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Evaluating contemporary science

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 will enable you to explore contemporary areas in science, examining the ‘science behind the news’, and offering some choice in the areas that you will individually investigate. Key skills you will develop include searching current research, critiquing and evaluation methods, risk analysis, decision making and the communication of science. You will also explore different methods of collaborative working in a digital environment – the module is delivered entirely online, with no printed materials.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
3 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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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 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. The contemporary topic we will use is plastics in society, looking at the many multidisciplinary problems in their production, use and disposal, and, where possible, some potential solutions. Aspects of plastics here will span several disciplines including: 

  • the health effects from the leaching of chemicals from plastics (for example BPA)
  • the formation and properties of microplastics
  • their environmental and ecological effects in the oceans
  • their presence as an indicator in geological deposits
  • novel plastic materials 
  • the science behind the recycling of plastics.

As part of your evaluation of the science behind the news, you will investigate 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.

As you proceed to a second contemporary topic in science, you will select one from several interdisciplinary scientific topics that you will individually investigate in more depth. The topic you choose should suit your 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. 

Finally, you will adopt the role of a scientific advisor, presenting your own findings as a poster in an online ‘science conference’ for your fellow students and 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 analysis, awareness of societal impact and decision making. Furthermore, 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 given 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. For the final assessment you will adopt the role of a scientific advisor and present your findings as a short briefing document. 

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.

Vocational relevance

By studying this module you will develop key skills including searching current research, critiquing and evaluation methods, risk analysis and decision making. There is a focus on the communication of science in the written form, as posters and orally. You will also explore different methods of collaborative working in a digital environment including giving and using feedback from your peers. All these skills are invaluable in interviewing and employment.

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.


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) unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances you must inform the University and negotiate with your tutor about submission on paper.

Future availability

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

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

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.


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.

    Course work includes:

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

    Entry requirements

    To register for this module you must have successfully completed at least 60 credits of science at OU level 1 and 60 credits of science at OU level 2. This will ensure that you have some of the knowledge and skills required to develop further in this module.

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


    Start End Fee Register
    02 Oct 2021 Jun 2022 Not yet available

    Registration opens on 18/03/21

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2021. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 02/03/2021.

    What's included

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

    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.

    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.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.