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The environmental web

This interdisciplinary module examines contemporary issues such as biodiversity and climate change in order to develop your environmental literacy, and enable you to take part in informed debate and action. It draws on a wide variety of disciplines to investigate environmental changes, their consequences, and implications for action. You will explore environmental materials on the web used to publish data, implement policy, debate issues, and promulgate views – learning how to navigate, analyse and evaluate such information. You will need some knowledge of the environment – for example, from one of our OU level 2 science, technology or environmental modules.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

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

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

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What you will study

The course draws on insights from sciences, technology, social sciences and humanities to make sense of contemporary environmental changes, with particular emphasis on the:

  • interdependencies of environments and human activities
  • role of natural processes and human activities in causing and responding to environmental changes
  • relevance and consequences of these environmental changes for human societies, and for other living forms
  • existing and possible responses of contemporary societies to environmental changes
  • difficulties faced in understanding environments, and in taking appropriate environmental actions in conditions of appreciable uncertainty.

The course approaches current environmental issues by using the World Wide Web in three complementary ways:

  • for communication with and among students
  • as a source of teaching resources on selected environmental topics
  • as a metaphor for the web-like interrelationships that link environmental issues and different approaches to them.

The course is organised into four blocks and the end-of-module assessment (EMA). Each of the blocks are supported by web-based activities and take up an important environmental issue. The block titles are: Block 1 Environmental changes: global challenges, Block 2 Biodiversity and ecosystems, Block 3 Climate change: from science to sustainability, Block 4 Sustainability and water management.

At the end of the course you will complete the EMA, which is divided into three parts. For Part A you will research a chosen environmental topic using the resources of the web, and then present your findings through web pages that you will design, using the U316 wiki. Part B is a project review reflecting on your own progress, and Part C will be a report on a topic that will be posted on the website near the end of the course.

The web lends itself especially well to a course dealing with current environmental issues because it is used by business, intergovernmental, governmental and non-governmental organisations, and by individuals, to publish environmental data, to transmit and implement environmental policy, to debate issues and to promulgate particular views. The course aims to show you how to navigate through the huge amount of environmental material available on the web. You will learn how to: acquire information and data from a variety of sources; analyse, integrate and summarise that information and data; use the information/data acquired to test hypotheses; determine where uncertainties lie; and evaluate different approaches to environmental issues and the reliability of online resources.

You will use the internet as a means of communication, collaborating with others in planning and carrying out tasks and debating environmental issues with other students in online discussions moderated by your tutor. A few of these online discussions will be assessed. Your skills will be developed gradually so that, by the end of the course, you will be fully equipped to complete the EMA, in which you will plan, research, and write about an environmental topic in a form suitable for presentation on the web.

Much of the teaching and assessment for this course is online. You will need a personal computer with internet access, plus some experience of using the internet. The course requires about 18 hours of study time per week and it is necessary to complete certain parts of the course, such as online discussions and other collaborative activities, in particular weeks of the year.

The course should appeal to students from many backgrounds and will be of particular interest to you if you enjoy interdisciplinary study. It is suitable for you if you are interested in the environment, and/or following a degree in environmental studies or (the planned) environmental science.

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. You will take part in tutorial discussions through the internet, and at a day school, at the start of week 6 (in March) of the course, that you are strongly advised to attend. The location of the day schools will depend on the distribution of students taking the course. 

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


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).

The end-of-module assessment (EMA) takes the place of an examination. You must obtain a pass mark on both the TMAs and the EMA to pass the course. You will be given more detailed information when you begin the course.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2016. We expect it to be available for the final time in February 2017.


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.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


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 will be expected to work more independently than for Level 2 study. 

You will need a knowledge of environmental issues such as you would get from Environment: sharing a dynamic planet (DST206) or the discontinued module U216, or other Level 2 science, technology or social science environmental courses. 

You must be familiar with using a personal computer, including word-processing and spreadsheet applications, and be able to work online, using email and the internet. We provide some guidance for beginners about working with spreadsheets and creating diagrams but otherwise it is assumed that you have the necessary computing skills. 

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 booklet Are You Ready For U316? can be viewed or printed as a PDF. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

If you do not already have the necessary internet skills, we advise you to study sections 3 and 4 of the Safari materials, provided by the OU Library, before you begin your study of U316.


Start End England fee Register
06 Feb 2016 Oct 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 07/01/16 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2017.

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 you register.

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.

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

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. 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 qualification 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 modules.  

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 that is 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 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 05/08/2015.

What's included

Course books, other printed materials, DVD-ROM, a website, web-based materials, online forums.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available. For this module you will also need to install software provided by the OU on a disk or USB stick.

A Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system is suitable for this module. You will be required to install Microsoft Windows specific software.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

If you have seriously impaired sight or manual dexterity you may find using the web and the DVD-ROM challenging. For visually impaired students a number of activities such as the preparation of diagrams, collection of field data and use of climate modelling tools may require the assistance of a sighted helper. You can contact the Curriculum Manager for more information.

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe 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. Written transcripts are available for the audio-visual material.

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. Find out more about our services for disabled students.