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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 two three-day residential field schools 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.

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 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
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 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
Details are given in the Residential school section below.

Entry requirements

You need to have a good knowledge of science and basic maths – check if you’re ready for SXF206, with our self-assessed quiz.

As part of an environmental science qualification, you should have studied the OU level 1 module Science: concepts and practice (S112) – or the discontinued module Exploring science (S104) – to make sure your scientific knowledge and skills are at the right level for SXF206. You should also have studied Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) as this teaches many of the skills and scientific concepts developed in SXF206, and gives you an appreciation of how to approach issues from a multidisciplinary perspective. 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.

What's included

You'll have access to a module website, which includes:

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

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

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

You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

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.

Assessment

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

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

Residential school

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty around large gatherings, it may be necessary to cancel the residential field schools for the October 2022 module. Should that happen, we’ll replace the field schools with online alternatives that satisfy all of the module’s learning outcomes. We will notify you at the earliest opportunity of any changes to the planned residential schools.

To pass this module, you must take part in two residential field schools1 – the Field Studies Council run them both on behalf of The Open University. These three-day programmes include both outdoor exercises and follow-up laboratory work. In most cases, we offer the two field schools as back-to-back one-week combined schools.

1Or the online alternative if we cancel them due to COVID-19.

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

The residential school costs for 2020/2021 were £156 per school (£312 for both schools). You must also pay for travel to and from the venue.

If you’re in receipt of benefits or have a household income of £25,000 or less, you could be eligible for a bursary to cover the cost of tuition, accommodation and meals. If your household income is above £25,000 but less than £50,000, you may still be entitled to receive a partial bursary. Find out how to apply on the module website, which will open for registered students in early September.

Booking will begin in early October. You’ll use the Field Studies Council website to book places at both schools and will need to pay a £100 deposit for each school at the time of booking, with the balance due a few weeks before each school. The module website will provide further details, including guidance on the potential COVID-19 impact.

Satisfactory attendance is compulsory to pass this module. It is an essential requirement for the professional accreditation associated with the BSc Environmental Science (Q52). There’s no alternative learning experience as standard, so it’s critical you’re able to attend both field schools. If you require a visa to travel to the UK, contact us.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying SXF206 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

Environmental science (SXF206) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Embedded residential school

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