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  • Points: 30
  • Code: S396
  • Level: 3

Student reviews

A most enjoyable course, the tutor was fantastic. The statistics (regression and ANOVA) was very well explained.

Among other things, there was a poster that presented the results of an experiment conducted and designed by a small number of students in the tutor group (there were 3 groups who designed 3 different experiments). Each group collected data for one of the other groups (following their experimental designs) as well collecting data for their own experiment; this increased the data sets for each group that allowed greater confidence in the statistical analysis. The poster was submitted as part of a TMA, so it's worth putting the time and effort into the group work, so that you fully understand the experiment and the hypotheses that you are testing.

A good course and I would recommend it to anyone who wishes to extend their awareness on environmental and ecosystem science.

Nigel Patrick Fox

Course starting: November 2012

Review posted: November 2013

I was apprehensive about taking S396 as I knew it was the follow on level 3 module to the level 2 module S216 (Environmental Science). I struggled with the workload and concepts in S216 but I liked the sound of the module description of S396 so I decided to persevere with this topic at level 3.

S396 was a module with very mixed media. It isn't the kind of module where you can sit down with the book for an hour or two; it is all very interactive with the online reading and activities. I found this both challenging and rewarding, it was hard to get into at first because it was not the way I was used to working but once I had got into it, I enjoyed the variety.

I didn't particularly enjoy the project work but I understand that it was to teach us the right ways of approaching project work, team work and the methods we should use rather than focused on the content. My tutor was supportive and helpful every step of the way, from the beginning to the end of the project.

This was my first level 3 module so I found the assignments more difficult than prior modules but with good tutor feedback, I was able to address my weak areas and improve my scores.

While I found the concepts hard to grasp at the beginning of the module, with the support of good online tutorials, I had a good working knowledge of the topics by the time the exam came around and I was pleased with my final grade.

Some students do say that there is a lot of online reading material to wade through and they don't like that aspect of the module; it should be noted that S396 is one of the modules on which this issue is being addressed to allow better access to printable versions of the online material and therefore this is less likely to be a negative point about the module in future.

Michelle Darby

Course starting: November 2012

Review posted: October 2013

Fantastic course and an excellent tutor. There is quite a practical theme running through the course, where students collaborate with the wider student community, then design an experiment in smaller tutor groups.

The results of the student-designed experiment are presented on a poster to the tutor, as part of a tutor marked assignment. The course utilises ANOVA and regression statistics; both tests are adequately explained during the course.

The student becomes part of larger student online community, especially where the collaboration of the experiments are concerned. I would thoroughly recommend this course to anyone wishing to gain an insight into ecology and ecological principles.

Nigel Patrick Fox

Course starting: November 2012

Review posted: September 2013

Not what I thought it would be. Far too much emphasis on statistics. Yes, it is important to learn statistical analysis skills when looking at ecosystems but there are so many more interesting topics that could have been covered. If you have done S216 you will have been enticed by some of the content there, particularly the virtual and real field trip, to find out more about fluxes and flows, population dynamics and how small changes in the broader earth system can generate big changes in ecosystems. Very exciting topics, some of which are explored futher in S396, but for me, in too small a way to further develop my knowedge from S216.

Now if you like stats, you'll love it. If you want to find out more about interactions between organisms, habitats and ecosystem resillience to anthropogenic changes, then you may be disappointed.

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: September 2012

I feel that the web-based delivery method of Ecosystems works, however after modules where each block is a book, this module was a shock to the system. Over the period of study I adapted to the different methods, and by the end found the course very rewarding.

With previous courses I had taken a book with me for those free moments. I tried this method, and ended up with an ever increasing pile of printouts (there is a considerable emphasis on reading library articles, which develops a very useful skill) in addition to the substantial text books. There are also spreadsheets and programs which don't tend to travel well. Other modules I have studied used the internet, videos, group and practical work - but in S396, the books supplement the interactive, rather than the other way round. This is a totally different ball game.

By the end of the module, instead of books I was carrying a netbook or tablet pc, and using mobile internet or wifi hotspots.

My old habit of shutting myself away to study, getting rid of distractions, had to change as well. Connecting to the internet means you are open to the biggest source of distractions ever invented. A different discipline was needed. This is really in keeping with ecosystems - you are not in a lab cutting out the variables, you are in the field, unable to stop one thing from affecting another.

