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Student and tutor module reviews

The environmental web

see module description

  • Points: 60
  • Code: U316
  • Level: 3

Student reviews

I thoroughly enjoyed this module. You predominantly use the web to find out about important environmental issues in the context of the module themes: sustainability, governance, globalisation and uncertainty.

There are quite a few online activities that are associated with assignments, so it is extremely important to stay on top of the academic calendar; it will be easy to fall behind. Input to the U316 forums is required, so be prepared to get actively involved (making references to the forums is required as part of the formal assessment process).

It is important to note that this module is linked to researching environmental information on the internet, so be prepared to spend quite a lot of time on this aspect. There is a requirement to do some ecological data collection associated with dragonflies, birds and woodlice. Further, the module will require you to use an online carbon modeller (looking at projections of atmospheric CO2) and interpreting the output of the models. Both the carbon modelling and ecological data collection are formally assessed during assignments.

Further, there are requirements to present work in the form of web pages using a basic web page editor (Wiki). This editor is simple enough to use, but requires a little attention to appreciate how it works. There are a number of assignments that require the presentation of web pages that are formally marked as part of the module assessment.

The final end-of-module assignment (EMA) requires the student to present an environmental project (of the student's choosing as long as it is based on the at least 2 of the module themes). The project is to be presented as web pages through the wiki, which lends itself to about 60% of the total EMA marks. There is a further 15% devoted to a project review, so it is worth keeping a document/diary of what you did during the project. The final 25% of the EMA is devoted to a topic given to students during August. This topic can be quite abstract (remember this is a 3rd level module), and will require the student to research a given environmental topic/issue and present it (word processed format) in the context of the module themes (sustainability, governance, globalisation and uncertainty).

None of the Wiki web pages or forums are published on the internet and are contained within the university system.

Overall, the module was a good choice for me, I gained a distinction but I put a lot of hard work into the over the year. I recommend this module if: you have an interest in researching environmental issues through using the internet; and you are happy to become actively involved with online forums.

Nigel Patrick Fox

Course starting: January 2015

Review posted: April 2016

I thoroughly enjoyed this course much to my surprise. The online activities were not too time consuming and it was interesting to have intelligent debate with others on the module. It had a wide variety of topics from ecology to climate change which meant it never got boring.

The whole course gears you up for handing in an EMA on an environmental related topic. I chose fracking. It is advisable to choose a topic that interests you as you will spend a considerable amount of time researching and writing it up in the form of a web page.

If like me you struggle with maths this course should be fine for you. There was very little maths involved and what maths was involved was relatively simple. I really can't stress enough how much I enjoyed this course. It was easily the most enjoyable course I have done with the OU and my mark reflected this enjoyment as I came out with a distinction.

Course starting: February 2014

Review posted: August 2015

Not a course I enjoyed! Although there are many interesting aspects to U316, there are a couple of major flaws in my opinion.

Firstly, the teaching of regression is frankly ludicrous. The 'explanation' in the course materials is very poor and although I consider myself reasonably intelligent, I still have no concept of how it works. The associated TMA was a disaster as one had to apply a range of calculations in Microsoft Excel to a data set. However, the notes on how to do it in various versions of Excel were not up to date and did not include Excel 2013, where the way of performing the calculations had changed. As a result, and despite trawling the internet and long consultations with my tutor, I was unable to obtain the correct figures. Had I been running an older version, there were crib sheets to guide you through the process with no understanding of how the results were obtained needed. I will not go into the long and frustrating complaints I made about this, which were ultimately fruitless, but I do feel that at level 3, we should be understanding what we learn and not just using a piece of software to generate figures that I have no idea how or why they were relevant to the question asked.

I was not impressed by the EMA. I got the impression, maybe wrongly, that there was a distinct bias towards presentation. The EMA involves creating a website using a rather clunky wiki and I did not get on with that.

The collaborative forums were rather a waste of time, with strident voices dominating and not a lot of useful discussion taking place.

All in all, I found U316 a bit of a struggle due to the structure of the module. Having since completed DU311, I would recommend studying that as the compulsory module for the Environmental Studies degree as it is a much better structured module and actually teaches all the course concepts.

Course starting: February 2014

Review posted: July 2015

This was an interesting and useful module. The skills learnt, such as web research, were very useful and well-taught.

I found the forums problematic because I was unfortunate in being assigned a group, who were not interested in actual discussion with different points of view. The purpose of the forums was to bring different opinions together and attempt to form something new from the discussion. It would have been stimulating if the group had been open in their approach.

Every TMA was different and this was engaging, innovative and interesting. I learnt a lot. It was a very enjoyable module.

Course starting: February 2013

Review posted: May 2014

Having finished my degree, I found U316 to be the most time consuming module I have ever undertaken. The workload is very high (I was committing a good 25+ hours some weeks) and it is full on from the first week until right up until the ECA is submitted.

