Skip to content The Open University

Student and tutor module reviews

Planetary science and the search for life

see module description

  • Points: 30
  • Code: S283
  • Level: 2
On this page

Student reviews

Probably the best course I have done to date. Was very interesting all the way through although quite difficult at times, especially the long chapter on meteorites and the start of the book on astro-biology.

The course team as a whole were fantastic and constantly took part in all the conversations in the forums, and my tutor in particular was very helpful to me and did a lot of extra online tutorials which helped me greatly in the exam.

Am sorry that the course has finished now and would recommend it to anyone.

Paul James Dunstan

Course starting: November 2012

Review posted: September 2013

I found S283 very challenging and enjoyable but I would agree with Eva Menge that the forum element was indeed overwhelming and for anyone like myself having difficulties reading online material, there were a number of areas that could be improved.

I could not see the absolute need for a midweek start of the module. Whilst this was faithfully reproduced on the online module calendar, the calendar entries often carried over into the following week and as a result, there was much duplication of entries, e.g. for recommended study, discussion forum, online tutorials etc. For me, this was visually confusing and very stressful to follow. Far too many hyperlinks made it difficult to spot the essential elements from the non-essential ones.

Students used the forums to extend the tutor support they received from their own tutor to access additional support of online tutors. The forums and release of online study materials were controlled by the module team who did a good job of ensuring that the calendar was followed in a timely fashion.

The downside of this was that flexibility of study time, determined by the student, was very limited and as I was committed to collaborative work on another module whose timescales were similarly controlled by the module team, there was an inevitable clash of priorities between the modules. For this reason I would not recommend that this module be studied along with other modules by students who face challenges allocating sufficient study time as like me they may well find the recommended study times insufficient.

All in all I found the online activities a little too intense and was disappointed that I was unable to participate in them on this module to the extent that I was able to do on other modules.

That said, David Rothery and his team are to be congratulated in delivering a very wide range of scientific topics in some considerable depth and for stimulating a high level of student interest throughout.

Iain Jack

Course starting: November 2012

Review posted: August 2013

I really enjoyed this module!
It was my first Level 2 module with OU. I did not take S104 but previously studied some science in the far past.
The tutors were helpful and friendly. The forums were well structured, but I also think a little overwhelming.

You have to concentrate on not surfing the forums all day instead of looking into your books. The e-tutorials were also very helpful. Since I study on the continent I could not enjoy any face-to-face support.

After going through the "Are you ready for S283" I got quite uneasy if I could tackle the math and chemistry part. The material was mostly well written and structured, depending on the author and I guess the personal aptitude and bias.

The material brought me through the math and chemistry (no personal aptitudes here!) parts of the course well.

The study amount varies with talents I guess, but mostly I could follow the given schedule. The TMAs are absolutely great to estimate your learning status and lets you see what you need to review more intensively.

My tutor marked my TMAs well, so I could use my corrected TMAs to review well. My tutor also patiently helped me to clear up misunderstandings fast and precise concerning procedures and wordings due to the fact I am an outlander and not UK-proof.

Against my expectations I discovered my interest for Geology. I really enjoyed that part most.Also Astrobiology which I had been looking forward to, was extremely interesting.

The Exam: Well, I was so excited! I haven't had an exam in nearly 10 years. I work my review well with the "Learning Outcomes". Once I was confident with those and had worked through previous exam papers I had the confidence to pass. And I did! Quite well.

Only awkward thing: I was the only one in the room! My one and only face-to-face experience with OU so far! I would definitely recommend this course!

Eva Menge

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: January 2013

Great course. My best study experience with the OU so far.

Having studied S194 Introducing Astronomy, MST121 Using Mathematics and S282 Astronomy with a 7-year gap I was a bit apprehensive about launching in to S283, but I found the course reasonably straightforward given my lifelong interest in all things related to astronomy.

My physics/chemistry knowledge was rusty and my biology/geology near non-existent. This didn't hinder my progress through the module though. Neither should a lack of mathematics put you off this module.

The two textbooks, DVD and online content are superbly presented & are a credit to the team that run the module. An active Forum was a goldmine of information particularly during revision time.

The geology content needs to be kept in context. It is by no means overarching, but there is a significant broad-brush level of detail involving plate tectonics, volcanism, partial melting etc and how these vary from body to body. None of it I found overly complex, but learning the geology is, perhaps, the most important aspect of getting the most out of this course. If you can understand, comprehend and explain how the solar system formed &how geological processes shape those bodies then you are a long way to getting through the 4 TMAs & the exam.

There is so much more to S283 though. I found the biology side of the module particularly interesting. My knowledge of biology was near zero & I found myself drifting off on interesting tangents discovering much more about DNA, RNA, extremophiles etc. Like a previous poster I thought the chirality section could have been better written but there is enough material on the internet to help.

