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Student and tutor module reviews

Relational databases: theory and practice

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  • Points: 30
  • Code: M359
  • Level: 3
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Student reviews

A well-paced and enjoyable course. Provides a decent broad grounding into standard SQL both in terms of querying and Db object manipulation. A few issues with one of the TMAs in my year which I'm sure will be addressed in future years but otherwise I thought the assessment was fair and the exam at an achievable level.

I use SQL for my job and really would have liked the course to go into more complex coding and efficiency considerations but I guess this would have been too much for those who are starting from scratch. Having said this, I'm largely self-taught and it was interesting to learn the way SQL works so that I can better understand the implications of the code I write.

I would definitely recommend this course... but then as an existing SQL-lover maybe I'm biased!

Course starting: January 2012

Review posted: August 2013

Get ready for a tough course. However despite its toughness, I learned a lot from it. In short, this course will teach how to collect requirements, design a database and implement it via SQL. The course is very rich regarding materials and content, though it is straightforward and controlled.

Seyed Farshid Miri

Course starting: April 2013

Review posted: July 2013

I thought I was understanding this course but then I did poorly. So I wouldn't advise doing this course unless you have previous knowledge or experience.

Course starting: January 2012

Review posted: July 2013

I found M359 a frustrating, irritating and challenging experience. So much so that I was compelled to review it. Although, it was not challenging because the course content was particularly difficult; the main challenge I had was deciphering the learning points presented in the course text. The course text suffers from abstruse, verbose language.

Ultimately, I felt that this course did not present a cohesive message or approach to designing and implement databases. It relies heavily on the theoretical aspects throughout the course, however, these key elements are covered briefly and haphazardly in the course text. More time taken to explain and illustrate the theoretical aspects covered in unit 2 will make the rest more accessible. I would also have benefitted from more practical experience of building whole (albeit small) databases.

Much of the course text is verbose and unnecessarily descriptive, making key points difficult to discover and/or decipher. To illustrate, say I wish to define a computer as:

A programmable machine that performs logical processing tasks.

Adding details such as that a computer might be grey in colour and have different programming languages is insignificant for the point I am making. I just need you to know that it is programmable and does logical processing. M359 suffers from unnecessary details, rendering the result meaningless, as I illustrate:

A computer, which may be grey, and have many different operating systems via use of virtual machines, performs user functions as well as being able to be programmed by a person, or other machine, who or that is knowledgeable in the particular set of instructions, which differ from programming language to language, and allow provision of logical processing.

Another issue is the use of examples in the text. I would have found it logical to begin a section with a description of a key point with accompanying example. As we expand the learning point, we expand on this example. M359 often expands the learning point either using a different example each time, or switching to examples from past sections or past blocks. This is confusing and unnecessary. It is not testing my ability to understand the concepts, it is testing my ability to digress. Instead of following the progression of the learning point my brain power is expended finding the old example and getting reacquainted with it. I would have preferred just having a single expample per section that was expandable to adequately fit the points covered. That way I can follow the learning rather than getting bogged down in the unnecessary details of which example is this one. Also, there are no learning point summaries, so you have to wade through the mire again and again. I had to rewrite entire sections.

One final warning, all but the most recent past exam papers are not available electronically, so you have to wait a week for printed copies to be sent. I left it a bit late.

Mark Calder

Course starting: January 2012

Review posted: December 2012

I found this module tough but rewarding. There's an awful lot of information packed in for 30 credits, although it was my first at Level 3, so I don't know whether that's typical. It covers a wide range of topics, and in some ways I think it might have been better as a 60-credit module with more depth in each topic.

Although I had used databases occasionally in the past, after studying M359 I have a much better understanding of the theory, and of more advanced SQL. However, there were a couple of things that I felt detracted from the experience.

The course materials were hard going; I'm normally OK reading fairly 'dry' text but I was struggling to concentrate on M359. As, judging by the forums, were more than a few others. Then again, I don't know how it stacks up against other Level 3 modules...

And I felt the assignments were in a couple of places not quite up to the OU's usual high standards. For example, one question asked for something that the course materials had previously demonstrated was bad practice. Luckily I had an excellent tutor, who was very understanding about the dodgy questions.

As for the exam, judging by the forums a lot of people found it really tough this year. Personally I did better than I dared hope, somehow equalling my OCAS, but it needed more revision than any other module I've taken. On that point, the course team were very helpful in the revision forum.

Overall I enjoyed, and gained a lot from the module; and I'd recommend it - just bear in mind the workload!

One last thing: I wouldn't recommend studying at the same time as M256. In the early part of the modules, they cover fairly similar topics (analysis) but from different angles, with different terminology etc, and it can get confusing which one is which if you keep flicking backwards and forwards.

Steven Christopher Eddies

Course starting: January 2012

Review posted: December 2012

I really enjoyed this module and the TMAs. However, the gap between the TMAs and exam was enormous in my opinion. Many students on my presentation seemed to drop at 1 or 2 grades from their OCAS. Unfortunately I was really disappointed in my exam mark - despite usually performing very well in exam situations, and getting a distinction for my OCAS, my final grade dropped to a grade 3.

Despite my disappointment, I will be basing my TM470 project on databases and SQL, so I certainly enjoyed the module enough for that!

The materials were good and I especially liked the SQL. I thought the split between practical and theory work was done well. I also had a great tutor who produced a really helpful website focusing on some of the main issues that people have, which came in really useful on multiple occasions.