Unlike most OU courses U316 requires you to adhere strictly to the timetable as you must continually submit work throughout the year which will later be required for the TMAs (you won't be able to take a week off and expect to be able to catch back up!).

The course also requires your participation via online forums which I did not particularly enjoy. However, the ECA requires you to construct a Wiki and I found the software easy to use and did not encounter any problems with it.

The course is extremely varied and covers multiple environmental topics, it does include some statistical analysis and basic maths but this should not be beyond the capability of a level 3 student.

I found some of the TMA questions quite vague but my tutor was very helpful and supportive and I would recommend attendance at the day school as this gives some useful information for the ECA and also puts faces to names within your tutor group.

All in all I found the course very rewarding and came away from it with a new found understanding of environmental issues.

Robert Buck

Course starting: February 2013

Review posted: December 2013

An enjoyable course. Apart from the obvious need to be pretty computer literate, the main thing to remember (as has been said in previous reviews) is that the TMA deadlines are not the only deadlines. Your have multiple deadlines all the way through the course to participate in forums (and as you are marked on your contributions it is to your advantage to do so). So you can't just put your feet up one week and catch up on reading next week, you have to take part on time, like it or not. This course is very time critical.

It is also worth bearing in mind that at times - like it or not - maths are involved. A hard science background helps. You've been warned: it's not just essays, you've got to get yourself organised, and it's no easy ride.

The end-of-course assessment needs to be addressed early in the course. Don't leave it the last few weeks. You will not get it done properly, and you will lose marks as a result.

If you can handle all this, then this is really enjoyable course which addresses environmental issues from an interesting media centered perspective.

My tutor (here in the sub-tropical paradise of South Wales) was excellent, and I really enjoyed it.

Alan Upton

Course starting: February 2012

Review posted: December 2012

As described, there is a lot of online forum participation with this course, yet having 20 or so students all adding points and posting at various places in the thread it rapidly becomes nigh on impossible to follow. Such a shame as if these exercises were carried out in a 'face-to-face' environment they would have been much more constructive, manageable and enjoyable.

The online activities and textbooks were quite well structured though some parts of the textbooks were a little dry.

Creating the wikis was fun and enjoyable, but the rest of the TMAs left me cold. Also there was only one tutorial which left me feeling unsupported.

If you like participating and chatting a lot in online forums then this course might well be right up your street, sadly I don't.

Course starting: February 2012

Review posted: December 2012

I opted for this course/module with some trepidation, it was the last towards my BSc and I was aware that a lot of previous students had struggled with the workload and time management. I had nothing to fear, provided you stick to the suggested timetable/callendar, the workload is comfortably achievable (even with a full-time job). Yes, there are activities that mean you can't get too far ahead at times but as long as you start your project when advised, it is still possible to complete the course with time to spare.

As has been previously mentioned in other reviews, dont take this course if you think it is an easy option due to the lack of an exam at the end, the End-of-Module Assessment more than equates to an exam, it is no easy ride.

The course itself relies on a lot of independent initiative as well as collaboration with other students, particularly in the forum activities. You are also expected to be able to carefully analyse what is being asked of you in the TMAs and EMA, after all, this is Level 3. So don't expect a great deal of hand-holding from tutors or moderators, although they are available their input is deliberately limited.

U316 is, as far as I am aware, like no other OU module, it has a fairly unique approach and, at times, feels as though you are jumping around between topics but it all falls into place. As the title suggests, the web plays a huge part and some computer skills such as familiarity with browser searching and the use of spreadsheets ( Excel or Open Office )is desirable. However, an easy to follow guide is provided with the course materials.

All-in-all I am glad I chose this course and would recommend it to others with an interest in the environment and general science.

Peter Hendry

Course starting: February 2012

Review posted: December 2012

I liked the U316 course and would recommend the course to fellow students. As you would expect U116 and U216 are good prepartion for this course or studying some environmental science. There are four modules and four associated text books. Three of text books are quite slim, only the text book on climate change has the 200 to 300 pages you would expect from an OU text book. The reason for this is that the text books are only part of the course. As other students have advised a large part of this course is accessing material and work activities on the course website, and by taking part in tutor group forums and joint tutor group work. Students also need to search for environmental information on the web. Our forum group worked well together and our tutor was good.

Block one covers subjects like the problems faced by oceanic islands, environmental systems and Antartica issues. Block two covers subjects like the carbon cycle, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, threats to ecosystems and biodiversity, and biodiversity action plans. Block three is on climate change science and climate change issues, block four covers the hydological cycle and water issues. The information given is detailed, backed up by evidence and promotes mainstream science based opinions.

Students do need to take part in the tutor group forum investigations and discussions, since students need to write up their participation in the forums and the conclusions reached in tutor group forums for their U316 assignments. The more a student particpates the more marks you get. There are a lot of set activities for students to work on in this course which are detailed on the course website, so the workload can get quite high. Many of the activities have to be completed to answer assignment questions. However, not all activities are essential for the assignments and I was able to miss out some activities to save time. It is difficult to get ahead on this course since a lot of the assignments, activities and forum work have to be completed within set time frames.

