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Environmental science

This on-screen module spans biology, chemistry, Earth science and physics, drawing them together in a holistic approach to studying the environment. You’ll investigate air, water, Earth, life and cycles and explore the processes, interactions and feedback mechanisms operating within different environments. Practical experiences provided through multimedia interactive ‘virtual’ field trip activities and project work allow you to develop skills and apply your learning. By the end, you will be able to make critical analyses of environmental processes and structures, e.g. landforms, soils, water flows and habitats of flora and fauna, and comment on anthropogenic influences and their likely consequences.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

Browse qualifications in related subjects

Module

Module code
S206
Credits

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
60
Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.

OU SCQF FHEQ
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

In this wide-ranging module you will learn about aspects of biology, chemistry, Earth science and physics that can be applied to the study of the environment. But there is much more. The holistic nature of environmental science is stressed through studying the many links that operate between different environments.

To enrich and contextualise your studies, during each block you will apply what you have learnt to a series of topics which will allow you to explore specific environments, address environmental phenomena and processes or investigate environmental issues. These include: the oceans and ice, atmospheric chemistry, habitat conservation and eutrophication. 

Online activities are used to support and reinforce your learning. Throughout your studies, you will take part in a ‘virtual’ field trip to the catchment area of the River Teign in south Devon, in the UK. You will make observations and collect data about weather, landforms, rocks and soils, water flows and water analysis, and vegetation habitats, and assess the effect of human influences on the area.

The module centres on five subjects – Water, Air, Earth, Life and Cycles:

Block 1: Water

Water looks at the hydrological cycle, following the fate of rain as it falls, looking at different modes of interception and how they are measured. This is followed by a study of rivers: flows and changes in water composition as it moves from river source to ocean. Water also flows through and resides in the ground, and here you will investigate the interaction of this water with soils, at aquifers and springs. In this topic you will also look at water quality, water analysis and how we use water as a resource.

Block 2: Air

Air looks at the influence the atmosphere has on conditions at the Earth’s surface. You’ll explore the components of air and how they interact with one another and with the Earth, as well as the properties and phenomena that make up an everyday notion of the ‘weather’.

Block 3: Earth

Next you will look at aspects of the Earth: rocks, landforms and soils. The topic starts by seeing how rocks are formed with different compositions, in a variety of environments. This is followed by a study of weathering: rocks and the minerals of which they are composed undergo physical and chemical (and some biological) erosion, forming insoluble fragments and soluble ions. Natural environmental processes such as weathering and erosion are responsible for the evolution of landscapes and so this topic continues with an investigation of landforms. Finally, you will look at soils, which are more than simply a growing medium for plants; on land they are the critical interface between the organic and inorganic environments.

Block 4: Life

The fourth block is Life. In this block you will study the variability of species distribution in different habitats, together with the fundamentals of sampling. In addition you will explore the requirements for growth for a variety of flora and fauna, along with the ability of an environment to supply these resources.

Block 5: Cycles

The last block Cycles widens the scope of the module to look at the Earth’s overall systems. The rock cycle, biogeochemical cycles over short and long terms and the element cycles of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus are some of the aspects you will cover in this block.

Practical work

This module has two practical projects. In one you will undertake your own individual project work, in the other you will undertake a second 'virtual' field trip, this time to the desert of New Mexico, USA. You will be challenged to predict the consequences of a change in climate on the flora and fauna of the region. You will need to draw on the skills that you have developed in the module, together with visual, numerical and other data about the study area.

A limited number of places are available (at extra cost) for you to participate in outdoor exercises and follow-up laboratory work at two residential field schools in March and April – Hydrology and meteorology in the field and Vegetation and soils in the field. You may choose to attend one or both of the residential field schools instead of completing the practical projects detailed above.

Hydrology and meteorology in the field – This three-day residential field school concentrates on how to collect and interpret hydrological and meteorological data in the field. You will study a local catchment; investigating the flow of water in rivers and through soils. You will collect meteorological data; examine cloud formations; and investigate relationships between weather and hydrology.

