04 Nov 2008

Evolve your knowledge with new Darwin course

With 2009 bringing the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s book, On the origin of species, and the bi-centenary of Darwin’s birth, The Open University (OU) is launching a new short course to explain and explore the science of evolution.

The course, S170 - Darwin and Evolution is aimed at those with little or no scientific knowledge. As a short course it is an ideal introduction to scientific study and can be used as credit towards an OU degree. The course launches in February 2009 and registration is open now via the website

Supported by OU academics that are at the forefront of research in this area, the course includes the book 99% Ape – How evolution adds up which has been contributed to and edited by leading evolutionary biologist, Professor Jonathan Silvertown. The book explains modern evolutionary theory and its relevance to current issues, as well as exploring case histories and the origins of our own species.

The second element of the course is a television series co-produced with the BBC, which illustrates Darwin’s working methods. The course finishes with a practical web-based exercise in which students will be asked to investigate variation and evolution in snails. An online study guide integrates the three course components.

Course chair, Dr Peter Skelton, said: “There will be growing media-inspired interest in Darwin in 2009 and this course is ideal for anyone interested in following up the theory of evolution and its implications for us today in greater detail. The OU has a wide variety of activities planned for the Darwin bi-centenary year and I am very excited to see this course becoming available as a key part of that provision. With such a fascinating and topical subject, it’s also a great way to get back into studying and exploring science at entry level.”

Editor’s Notes
The course starts in February, May, September and November. We expect it to be available at the same time four times each year, and the last starting date to be November 2012. Related courses:
• S104 – Exploring Science
• S193 – Fossils and the history of life
• S366 – Evolution (Level 3, advanced course)

The Open University’s Darwin Celebrations
The Open University is a proud partner in Darwin200, a national programme of events celebrating Charles Darwin’s life, his ideas and their impact around his 200th birthday on 12 February 2009.

Expert Comment:
The OU has a number of internationally-recognised experts on evolution, Darwin and his life available for comment:
• Professor Jonathan Silvertown, Professor of Ecology
• Dr Peter Skelton, Reader in Palaeobiology
• Dr David Robinson, Senior Lecturer in Biological Science
• Professor Jim Moore, Professor of the History of Science

Web resources:
Find out more about Darwin and his theory, related courses and see yourself as you might have looked millions of years ago with our fun face-morph tool Devolve Me. You can also enter the prize draw for a copy of the new book 99% Ape: How evolution adds up.

The site has information on Darwin exhibitions and events throughout the UK, links to related YouTube video clips, online chat forums discussing the social impact of his work, OU Worldwide merchandise, OpenLearn free taster units, details of OU courses you can study and much more.

Book – 99% Ape
In 99% Ape: How evolution adds up experts from The OU explain this complex subject and guide the general reader through some of the evidence. Read the latest on Darwin’s finches and how new species evolve, uncover the flaws in ‘intelligent design’, find out what evolution has to say about psychology, the development of the human mind and morality and how we are still evolving. The book is edited and contributed to by Jonathan Silvertown, Professor of Ecology.

Evolution Megalab
Supported by the Royal Society and the British Council, Evolution Megalab is an online public experiment, bringing evolutionary theory to life. Members of the public are being asked to contribute to a massive survey of banded snails in gardens and public open spaces right across Europe. Using the internet, people will be able to report their findings to the Megalab project, and they will receive personalised interpretations of their observations in their own language. The results will be compared with historical data to test for evolutionary change in response to climate warming and changes in predation pressure over the last 80 years.
Evolution MegaLab launches in April 2009:

BBC Co-productions
The OU is working with the BBC to co-produce three TV series and a special one-off programme that consider the impact and legacy of Darwin’s theories and ideas:
• Tree of Life (BBC ONE) - Sir David Attenborough argues the case for the importance of the science of evolution.
• Life (BBC ONE) - capturing the most extraordinary and awe-inspiring animal survival behaviours ever shown on TV.
• Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (Working title; BBC TWO) - Andrew Marr explores the impact of Darwin’s theory in science, society, political movements and religion.
• A Year in Darwin’s Garden (Working title; BBC TWO) - entomologist and farmer, Jimmy Doherty, recreates many of Darwin’s ground-breaking experiments and observations.
The annual Open University Lecture for 2009 will be given by Professor Richard Dawkins on Darwin and will be webcast.
Find out more at

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