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Environment: journeys through a changing world

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Our world is changing fast – we are experiencing pressure from climate change, growing demands for finite resources and the extinction of many plants and animals. Environment: journeys through a changing world introduces you to subjects from the natural sciences, social sciences and technology to develop your understanding of environmental issues and concerns. It shows how people are seeking positive solutions to environmental challenges where you live, in the Arctic, Africa, the Amazon and China. You do not need any prior environmental knowledge to study this key introductory OU level 1 module, just an interest in the future of our planet.

What you will study

Are you interested in global environmental issues; how living and non-living things interact; how humans are changing the planet and are now responding to the difficult challenges this brings? If you’re looking for a single module that offers a general introduction to studying the environment, then this is the module for you. It provides the ideal foundation for a range of environment, science, social science and technology courses or you can study it on its own.

Our interconnected world is changing so fast that people have to work hard to understand and address the environmental issues generated by rapid economic and technological development. Studying this module will enable you to explore how and why different parts of the world are changing; and how people, plants and animals are living within their changing environment. The module will show you how people are striving to manage and protect the many features of the world that we all share. It will help you to make sense of some of the stories that you hear and read about in the media, from wildlife extinctions to plans for new greener cities. By the end of the module, you’ll be more able to follow the debates about environmental issues and play an active part in addressing some of the great environmental challenges of the day.

Studying this module will provide you with the knowledge and skills to help you become more informed about both the causes and concerns of environmental change. It will take you to some of the most fascinating but also important parts of the planet in terms of understanding environmental change.

The module has six blocks – each block focuses on major environmental concepts illustrated by the places you’ll examine.

Block 1: Setting out from Home
This block will be an introduction to the module and to studying. It will start as a personal journey that will equip you with powerful ideas about the place of humanity on a dynamic planet. It will sketch out how we’ve come to understand the most pressing issues of biodiversity loss and climate change. We’ll ask you to carry out your own carbon footprint exercise and consider individual action to reduce your footprint. Using the framework of ‘I/we/they’, we’ll introduce actions at all scales to understand environmental issues and responses – and develop your understanding later in the module.

Block 2: Arctic Approach
This block explores the Arctic – a place that has long fascinated scientific researchers, artists and adventurers. It will help you explore different ways of seeing and knowing about environmental change. We think of the Arctic as a kind of early-warning system for global warming and climate change. This block will give you a sense of the different ways in which the scientists who now work there – and the societies who have been living there for centuries – investigate, communicate and experience environmental change.

Block 3: Nile Limits
The Nile river basin is a diverse area of many contrasts. This block explores some of these contrasts and the interdependencies between people and their environment. These can give rise to unintended consequences or conflict, which are also prominent themes. You’ll consider relationships through three important topics. The first focuses on water, including the use of water as a resource. The second focuses on the environmental, social and economic impacts of a fishing industry. The third focuses on wildlife conservation and the mountain gorilla, exploring the tensions between balancing conservation with local community development.

Block 4: Amazon Life
This block uses excerpts from the BBC series I Bought a Rainforest to explore the global and local importance of the Amazon region. You’ll develop an understanding of the Amazon’s ecosystems and the services it provides, including its role as a carbon store and as home to some the world’s richest biological diversity. You’ll also consider some of the complexities inherent in trying to protect the Amazon’s rainforest and the challenges facing its indigenous people.

Block 5: China Rising
The block begins with the geography and political history of China. It brings up to date the economic story of the scale and speed of change in China, including urbanisation, consumption and the rise of the middle class. This block focuses on a few key social and economic issues pertinent to an environmental perspective – particularly in energy and resource use and the transformation of agriculture and diet. You’ll explore environmental degradation and responses to it, including recent shifts towards reducing energy consumption and increasing energy from renewables.

Block 6: Cities and Towns
The majority of the world’s population is now urban, with most people living and working in cities and towns. This block will help you to make sense of urban areas, and understand the importance of cities and towns in responding to climate change (and other changes). Urban areas rely on the movement of natural resources, people and goods. They are epicentres of resource use and producers of waste and pollutants. They need effective water, energy and transport systems to be healthy and workable. You’ll explore ideas and actions that different levels of society can take – revisiting the framework of ‘I/we/they’ – to help make cities and towns more resilient, liveable and sustainable.

You will learn

By studying a range of subjects, drawn from the natural sciences, technology and the social sciences, you’ll become more aware of the contributions each discipline makes to our understanding of environmental issues and concerns. You’ll also explore how people from these different fields bring together their various perspectives to help understand the many interactions between the environment, organisations, and human cultures and values. This sharing of different approaches can lead to new ways of thinking about environmental problems, balancing alternative interpretations and conflicting interests, and generating new solutions.

Entry requirements

This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you progress to modules at OU level 2. 

Environment: journeys through a changing world is an interdisciplinary introduction to environmental issues and you do not need any prior environmental knowledge to study this module. It offers a great deal of help with study skills, such as taking notes, writing essays and basic scientific and numerical expressions. By the end of the module, you will be expected to be working at the level required of first year undergraduate students. We would like to encourage students from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible to study with us.

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

What's included

Six printed books and online materials including audio, video and online activities delivered via the module website.

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
  • Mac OS X 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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll have a tutor who’ll help you with the study material; mark and comment on your written work; and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. If you’re new to the OU, you’ll find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study methods. If we offer group tutorials or day schools, you’re encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where we hold your tutorials will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

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

Assessment

You can find the assessment details for this module in the facts box.

We’ll expect you to submit your Tutor-Marked Assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying U116 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018 and February 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2025.

Course work includes:

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

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