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Environment: responding to change

This interdisciplinary module will equip you to take an active part in sustainability debates. It will provide a guide to the mass of information currently available on key environmental issues, including conservation of biodiversity, adaptation to climate change and long-term food security. It will encourage you to look at these issues from multiple perspectives and to take a holistic view of environmental systems, including how we value them. An investigation strand will run throughout the module, in which you’ll look at an aspect of your local environment or consumption behaviour to evaluate the possibilities of future response to change.

What you will study

The module consists of three blocks and a project:

Block 1: Biodiversity and conservation
Your presence on planet earth is entirely dependent on biodiversity. Living organisms produce the oxygen in the air you breathe, recycle nutrients and water and make up your food. The sheer variety of form, function, colour and beauty in nature – a record of evolutionary history – has inspired people for the duration of human existence and continues to enrich our lives and our culture. Nevertheless, life on earth is under threat and needs urgent action. In Block 1, you’ll explore biodiversity, starting with that around you – even on your dinner plate – and move on to look at the nature of global diversity. You’ll examine past, present and future threats to species, and investigate solutions to the ongoing biodiversity crisis. By the end of the block – and based on the latest research in biodiversity and conservation – you’ll appreciate the diversity and importance of life on earth, and the ability to evaluate threats to it and propose potential solutions.

Block 2: Climate change
You need to take an interdisciplinary approach to understand climate-change science and politics. You’ll be introduced to the role and workings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to their summary of the science. This will lead on to the study of international environmental treaties, culminating in the 2015 Paris Agreement. You’ll learn how to access key data on the status of national emissions, using the UNFCCC's website, and interpret its significance. You’ll also gain a good understanding of the workings of a key set of climate change research and policy tools: integrated assessment models. These bring to life the implications of economic and rights-based approaches to the issue of climate equity. The topic raises big questions about our relationship with ‘distant others’, future generations, and the non-human living world. In addition to text, you’ll work with interactive online content, including the world’s first interactive map of a UN climate change conference and a media-rich timeline of environmental history. To conclude the block, you’ll rehearse the role of an environmental journalist, researching and writing your own article, again supported by specially commissioned interactive materials.

Block 3: Food security
The quest for global food security has brought into discussion the need for feeding an expected 9–10 billion people, by 2050, with adequate and nutritious food for a healthy life. With this aim in the background, you’ll explore multiple facets of food security: limits to food production, landscape management, and policies for access to food. This block will build on the concepts that previous blocks introduced you to – i.e. drivers of biodiversity gains and losses, and the challenge posed by climate change to our food production and management systems. You’ll build on your knowledge of earth’s natural resources (normally gained in previous modules) and expand further on the management conflicts and synergies with earth and its human inhabitants.

Project work
The project involves three stages threaded throughout the module. First, in Block 1, you’ll study introductory material on a) the biodiversity of the food you eat and b) on the benefits provided to us by trees in our environment – you’ll choose one of these threads as the focus for your project work. You’ll collect your own data to carry out a mini-project using practical and investigative work. Second, alongside Block 2, you’ll design an investigation, analyse data and report on your findings in a manner appropriate for a variety of audiences. This will involve group work to explore several different aspects of the topic before presenting your findings as a group. There are likely to be 6–12 students in your group. Thirdly, alongside Block 3, you’ll carry out an individual project from beginning to completion by applying all your research skills acquired earlier in this module. This project will form a major part of the end-of-module assessment, including a presentation as a web post.

You will learn

This module will:

  • develop your understanding of the environmental choices we face and the multiplicity of perspectives from which they can be addressed
  • develop the practical skills needed to acquire primary data, analyse it statistically, gather qualitative evidence and communicate your findings effectively
  • provide you with an opportunity to focus on a real-world issue, discuss perspectives with your fellow students, design your own investigation and present your findings via a web post.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

However, as this is an OU level 3 module, you’ll need recent experience in a related subject obtained through the following:

  • OU level 1 and 2 study (preferable1)
  • equivalent work at another university
  • professional experience

Check that you’re ready for SDT306 with our quiz Are You Ready For SDT306? You can find it on the SDT306 preparation website.

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

1This module builds on understanding and skills developed in module Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116). We recommend you’ve studied this and another OU level 2 science or social science module before starting SDT306, such as Environmental science (S206 or SXF206) or Environment: sharing a dynamic planet (DST206).

What's included

You’ll have access a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Monterey or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part. If you want to participate, you’ll likely need a headset with a microphone.


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

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SDT306 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: responding to change​ (SDT306) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment