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Student and tutor module reviews

Our dynamic planet: Earth and life

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  • Points: 30
  • Code: S279
  • Level: 2

Student reviews

I don't normally write reviews for my modules, but I felt compelled to for S279. The first thing I will say is don't come to this module without any previous geological study - there's a reason they recommend it as your final Level 2 module - but I found S276 and S283 to be a good preparation.

I'm going to have to agree with the other reviews in that, yes the first half of the course is difficult, but I honestly found it fascinating. Once you accept that you're going to have to re-read each chapter at least a few times to get any of it to make sense, it all becomes a lot easier to deal with! Personally I found the second half of the course more straightforward but less interesting.

However, my perseverance was rewarded at the end of the course when you see how everything you have studied all fits together - it was one of the best lightbulb moments I've had since studying with the OU. In short - tough going at times but well worth the effort.

Course starting: February 2012

Review posted: January 2013

Although when I read the description of this course, I thought it would be right up my street, I found the course incredibly hard going. I found the books to be poorly written, and hard to read, I would often fall asleep whilst reading. The TMA questions were also badly worded, and it was sometimes very hard to understand what was being asked. The exam was also hard work, even though it was open book, although I did manage to pass.

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: January 2012

I found this course quite difficult mainly because it is not very well structured. I found the first book extremely difficult - the most difficult Level 2 book I've ever read, although I do admit that I'm not particularly interested in the subject matter of this book, which is always the key to an easier study experience.

The second book I found very interesting and enjoyable to read, however again it was not very well structured. I was informed by the tutor that the course was "put together" by various authors and it is easy to tell that each section is written by a different author. There was a few sections I found repeating themselves or even contradicting each other.

The first TMA of the course provided me with the worst result I have ever had! It does not ease you in gradually and seems to be a test for whether you will stick out the course or not. The TMAs got easier from them on though and my first assignment was thankfully substituted. The exam was actually ok (as far as exams go) and I was very pleased to see that although the TMAs look for minute details the exam did not.

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

Book 2 - wonderful. Very interesting and well written, I had completed S216 prior to study of S279 and found myself thinking "ah that's what they meant!" where the course materials overlapped.

Book 1 - a challenge from beginning to end but overall a rewarding one. I learned so much more from this dense, difficult book than from previous OU texts of similar length. I was delighted with my overall course result because every single mark from book 1 was hard fought for. If you enjoy a challenge do this course.

Michele Clair Tilley

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

This course was brilliant. Complex systems; solar system, monsoons, tectonics, biological organisms, carbon cycle, evolution and much more, all woven into an interplay of fascination. I love overviews of large dynamic processes and this course did not disappoint.

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: September 2011

This course had the potential to be brilliant but it is badly let down by the mess the 2 books that comprise the course are in. There are so many interesting topics covered but the rehash of 2 older courses crammed into S279 has not worked. The Science faculty have a multitude of excuses to cover the presentation this course is in along with the problems for both the tutors and students trying to do their best with it. The 2 courses that S279 have become should have been left as 2 separate courses and rewritten/updated. Very very disappointing.

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: April 2011

It has to be said this was the least enjoyable experience of all my OU efforts to date; sadly I can't even agree with those who reviewed it as "ultimately rewarding", for me the only rewarding thing was seeing the end of it.

I found the assessments and exams much harder than any other Level 2 I've done, and certainly harder than Level 3 in related subjects. The TMA questions were confusing/frustrating in equal measure, and the books are particularly uninspiring.

The exam topics had clearly been selected to be different from previous papers; quite untypical for the OU and makes it very difficult to revise. They probably think they're compensating for this by making it "open book", if so why not just set a fair test in the first place?

I believe quite a number on our intake gave up before the end, not surprising really. My honest advice is that if there's any other module that will get you your degree, take it. If you are going ahead with S279; go to the tutorials and pay close attention; your tutor will be able to explain topics quickly that the course material conspired to make impenetrable.

Good Luck!

Colin MacLennan

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: December 2010

Faculty response

S279 has had an open book exam from the beginning. The exam is the same structure as the specimen paper; that is six compulsory short answer questions, two compulsory data analyses questions, a compulsory question on Book 2 Chapter 7 and a choice of one essay question from three. We are also careful to split the questions so that there is no clear bias towards either book.

However, specific topics do vary from exam to exam and we can never set a paper that is perfect for everyone, particularly for such a wide ranging course. The exam was read and commented on by the external examiner who did not raise any issues about it being harder than previous exams and he thought it fairly reflected the content of the course. In the case of the October 2010 exam, the raw marks indicate that it was slightly easier than the two previous October exams.

