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Signals and perception: the science of the senses

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This sensory neuroscience course uses fundamental concepts from biology, chemistry, physics and psychology to explain how we interact with our environment through the senses and is therefore an opportunity for you to study an interdisciplinary topic. For each of the senses, you’ll investigate how sensation begins with a stimulus that is converted into an electrical impulse; how that is transmitted to the brain; and how the brain combines these messages – to arrive at a ‘perception of the stimulus’. The course is designed to be accessible to students pursuing a wide variety of degree studies.

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.

Register for the course


Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
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Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£985.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£985.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

An additional fee for the examination may apply.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£865.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

See below for information about part time tuition fee loans available for study towards a qualification.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.

*Fees may vary by country.

What you will study

The course explores the ways in which exciting ideas and findings at the forefront of biochemistry, biophysics and molecular biology have transformed our understanding of how we experience the world through our senses. It provides an understanding of:

  • the nature of the communication signals (e.g. light for vision, sound for hearing, molecules for taste and smell)
  • primary transduction mechanisms that convert signals into electrical impulses
  • the common nature of the transmission and processing of the resulting electrical signal within the nervous system
  • sensory disorders and treatments.

The material is divided into six blocks, presented in three printed books, beginning with two blocks introducing the senses and the nervous system. These blocks are designed to give you sufficient neuroscience background to work through the remainder of the course and include online activities to maximise your understanding of this essential information. Blocks 3-6 also include online activities, as well as additional resources which can be accessed online.

Throughout the course the emphasis is on the commonalities and integration between the sensory systems, as you examine the processes from sensation to perception for each sense as well as the impact and treatment of impairment or loss of sensory systems.

Block 1 Introduction to the senses. This block introduces you to the human senses, concentrating on observations and experiences that raise questions about how the senses work.

Block 2 Introduction to the nervous system. In this introduction to neuroscience, and in particular to the neuron, you’ll look at the way electrical impulses created by external signals of whatever kind are transmitted throughout the nervous system; and where they are processed and give rise to our personal picture of the world. You’ll also explore the techniques that are commonly used in investigating the senses.

Block 3 Somatosensation describes the somatic sensory system including how we sense and perceive touch, pain and our own body position and movement. The latter is often considered a hidden sense and in this block you will explore the impact of its loss. You will also cover the multidisciplinary treatment of pain.

Block 4 Hearing and balance. In this block you’ll explore the nature and properties of sound waves; the specialised anatomy and functioning of the ear; and how auditory perception arises, including for speech and music. This block also focuses on the vestibular system, which is housed within the ear, and how this system gives rise to our sense of balance.

Block 5 Vision. This block is exclusively dedicated to how we sense and perceive visual information. It is the longest block, in part because the most is known about vision but also because vision is in many ways the most complex of the senses. In this block you’ll cover the nature and properties of light; the optical system of the eye; processing of visual information within the brain; and how we perceive different elements of the visual scene such as colour.

Block 6 The Chemical Senses. The related senses of smell and taste as well as the sense of flavour are the focus of this block. The topics covered include the molecular characteristics of substances that we smell or taste; the nature of the receptors involved; the coding of smell and taste and how smell may be used in diagnostics.

Entry

The course should appeal to students from many backgrounds, and will be of particular interest if you enjoy interdisciplinary study. It is suitable if you are specialising in biology, chemistry, physics or psychology, or following a degree in health sciences.

This is a Level 3 course. Level 3 courses 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 Open University.

You are expected to have a basic science background. The Level 1 course Exploring science (S104) and one of the Level 2 courses Cell biology (S294), Human biology (SK277), The molecular world (S205), or The physical world (S207) would be ideal preparation.

If you are working towards our BSc (Hons) Health Sciences, you should have completed your Level 1 and Level 2 study before starting this course and we recommend that you study The science of the mind: investigating mental health (SDK228) as part of your optional Level 2 study.

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the course, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For SD329? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the course or whether you need a little extra preparation. This can be viewed or printed from the Are you ready for science? website.

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

Regulations

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

Many parts of the course rely heavily on complex diagrams and learning is often supported by drawing on your own experiences of sensory perception. You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. You can obtain more information and advice from the SD329 course manager.

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. The written study material in comb-bound format can also be provided on request. 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

Study books are provided in both printed and online format. All other materials, including assignments, are delivered online via the course website.

You will need

Some of the web activities in this course use the HTML 5 system.  In order to display this you will need Internet Explorer 9, the latest version of Firefox or Chrome or other modern HTML 5 compliant browser.  If you have a computer with a Windows XP operating system, you will need to install Firefox or Chrome or other modern HTML 5 compliant browser for these activities, as you cannot use Internet Explorer 8.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2007 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.6 or later.

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. The tuition for this course will be online using video conferencing software. There will also be forums that will act as a virtual self-help group and enable students to support one another.

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

Assessment

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

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year.

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

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 SD329
Credits 30
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school

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