Vegetation and soils in the field – This three-day residential field school will teach you how to describe and interpret vegetation and soils in the field. You will learn to identify plant species; map plant communities; investigate the properties of soils; and study the interactions between soils and vegetation. You will also learn to use GPS technology to assist your mapping work.

Schools will be held in the UK at the Field Studies Council centres at Malham Tarn in the Yorkshire Dales National Park; at Preston Montford in the heart of the Shropshire countryside near to the town of Shrewsbury; and at Nettlecombe Court at the eastern edge of Exmoor National Park in Somerset.

Satisfactory completion of either the practical projects or the field schools, or a defined combination of the two is required if you want to gain credit for this module.

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 offer online group tutorials that you should participate in.

During the module, you will also be given the opportunity to attend a day long field trip to support your studies. This field work is part of the optional tutorial programme offered by the module tutors.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box; however, it is currently under review, so they could change.

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

Residential school

You’ll have the option to participate in up to two residential field schools – both are run by the Field Studies Council on behalf of The Open University – places, however, are limited. These three-day programmes include both outdoor exercises and follow-up laboratory work. In most cases, we offer the two field schools back-to-back as one-week combined schools.

Hydrology and meteorology in the field and Vegetation and soils in the field are held in March and April at Malham Tarn Field Centre in Yorkshire, Preston Montford Field Centre in Shropshire, and Nettlecombe Court in Somerset.

We've yet to fix the additional cost of each school for students starting in October 2018, As a guide, the cost for students that started in October 2017 was £243, so £486 for a combined one-week school. You’ll also be responsible for the cost of travel to the venues.

Bookings will commence in late September and will be accepted on a 'first-come-first-served' basis. You’ll be asked to use the Field Studies Council website to book places at both schools and will need to pay a £140 deposit for each school at the time of booking, with the balance due a few weeks before each school. Further details will be given on the module website when it opens.

Note that if studying for either the Diploma of Higher Education in Environmental Science (W47) or the BSc (Hons) Environmental Science (Q52), you must enrol on the module SXF206 instead.

Future availability

Environmental science (S206) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Essential Documents website.

    Course work includes:

    6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    Examination
    No residential school

    Course satisfaction survey

    See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


    Entry requirements

    You need to have a good knowledge of science and basic maths – check if you’re ready for S206, with our self-assessed quiz.

    You’d normally be prepared by completing OU level 1 study as part of one of our science qualifications. For this module we recommend that you’ve passed Science: concepts and practice  (S112), as it gives a broad foundation in the relevant science, maths and IT skills. Questions in Science (S111) and Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) are also appropriate if you're confident in your maths skills. If you are unsure about your maths skills, Maths for science (S151) will prepare you with the maths knowledge you need to study S206. If it has been a while since you studied an OU level 1 science module, we advise you to buy The Sciences Good Study Guide by A. Northedge et al. (2003, The Open University).

    If you would like an idea of what the module involves before you register, you can access free from OpenLearn a section from the first block called ‘The oceans’.

    If you’re not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    06 Oct 2018 Jun 2019 £2928.00

    Registration closes 13/09/18 (places subject to availability)

    Register
    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Residential schools

    This module includes one or more optional residential schools. For each residential school you choose to attend, you must pay an additional charge to cover costs such as tuition, accommodation and meals (see the module details for more information). You’ll also have to pay for your own travel to and from the venues.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).


    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time convenient to you.


    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2019. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 21/07/2018.

    What's included

    The study materials, study guide, activities, assignments, forums, online tutorial rooms and other resources are all provided via a dedicated website. The materials are also available in other formats including PDF, EPUB, interactive eBook (EPUB3), Kindle eBook and Microsoft Word should you wish to study on mobile devices.

    You will need

    This module is delivered online via a module website, so you will need a computer with internet access throughout to read the online text, engage with the online activities, tutorials and student forums, to keep up to date with module news items and to access other study materials, including the module assignments.

    You may need to draw diagrams or to annotate by hand diagrams that you download, and then use either a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of these diagrams for inclusion in your assessment.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S206 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Overcoming barriers to study if you have a disability or health condition website.