There is a lot to learn in S396. How you learn is as challenging as what you learn. Having an excellent tutor helped immensely. The assignments are very tough, and I think for this module the exam - which was also hard work - should not be weighted as much as the assignment work.

If I was to sum up S396 in a word, it was real. At the end of it I felt I had done things, rather than read things. I had engaged with environmental research, worked with others, used modelling programs, and taken part in experiments. Skills were learned as much as facts. Distractions and technology are part of the experience, and if you can deal with them, the course is hard work but rewarding.

S396 is an experience, not just a lesson. One experience I am glad I didn't miss.

Ian Michael Hart

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: August 2012

I was looking forward to this module, but soon discovered it was not what I was expecting. The delivery of the module was very fragmented, with some of it being online, some in a text book, and many scientific papers to search for online and read. There was also much emphasis on statistics and computer models which were not very easy to use and with little explanation.

I did manage to scrape a grade 4 pass which I was relieved to get as I did not want to do a re-sit, but overall, I would not recommend this module, unless of course it is compulsory to your degree.

Course starting: November 2011

Review posted: August 2012

Unless you enjoy spreadsheets this course is not for you. Fortunately I am very fluent with spreadsheets, however I still did not enjoy this course. It was very disjointed, moving between internet spreadsheets to DVD to book and online text. If you like your OU material in book form and portable to the beach, cliffs etc (just as examples) you will need to print a whole text book worth of material.

I have friends who are also doing OU courses and I have done my best to steer them away from this course. If I knew then what I know now, I definitely would not have studied this course.

Sue Coates

Course starting: November 2010

Review posted: February 2012

This course was a new experience for me in that a lot of the course content was web based. I found the online texts a challenge to get used to as I find reading from a computer screen quite hard. Also, the course presentation I did was shortened to 6 months and although it was great to get the course over nice and quickly (it was my last course for my degree) it meant there was little leeway if you got delayed with the reading at all. This also meant the exam was only two weeks after the final TMA was submitted. My tutor group only had one day school at the very start of the course and I could really have done with a pre-exam tutorial to help plan my studies.

A large part of this course is a group project which requires students to work together online in the forum to formulate an experimental design and then execute it. Experimental write up forms a large chunk of two TMAs but there are marks available for contribution to the group. If you don't contribute then you'll lose marks but this is made clear in the TMA instructions. There is also a large emphasis on stats throughout the course but if you take your time with them it's not too horrendous. I enjoyed doing the collaborative work and found the experimental write up interesting.

The exam was a challenge as there were three very meaty questions that required a lot of writing. The short answer questions were quite straightforward but had no choice. The large questions did have a choice element which was fantastic.

Everything said, I really enjoyed this course. My tutor was a wonderful help and my fellow students were great fun to work with. It was an excellent final course and I managed a distinction and got my much wanted First so it can be done.

Elanne Agnes Barclay Christie

Course starting: November 2009

Review posted: August 2010

Overall I thought this course was fantastic and here's why...firstly I liked the very bitesize nature of it. This actually made it easier to study for longer - or to still get at least something done if you're stretched for time. I found myself getting through the weeks work and then working on the bit ahead of that - and then the bit ahead of that, so it was easy to stay ahead of the study schedule. Very enjoyable - this from someone who's only ever done Physics courses before!

The online exercises were great and even fun! I think they got the balance with them about right - one or two more instead of the set non-OU text would be better.

You do need a lot of time with a computer though, because the easiest way to do the course is while sitting at a PC, which I did. And it helps if you are a little computer savvy, but if you can download and navigate webpages well then you'd probably get by. I'd recommend using Firefox as a browser because it's faster than Microsoft's and you can "open links in another tab" which helps to keep related items in the same window - handy and fast. All the downloads are of fairly small size so it'd probably be just about manageable even on a dial-up - although faster is always better obviously. It is possible to print off the materials but they can get updated online so this can be problematic. My only real criticism is the non-OU set book (which you can buy or read/print for free online) - it was found by several students to be tedious and my heart sank a little every time we were set reading for it.

Thankfully most of the course was taught online and from the course's own brand new (2008) mailed set books which were (apart from a very few mistakes which are to be expected in a first-presentation course, and the rare long sections) frankly fantastic. Well written, concise, bitesize, and the odd light joke really did help you keep going. After all why can't there be a little fun to learning? The other thing that was good was that they were bang up to date and talked about current research in short paragraphs - interesting extras that were strongly relevant to what you were studying.

