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Evaluating contemporary science

Qualification dates
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Effective communication is essential in science, but do you ever wonder whether articles written about science in the news are thorough, unambiguous and objective? This module lets you explore contemporary areas in science, examining the ‘science behind the news’. You’ll develop valuable skills, including searching current research, critiquing and evaluation methods, risk analysis, decision-making, and science communication. You’ll also explore different ways of collaborative working in a digital environment.

What you will study

In everyday life we often meet advances in science, usually through reports in the media. The way science is reported is important as it can influence decisions and behaviour. For example, the suggested link between the MMR vaccine and autism in the late 1990s illustrates how stories can develop far beyond the original scientific report and consequently influence the behaviour of the public. Therefore, you will appreciate that effective communication is essential for scientists. You will begin this module by exploring how science is peer reviewed and published before becoming news.

Next, you will study some recent original scientific research articles evaluating how closely they match some related news or other media articles. One contemporary topic we will use as an example is plastics in society, looking at the many multidisciplinary problems in their production, use and disposal, and, where possible, some potential solutions. You will choose one of the multidisciplinary aspects (such as the health effects of the leaching of chemicals from plastics, novel uses and recycling of plastics, or plastics in the environment and geology) to apply your evaluation skills.

As part of your evaluation of the science behind the news, you will then investigate the process of carrying out scientific research and how datasets are analysed and represented, an increasingly important area as more large datasets in science are being made available to the public. You will also be given the opportunity to work with some datasets in this module such as the level of lead in the blood of children due to environmental exposure.

For the later parts of the module, you will select one from several interdisciplinary scientific topics that you will individually investigate in more depth. Some examples of possible interdisciplinary scientific topics include antibiotic resistance, pollution from diesel vehicles, rare earth elements, moons and asteroids, The topic you choose should suit your interests and previous studies to allow you to apply your prior scientific knowledge to a contemporary real world issue. In parallel, you will also be encouraged to assess the wider implications in society of the science that you are exploring.

There is a popular online ‘science conference’ where you will utilise the skills learnt during the module to produce a scientific poster on your chosen topic. In addition, you will also adopt the role of a scientific advisor, presenting the findings from your chosen investigation as a separate briefing document. You will be fully supported in developing the important employability skills that you will practice and improve during these activities, such as presentation, critical thinking and analysis, awareness of societal impact, assessing risk, and decision making. The study materials work through some recent scientific topics and provide guidance on planning your own literature search, analysing data and communicating the information.

The module is ideal preparation for anyone planning a career in science, particularly those intending to go on to study one of the Science project course modules. As part of your first piece of assessment you will develop skills to deal with information that is not familiar to you and present your findings in a particular written style. Two intermediate submissions will help you to further develop important independent learning such as data analysis and presentation skills, and preparing a scientific poster with an accompanying recorded audio pitch, data analysis and presentation skills. For the final assessment you will present your findings as a short briefing document for a specific audience.

You are expected to check the S350 website and online forums frequently, and take part in group discussions in online tutorials. You will also be introduced to working with Open Studio, an online platform, to participate in a student conference involving peer support and feedback. Note the module is delivered entirely online, with no printed materials.

You will learn

By studying this module you will learn to:

  • work independently with cutting edge scientific research
  • develop and improve the knowledge, understanding and skills required to deal with scientific information
  • present scientific information in various media.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need some knowledge and skills obtained through:

  • OU level 1 and 2 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for S350?

What's included

Web-based text, software and access to The Open University library.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

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.


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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S350 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

Evaluating contemporary science (S350) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2026.

Course work includes:

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment