
31 Jan 2015 Oct 2015 -

Registration now closed

February 2015 is the final start date for this course. For more information, see Future availability.

What you will study

This course consists of five blocks of work:

  • Communicating science: an introduction gives you your first look at the range of situations in which the sciences are communicated in the information age. You will begin to explore the strategic management of contemporary science communication and how this shapes various forms of ‘publication’.
  • Scientists communicating illustrates how scientists communicate with other scientists through a range of oral, print and digital media. You will see how this communication forms the basis of the documentation of scientific knowledge, for example, through discussion of conferences, peer review and open access.
  • Communicating science in informal settings examines situations where scientists communicate with non-scientists, e.g. in settings such as science museums and science theatre, and through popular science books. You will critically evaluate the concept of ‘(upstream) public engagement with the sciences’ and the challenges it sets for those who choose to participate.
  • In Broadcast, print and new media we ask how science is represented in a range of popular media and genres, and examine the future of public service broadcasting in relation to the sciences. You will consider how scientific knowledge becomes news, how scientific information is represented in popular media and genres, and how audiences consume and respond to these messages.
  • The last block, Research issues in science communication, documents trends in research and critically examines three alternative approaches to investigating science communication in the information age.

Five study commentaries, together with readers and audio-visual material, form the core materials. You will produce an extended critical literature review as part of your end of module assessment, and you will take part in moderated and informal online forums.

Some of the audio podcasts for this course are available for free download from itunes.

You will learn

The learning outcomes of the course are of several different types. By addressing them you will demonstrate achievement relevant to the study of science communication in the following areas: knowledge and understanding, cognitive skills, key skills, and practical and professional skills. You will illustrate that you are aware of how the sciences are communicated in oral, print and digital forms and to a range of audiences, involving various motivations and constraints. You will develop skills both in critiquing science communication and studying the processes of science communication. We will help you to:

  • extend your knowledge and understanding of how and why the sciences are communicated in the information age
  • develop transferable postgraduate skills in the study of science communication
  • improve your practical skills in accessing, filtering, analysing and responding to scientific information
  • consider ways in which contemporary communication of scientific information influences scientific citizenship.
Normally you must have completed either this module, SEH806, or S811 or B716 and one of SD815, S807, S808, S819, or S827 before progressing to the MSc project module (S810) or theMSc project module for the MSc in Professional Science (SXB810).

Vocational relevance

This qualification is for anyone who has an interest in how scientific information is communicated in the information age. It offers an opportunity to pursue contemporary issues in science communication and to explore the practical applications of those issues. You will develop a comprehensive understanding of the key challenges facing those who have a responsibility for communicating scientific information. In completing this course, you will demonstrate transferable information literacy skills in accessing, assessing, analysing and responding to primary, secondary and grey literature, and to audio and video resources.


To register for this course you must normally hold a UK honours degree (or equivalent qualification). 

If this course is to count towards the MSc in Science (F12) or MSc in Professional Science (F60) your degree should be in a science subject. Alternatively, if it is to count towards the MSc or Postgraduate Diploma in Science and Society (F48 or E35) your degree can be in related subject e.g. communications, museum or media studies, science education, or qualifications in the history, philosophy or sociology of science. 

If you do not have an acceptable honours degree, but have other study or experience that you believe equips you to study at masters level you can still apply, but must supply evidence of that study or experience. Your case will be referred to our MSc in Science Admissions Panel. For further advice, email the postgraduate science team.

You will also need good computing skills (e.g. able to search the Web, use email, use word processing packages and take part in online forums). You will have opportunities to assess and then develop your information literacy skills via a series of online library-based activities.

All teaching is in English and your proficiency in the English language should be adequate for postgraduate study. We strongly recommend that you can achieve an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of at least 7. To assess your English language skills in relation to your proposed studies, you can visit the IELTS website.

The study blocks and course readers are provided as hard copies, but also in other digital forms. Other materials and resources are available through the SH804 website, with options for downloading them, so you can study if you are on the move. But you will also have opportunities to assess and then develop your information literacy skills via a series of online library-based activities. Assignments will need to be submitted electronically through the electronic tutor marked assignments system (eTMA).

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

Outside the UK

The course is open to students living and working outside the UK.


SH804 is an optional module in our:

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service before registering.


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.

If you have a disability

The course depends heavily on reading and writing text on computer screens, particularly during the extensive use of electronic text-based tuition. There is also audio-visual material in the form of video clips (on DVD video). You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet.

Written transcripts of any audio-visual components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available through the SH804 website. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader, and musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

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.

Study materials

What's included

Course website, study commentaries (in print, online, and and searchable PDFs) course readers (as printed books, and searchable PDFs), other text-based materials, audio (as downloads from the website) and visual (on DVD video) materials, online forums, tutorials and library facilities, web-based resources.

There are two DVD videos containing video clips.

You will need

We recommend that you have a broadband internet connection and a standard DVD player.

Headphones with a microphone will be essential for communicating with students and your tutors via online audio conferencing software.

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).

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. Electronic communication will be used. Your regional or national centre will provide you with both general and certain specialist help with your studies. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with the OU before you register.


The assessment details 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. You will also be expected to submit your end-of-module assessment (EMA) online through the eTMA system.

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that starts in February 2015, when it will be available for the last time.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Distance learning

The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.

Course facts
About this course:
Course code SH804
Credits 60
OU Level Postgraduate
SCQF level 11
FHEQ level 7
Course work includes:
3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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