I'd recomend looking carefully at the nature (non-OU/OU - OU being generally better in my experience) and publishing dates (newer better) of course texts. This course gets them almost right - apart from the non-OU book.

In conclusion - just about perfect (even on the first presentation) and enjoyable. Do it!

Course starting: November 2008

Review posted: January 2010

I spent most of the academic year thinking S396 was a good course and ended it thinking it was a great course.

You have to adapt to a very computer-based way of working. Using First Class is essential as so much of the material is on-line and on several occasions you have to carry out collaborative research with other students. Marrying the on-line text with the OU texts was very frustrating at first as they were referenced differently but once I had discovered that the way forward was to print out the on-line text, this stopped being much of a problem.

There is a lot of material to research from the OU library so there is no feeling of being spoon-fed on this course. The collaborative work was fun and the computer models very interesting. I loved reading the non-OU textbook. There is a fair amount of statistics to master on this course (although virtually none in the exam) but it is pretty straight-forward, especially if you have studied stats before at school or in maths courses.

I didn't think the course was particularly work-intensive for a level 3 or too academically challenging. I found previous Life Sciences courses very good background for the biology parts of S396.

The course started off very slowly and initially seemed to lack detail (it is the antithesis of a course like S377 where detail is all; it is more about the bigger picture). In the dash to the finish, however, it all seemed incredibly coherent and immensely satisfying. I would definitely recommend this course, especially to Life Sciences students who would like to experience a different way of studying.

Course starting: November 2008

Review posted: December 2009

Initially I was really excited about this course but sitting it in its first presentation was a huge mistake! The books were an easy size but half of the course content was online and when waiting for a bus or train or whatever it wasn't ideal! The course was definitly orientated towards statistics and not so much the different ecosystems.....sure once the finer details have been ironed out though it would be a brilliant course, especially for those people who like reading online information!!!

Course starting: November 2008

Review posted: December 2009


Tutor reviews

As with the most recent Science modules, S396 uses a variety of teaching media to introduce new ideas. Individual feedback above demonstrates that many students have struggled with the diversity of media, but others enjoy the variety. The module description does flag the amount of modelling, statistical and spreadsheet work that it contains. Whilst challenging, these aspects represent key skills that an environmental scientist needs to acquire. So, this course may take students outside their comfort zone, but feedback indicates that those who manage to cope with the challenge find the experience satisfying.

Review posted: November 2012

Please note

Each of the views expressed above is an individual's very particular response, largely unedited, and should be viewed with that in mind. Since modules are subject to regular updating, some of the issues identified may have already been addressed. In some instances the faculty may have provided a response to a comment. If you have a query about a particular module, please contact your Regional Centre.


Module satisfaction survey

The figures below are taken from a survey of students who sat the exam/completed the end-of-module assessment for the October 2015 presentation of S396. The survey was carried out in 2016.

78 students (a response rate of 32.9%) responded to the survey covering what they thought of 10 aspects of the module.

Please note that if the percentage of students who responded to this module survey is below 30% and/or the number of responses is below 23 it means that only a small proportion of students provided feedback and their views as shown here may not be fully representative of all students who studied the module.

See this page for the full text of questions and more information about the survey.

% Count
Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of this module 82.9 63
Overall, I am satisfied with my study experience 83.1 64
The module provided good value for money 68.8 53
I was satisfied with the support provided by my tutor/study adviser on this module 93.6 73
Overall, I was satisfied with the teaching materials provided on this module 74 57
The learning outcomes of the module were clearly stated 74.3 55
I would recommend this module to other students 69.7 53
The module met my expectations 77 57
I enjoyed studying this module 76.6 59
Overall, I was able to keep up with the workload on this module 68.8 53
Faculty comment: "The module team would like to thank the students who took the time to complete the survey. This module features a diverse mix of text and online sources, models and practical work, with statistics an essential component. This diversity reflects the challenges of understanding real-world ecosystems and makes for challenging but potentially rewarding study. End-of-module responses show the great majority of respondents are satisfied with the overall experience, the materials and the support provided. Additional module-wide online tutorials on key topics, introduced this year, have been well-received."
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