This course is presented in two halves, each half with a separate book. The first book is not as well written as other OU texts. We were told that S279 was the result of the combination of two other 30-credit courses, one consequence of this being that much of the necessary explanatory material had been omitted from the first book, making it exceptionally hard going. The second book, by contrast, was up to the OU's normal high standards and very well written.

My TMA scores covering the second book were 20% higher than those covering the first book, and everyone else I know had the same experience. If you need this course for a B25 degree, then you'll just have to bite the bullet & make the best of it. If you do not need it for a particular degree profile, then my recommendation would be to give it a miss. Hopefully the OU will withdraw this course & give it a complete rewrite in the very near future.

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: December 2010

Faculty response

S279 is suggested as the last Geosciences module at Level 2 before moving on to level 3. Students who have studied all of the recommended prior study modules (S104, S151, S276 and S283) have few problems with either half of the module and report enjoying their study of S279.

Although highly rewarding, it is a challenging module as it requires the ability to take a broad overview of an issue, drawing on evidence from a wide range of sources and science disciplines. A recent review undertaken on S279 found its performance wholly in line with other science Level 2 modules so no significant changes are planned in the near future.

An extremely difficult but rewarding course, the exam was also a challenge. Do not enter this course without some previous knowledge.

Mark White

Course starting: February 2009

Review posted: December 2009

A very challenging, but ultimately rewarding course. 2007 was the first year of presentation and there were a few frustrations at times, with textbook errata and lack of index. I was fortunate to have fantastic tutor support which made all the difference and kept me focused.

I would say that prior completion of S260 and S151 or equivalent Maths skills is essential. I hadn't even used a scientific calculator before so it was tricky at first, but a great feeling to be rewarded with a good pass at the end.

Books 3 and 4 much more readable than Books 1 and 2. These earlier books were still most interesting as they quoted very recent research.

This was the most difficult Level 2 course that I have done, but as ever the more one puts in, the more one receives at the end!

Margaret Deytrikh

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: June 2008

I enjoyed this course.

Its a great shame the OU had to merge two earlier 30-pt courses (S267 and S269) into this one course. Having done the previous two, I could see where the join was and feel that it was unfortunate that much had to be left out.

The assessment required a new way of thinking as well as it was the first time I had experienced an 'open book' exam, so for me, it was not just a case of knowing what the course was all about, but also knowing whereabouts in the course the concepts had been introduced, in case I needed to look things up.

Don't do this course as your first Level 2 course. Its much better left until just before you are ready to make the transition to Level 3 courses and have got other 2nd level courses under your belt. I think this may be where some people may have found it hard going.

Margaret Carolyn Benning

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: February 2008

Very enjoyable course although it was demanding at times. Course text very well written on a subject that you cannot fail to be interested in. This was my first course in this particular field and I was concerned I may have taken on more than I could chew, but was absolutely over the moon with my overall course mark. Would recommend S279 to anyone.

Stephen Nunn

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: January 2008

Please note

Each of the views expressed above is an individual's very particular response, largely unedited, and should be viewed with that in mind. Since modules are subject to regular updating, some of the issues identified may have already been addressed. In some instances the faculty may have provided a response to a comment. If you have a query about a particular module, please contact your Regional Centre.


Module satisfaction survey

The figures below are taken from a survey of students who sat the exam/completed the end-of-module assessment for the February 2012 presentation of S279. The survey was carried out in 2012. 40.5% of our students responded to the survey covering what they thought of 10 aspects of the module. See this page for the full text of questions and more information about the survey.

Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of this module 81.3 %
Overall, I am satisfied with my study experience 81.3 %
The module provided good value for money 76.1 %
I was satisfied with the support provided by my tutor/study adviser on this module 83.3 %
Overall, I was satisfied with the teaching materials provided on this module 91.7 %
The module met its stated learning outcomes 83 %
I would recommend this module to other students 62.5 %
The module met my expectations 72.9 %
I enjoyed studying this module 72.9 %
Overall, I was able to keep up with the workload on this module 85.4 %
Faculty comment: "The module team would like to thank those students who have posted comments on this module. Once again the module has received mixed reviews relating to the means of presentation (two co-published books) and the content (too many high level concepts). The team recognise the difficulties some students have with this module, although judging by the results of those who complete it, the distribution is similar to other OU level 2 modules. These issues will be taken into consideration during the production of the replacement module, planned for 2014."
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