I would recommend the module to anyone with an interest in databases. However, be aware that there is a huge amount of revision required to cover all the material that could be in the exam, even if exams are generally your strong point.

Course starting: January 2012

Review posted: December 2012

I didn't like this course. I found it spent too much time on the theory of 'relations' and 'data analysis' (how to collect and represent the data). It was also written in a way that I found to be overly complicated and slow to pick up.

From a practical side I think you learn very little about database implementations (MySQL, Oracle...) I think if you are looking to learn about databases to work with as a developer then download an implementation, read the documentation and work on your own projects.

If you are thinking about working in the database industry, then I would say try another course or graduate scheme with a company that specializes in this subject.

On a positive note this course is very complete and covers many topics. On a negative side many of the topics are not detailed enough for it to be of much use.

Course starting: January 2012

Review posted: December 2012

An enjoyable course, though a huge workload for 30 credits. The examination was very difficult and I am going to have to resit. Would I take the course again? - perhaps not.

Tutor was excellent - good feedback on assignments, which were fair and enjoyable.

Course starting: January 2011

Review posted: December 2011

I found this to be a very enjoyable and relatively easy Level 3 course. As previous comments have indicated, do not underestimate the volume of material that needs to be revised for the exam. This is by far the largest course I have taken in terms of pages in the 5 blocks. My only criticism would be that there is no summary of fundamental concepts/ideas, for example in a course handbook. Locating key information for revision (especially in the enormous Block 4) was quite difficult.

However, the material was well presented and explained clearly. The exam was pretty straightforward but difficult to complete in the alloted 3hrs. I normally finish exams 20mins early, allowing time for checking etc but used every minute of the exam just to finish.

A thoroughly enjoyable course.

Colin Watson MacKerron

Course starting: January 2010

Review posted: January 2011

This was a course I really enjoyed. There is a good mix of both theory and practice to give you a good grounding in this. Things like creating packages in SQL etc are not covered in this course - but then again it depends what you are looking for from the course.

The only advice I would give potential students is to not underestimate the amount of time required to study the 4 blocks for the exam.

Even with some work experience in SQL I found that myself and several other students had underestimated the time to study this.

Patricia Farquharson

Course starting: January 2009

Review posted: December 2009

This course provided quite a challenge but was worthwhile. I found the content elaborated on my existing database experience and explained much of the background and theory, which helped me to further understand the subject.

At times the workload was fairly intensive but very practical. The assignments were very "hands-on" but I found the exam in particular to be tougher than expected with some questions poorly presented.

I would recommend this course.

Gary John Drew

Course starting: February 2008

Review posted: December 2008

No problems with the exam paper on my (2nd) presentation.

This course gives a good introduction to the subject of databases and is, in my opinion, a straightforward Level 3 course. I considered the highlight of the course to be the coverage of conceptual data modelling.

The assessment strategy for the final block needs to be more clearly articulated. Note that block five featured in part 1 and 2 of the 2008 paper when many students only expected it in part 1.

Andrew Rattray

Course starting: February 2008

Review posted: December 2008

This course was a serious disappointment, I thought there might be teething troubles on a first presentation, but it felt like a course that hadn't been tested at all and we were the first guinea pigs.

The course materials were impenetrable, very badly written, and necessitated lots of flicking backwards and forwards, the result being that essential parts of the course explanations were in the "Solutions" part of the books at the back. I got as much out of Google and Wikipedia as I did out of the units, and for the final TMA one part was impossible to complete properly without a visit to the Sun tutorial site.

The exam will go down in OU history as one of the most badly planned and executed debacles, it was killer complicated and had an appendix at the back containing all the essential tabled information to answer the questions. This layout resulted in constant flicking through papers, creating disturbance for other exam room users and drawing glares from the invigilators, which only added to the stress. From the red hot conference posts afterwards, I gather that due to this, many people just went blank.

The course team were unhelpful, they had a very hands off attitude, and when one of them did post in the conference in response to complaints it was to let us know that they aren't paid to be in the conferences so not to expect anything. A couple of tutors were more helpful than that, but not to even remotely the level that I've been used to on other courses, there were no extra questions and solutions devised by keen tutors, nothing extra to the course materials at all.

Many of us were heading for a grade 1 after the TMA results, but dropped a couple of grades or failed thanks to that exam. Anyone considering taking this course should think about that very carefully, do not depend on it for your degree classification, as it may well derail it even if you're doing well on the TMAs and understand the subject.

Would I recommend it? Not in its current form, no.

Hazel McCulloch

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: November 2008

Faculty response

We are sorry to hear of your dissatisfaction with the first presentation of M359. The course and assessment materials are intended to be stand-alone and it is not necessary to use external sources to complete the assessment questions. Following feedback from students and tutors a number of changes have been made to the course presentation and additional guidelines given to examination setters.
Course Team

Despite numerous errors and heavy workload I found this course both interesting and well written.

I have no background in databases and yet it has given me a good understanding of relational database theory.

Paul Stephen Sherratt

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: October 2008

Like a majority of students who expressed themselves via the M359 course conferences, I found this the worst course I have ever done with the OU. It was a first presentaion, there were numerous errors within the course documentation, and some of the subjects were far better explained on Wikipedia and via Google than in any part of the documentation.

The examination paper layout necessitated flicking to the back of the book to look at code, back to your place in the answer sheet, by which time you had forgotten what you had read.... get the picture.

This is the only non-core course I have taken outside Geoscience subjects and if it is the standard of all OU IT courses, roll on Oceanography!

Course starting: February 2007

Review posted: September 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.

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