Two other interesting digressions, for me, came about through studying S283. Access to scientific papers postulating theories of how the solar system came about in the first place (more S282) given the abundance of certain isotopes observed and how we think the planets have migrated and, perhaps, swapped places in some cases. All this, of course, is way above the required knowledge, but be prepared to have your eyes well and truely opened by this module! It crosses so many branches of science it's hard to list them all. Geology, physics, chemistry, biology, meteorology, mathematics, climatology etc etc.

My tutor was great, although I didn't need to utilise him too much given the quality of the study materials. His TMA feedback was quite critical, but very fair, and I felt it made me approach my work with better attention to detail. ie more scientific.

My subjective summary:

Subject matter: fascinating
Study materials: excellent
Tutor/student support inc forum: great
Difficulty: moderate
Study time: appx. 12-16 hours/week
Tangents: mind blowing!

If you absolutely detest geology then this course is probably not for you. If you can stomach a little and are able to manipulate simple mathematical formulae then you should be able to manage okay. If you have a greater knowledge and/or interest you will absolutely love this module.

Jason Bowie

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: November 2012

I really enjoyed this course, & found it well supported by tutors & forums. Forums were really well organised with a forum for each chapter so that it was easy to find relevant threads & reduced the chances of duplicate threads. There were also lots of etutorial forums (a series of forums led by different tutors, concentrating on a specific subject each). These were timed to fit with the course (including TMA help) and while the tutor led it for a week, the forums were left open for students to carry on discussions after. It takes a bit of discipline to keep on with the study & not get distracted by the additional resources (such as etutorial forums).

There was also an excellent revision forum where past papers were worked through. A really varied, multi-science course. Geology, physics, biology, some maths. Fascinating study, challenging but worth the effort.

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: August 2012

I absolutely adored S283. Having just been updated in 2011, the coursebooks are fresh, clear and beautifully illustrated - a bit of a rarity with the OU!

The workload was completely appropriate for a Level 2 module, and I found it very manageable alongside a full time job. A good grounding in basic physics in particular, but also chemistry and biology will take you far with S283. It was my first OU module, as I was granted a credit transfer, so I can't speak about how well S104 will prepare you but I felt very well equipped approaching it with my Leaving Certificate (Irish A-Level) in science.

The geology was a bit mind-bending at first, but simply taking the time to read and re-read the course material got me there. The TMAs always seemed to touch on the areas that most needed a little extra work and definitely helped to round out my knowledge. I was surprised by how much of the course was familiar to me, simply from a lifelong interest in the solar system.

It speaks to the strength of the course that, in spite of having completely lost the tutor lottery, I got through it with very little difficulty. Maths is not a strong point for me, but a very active forum with incredibly helpful and insightful comments from students and some tutors alike was invaluable. Don't be frightened away from the course by the maths component - it was understandable even to those of us very addled by numbers and you can get a very good grade even if you can't tackle the most difficult of questions.

I could not recommend this course enough - I hope it is still around in a few years as I would love to take it again simply for pleasure. Make sure you join the Facebook group - fantastic student support and general fun!

Mary Halton

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: August 2012

I really enjoyed this course which takes us on a sweeping journey from planetary system formation through to the nature of living systems and exoplanet detection.

It is well paced with two books and four TMAs and I found that the suggested timetable was about right. The interlaced activities were good at reinforcing learning. F2f and elluminate tutorials were helpful and generally well positioned within the reading - my tutor was very supportive throughout.

Buying past exam papers and working through them was essential for me. Even though there are no published answers apart from the specimen paper the tutors were terrific in supporting a revision etutorial that covered each of the available papers.

Minor niggles -(i) there were too many forums (nearly 30) so it became difficult to sort out the wheat from the chaff and then find useful things again and (ii) a couple of sections of the text could be improved (eg isotope ratios and chirality).

Overall it was great and highly recommended!

Peter Ross Wilson

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: July 2012

I totally underestimated the amount of geology in this module and as a result didn't enjoy it as much as I should have done. Unfortunately, I took this along with S282 and as a result of struggling to get through this module found myself well behind on S282.

If, however, you enjoy geology, the first book will interest you immensely. The second was more interesting but by now I had already lost the will to live. If you really don't like geology, leave well alone. If on the other hand, you are interested in geology, this might be an ideal module for you.

The books are well written - besides a few too many errata - and overall the workload is appropriate for a Level 2 module. One word of warning. Some tutors will not help with answers to specimen and previous exam papers while others will, even to verify your own thoughts. The forums were very well managed and essential for learning. All students, with the odd exception, were very helpful and perhaps more so than tutors at times.

This is not my first module but the first module where I felt that some tutors were reluctant to help. When you have spent days trying to work out something and eventually pluck up the courage to ask for help an answer like 'p65 para three explains this!!' Or worse still, 'don't worry about why that is the answer just accept that it is' does not help any. There were one or two occasions where I gave up trying to understand something.

Would I do it again given the option? No. But only because of the amount of geology.

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: July 2012

A fantastic course. I really enjoyed it and feel that I have learned so much interesting stuff!

I showed a work colleague some of the course material and his comment sums it up: "Wow, you're basically reading popular science and getting a qualification out of it". Yep. Exactly. There are large sections of the course that I would be reading about in my spare time anyway. Having a structured way to learn about planetary science through S283 is a great way to read about it.

