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Relational databases: theory and practice

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This advanced computing module offers perspectives on relational databases. It introduces database management systems and the facilities required to store and access large collections of data in a shared user environment. This is followed by a theory of relations, underpinning topics such as data modelling and database architecture; the database language SQL; and the development of a practical database system. Also considered are issues surrounding the on-going development and application of relational database technologies, including the role of JAVA and XML. You should already be familiar with program construction and using files and operating systems, as taught in our Level 2 computing modules.

Modules at Level 3 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

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No current presentation - see Future availability

This course is expected to start for the last time in February 2014.

What you will study

This module is about designing, building and using databases: collections of data that may be essential to the operation of large organisations, or just may be of interest to an individual. The module looks in detail at relational databases, which store data as tables and are widely used on all computer systems.

The module will benefit you if you are involved with (or interested in) the planning, design, operation and use of a database. It offers various points of view, from the broader scope of information systems, the mathematical underpinnings of relational theory and the technology of databases that use the general-purpose software known as database management systems. By the end of the module, you’ll understand the concepts underlying all relational databases, and have practical experience of applying the concepts in different situations. Knowledge of SQL is one of the most sought-after skills by employers in the IT sector.

There are lots of examples and activities, and software is provided on a CD-ROM.

As you study the module, you will be using email and online discussion forums for communication with the University, your tutor and other students. You may also have the opportunity of attending face-to-face tutorials with your tutor and other students in your tutor group.

You will learn

The main body of the module focuses on the development of a database to meet specified requirements. This development will assume requirements analysis has taken place and that a requirements document is available. The development model will make use of conceptual data modelling, relational algebra and SQL for the expression of design and implementation artefacts.

The module is organised in five blocks.

Block 1 introduces the context of databases as part of an information system, which may be used by many people for different purposes and with different requirements. You will then examine the types of software that are necessary for accessing a database, and how each database has to be specially designed to satisfy the requirements of its users.

Block 2 introduces the mathematical theory underpinning relational technologies and shows ways that the theory is used in the database environment.

Block 3 is concerned with relational database management systems, and, in particular, the use of the database language SQL, the recognised standard for defining and accessing a relational database.

Block 4 is a detailed analysis of the steps involved in developing and implementing a database system. It examines, in depth, the tasks and techniques appropriate for each step in the development process and makes detailed comparisons between implementation alternatives and data representations.

Block 5 focuses on the on-going development and application of relational database technologies in the context of JAVA and XML.


This is a challenging Level 3 module. Level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at Levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably with the OU. 

You must be familiar with the use of computers – particularly the construction of programs – using files, and operating systems. You could get the necessary knowledge from a Level 2 computing module. We would recommend prior completion of Object-oriented Java programming (M250) or other recent experience of higher education in a related subject. This module is not suitable if you are unfamiliar with study at the OU.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Descriptions will be available for the diagrams that are used throughout the text. The books are available in a comb-bound format.  Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Module books, CD-ROM.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some course software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device is not suitable for this course – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this course by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2014 when it will be available for the last time.

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Student Reviews

“A well-paced and enjoyable course. Provides a decent broad grounding into standard SQL both in terms of querying and Db ...”
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“Get ready for a tough course. However despite its toughness, I learned a lot from it. In short, this course ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code M359
Credits 30
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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