I did this course after S282 and I think that helped. I found S282 more difficult - and note that some of what you learn in S282 means that some of the concepts you come across in S283 are already second nature.

Kashif Farooq

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: July 2012

S283 is an extremely interesting module, much more than I imagined it would be. The course materials are great and as up-to-date as they could be on the subject of exoplanets. I was sceptical about the amount of geology that might be involved in Book 1, as geology is not my best science. However, because the material is so interesting, it was no problem at all. Book 2 is more bitty, but the sections on exoplanets are utterly fascinating.

The tutorial support is excellent; there is an individual course tutor and tutors answer questions and queries on the national fora. The tutors also put a lot of effort into the e-tutorials. I didn't participate in these, as questions are asked daily and I didn't have enough time to dedicate to the e-tutorials. But I'm sure many students found them helpful.

I enjoyed the face-to-face tutorials; it is good to be able to discuss subjects with other students and tutors. It's a shame these are being phased out, but I also benefited from the Elluminate tutorials, which I thought were superb. As Elluminate tutorials seem to be the way lectures will be given, I would like to see a few more throughout the duration of the course.

All in all, this is a very interesting module.

Rubyna Sheikh

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: July 2012

A very interesting course overall, slightly spoiled by the larger than average errata in the TMAs, I think there was 3 or 4 in one of them alone.
Block 1 was easily the more interesting of the two, for me. I found Block 2 to be rather bitty, almost as if it was a case of "let's throw a little bit of everything in".

Having said that I was very pleased with my course result, I had an excellent tutor, which was fortunate as I (and many others) found the forums to be dull and uninformative.

Julie Samantha Jones

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: March 2011

I did this 2nd level course to make up the points needed to complete my degree, alongside the project course. Far from an easy 30 credits it was quite challenging but absolutely fascinating. The course books are beautifully illustrated and I only scratched the surface of the amazing pictures and information on the DVD, due to lack of time.

Having concentrated on geology for the majority of my BSc Geosciences degree, I found the geology side of it quite straight forward, but the physics very challenging. It also includes biology so is truely multi-disciplinary. Best bit was the suite of forums which offered support and advice on every block and every aspect of the coursework, TMAs and past papers. In a subject that was very new to me, I found these invaluable, although pressure of time meant that I couldn't contribute to them as much as I would have liked. And the best bit was that the exam was not as difficult as I had expected, a happy conclusion to the last course of my degree.
A great course!

Julia Hilary McDougall

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: February 2011

This was my first Level 2 courses and while I really enjoyed the first half, I did struggle with the chemistry and understanding some of the astrobiology. The tutor was excellent and well able to answer any questions I had. The exam was quite tough, again the astrobiology letting me down, but I managed a decent result overall. I came away with a new interest in geology and the formation of planetary systems in particular. I would recommend this course to anyone interested in planets and where life may exist, but do make sure you have the appropriate chemistry background.

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: January 2011

Overall an interesting course but if you want an overview of the solar system take the Level 1 course.

I found myself struggling with the chemistry in this course and it slowed me down a little. Doing the basic chemistry courses first would have been a good idea as well as a geological course as there is a lot of reference to rocks.

The books were widely out of date but I believe they are being revised. During the course it was said that there would be regular updates to counter the books being out of date but this was not the case and only a few comments were made. This was annoying and I found myself checking the web as I went along just to make sure I had up-to-date information although we were told that we were tested on the books. There were a lot of errors in the books to be manually corrected and even after doing the basic ones students kept noticing more errors and these books weren't even newly published!

The books were not as precise as I would have liked and were quite waffly in certain areas. It was sometimes quite hard to find out what the point of the subsections were.

On saying this, it is a course well worth doing and better books will hopefully improve it in the future especially if they are kept up-to-date in between presentations which unfortunately I don't think will be, or is, the case.

Chris Dann

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: December 2010

Faculty response

This student is incorrect in implying that there were not frequent updates during the 2010B presentation. We have checked and news items were posted on the S283 website as follows: 4 in February, 1 each in March, June and July, 3 in August, 3 in September and 2 in October. These items were posted in response to news events in planetary science, and so cannot be expected to occur on a regular schedule. There were many more items that we could have posted, but we chose the most important ones and feel that more than this would have been too much of a distraction.

On the matter of errors in the books: this student used books that were revised for reprinting in 2007. New and up-to-date editions will be used from 2011K onwards.

S283 Course Team

A fascinating course that covers the basics of planetary formation processes and how life may have formed, and how it may be found, elsewhere in the universe. It complements both the Geology Courses and also the Astronomy ones. I found it easier to undertake than S282 (Astronomy). Actually, as someone who is interested in Astronomy this course also fired my interest in Geology, Meterology and Volcanology as it covers the basics on all of them in just enough detail to be interesting without being over-whelming.

Mark J Eaton

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: December 2010

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.

Enter a module code to find a review

To send us reviews on modules you have studied with us, please click the sign in button below.