Our assignments covered forum write ups, activity work, compiling graphs from downloaded Antartic temperature data, biodiversity conservation, analysing environmental claims of websites, writing up a project plan, a small ecological field study, regression analysis and significance levels, the IPCC climate change report, working on a climate change model, writing an environment news story, and sustainable use of water resources. This list should give students a good idea of what they will be doing during the course.

There is no exam with U316, but an End-of-course assessment. Students need to produce a project. Out tutor advised the project has to have a science or technology element and be aimed at adults. For example, my project was on the ecological impacts of wolf reintroduction into Yellowstone Park. Other students wrote projects on micro-energy projects, recycling of naval ships etc As other students advise, it is best to work on the project before you get too close to the deadline. Students also have to write up an assessment of their project and to write a report on a subject given to them in the Summer.

There was a lot of student criticism about the web wizard software. It is nice to see the OU has finally reacted to student comments and replaced this software. My one criticism is that computer software instructions given by the course such as on Excel to produce graphs was not accurate and did not work. Someone on the OU team had not done the proof reading. There was one OU computer person assigned to help answer student computer problems who appeared to be overwhelmed with the task. I had excel 2007 and could not answer an assignment question until a kind fellow student advised I had to load some 2010 excel software onto my computer. This information should have been given out by the OU, students were left to struggle with instructions not working.

I recommend the U316 course as an interesting and informative environmental course and I was pleased I chose U316.

Paul Cooper

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: January 2012

This is not a course for the faint hearted. equally if it is an area of interest for you then it will be manageable. Quite tough and time consuming at times, if you are prepared to work hard you can do quite well. This is a demanding course but has its enjoyable moments too.

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: January 2012

An interesting course but do not do it if you are not completely comfortable working online. As it says in the course description, you will be spending a lot of time working directly "on screen". Useful skills for the critical and analytical use of the internet can be learnt. The outdoor activities in spring might be a first experience of actual field work, and can be very interesting and informative as such.

There are forum discussions which form part of TMAs, so be very aware that participation and input is highly recommended. As these discussions cannot be done ahead of time, it is often impossible to get ahead of the study calendar. This was aggravated in the current edition of the course as certain activities were not posted until a week or so before they were scheduled.

The software which it is obligatory to use when creating "web pages" for two of the TMAs as well as 60% of the ECA is so out-of-date that it is almost a joke - or would be if it did not cause so much grief to the students. Be prepared to forget all the advances in text editing and webpage presentation which have been made in the last 8 years. Once you have done that, the software is useable. Your webpages won't look like anything you would expect to find on-line these days, but they won't be publicly accessable anyway.

The project is 60% of the ECA. There is tutor feedback right from the beginning which is of great help, but just getting on with it and not leaving it to the last moment is the best way to get it done successfully.

Susan Schmid

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

Faculty response

The web software used on U316 has been replaced, so students studying this module in 2012 and beyond will not encounter the web wizard referred to here, or its associated limitations. A WIKI provided by the OU's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) is being used instead for TMAs and the EMA (=ECA).

That said, the Module Team has always emphasized that we want students to concentrate upon content rather than web design in this module and that remains our policy.

Note that there is no written exam component in the EMA for U316.

I have just finished U316 and although I really enjoyed the content of the course my big issue was finding the time to study. I have completed other courses and been able to study at my own pace (if I am busy at work for a couple of weeks I could put the hours in towards the TMA deadline). Unfortunately with this course you cannot do this as the tutor group forums are thick and fast in the first four modules and you need to complete the online activities to be able to grasp what is going on in the forums. If you cannot honestly dedicate weekly hours to the course you could struggle and it may not be the right one for you.

Originally I thought that I would like to do the many online activities but it became a bit of a chore sitting at the PC doing them instead of being able to read a book (call me old-fashioned). Having said all that I got my best grade in any course for my degree.

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

I was really looking forward to this course, and liked the idea of online activities as well as a bit of reading and the diversity of the TMAs. However. there was something about it that did not seem to flow. I enjoyed the journalism TMA most - good fun.

I was tempted to throw in the towel half way through but stuck it out, convinced that my project would barely scrape a grade 4, so was very suprised that my project scored higher than any of my coursework (TIP - make sure you tick ALL the boxes in the project guidance booklet!). However, sadly, it didn't change my final grade.

I didn't find Web Wizard such a huge problem that some other reviews have indicated, it's very basic, but easy to use, don't expect to be designing a beautiful website or anything.

I wouldn't do this course again given the chance even though my result will inevitably drag my degree classification down.

Course starting: February 2011

Review posted: December 2011

I did this course as part of my geosciences degree so it was the first course I had ever done that was not wholly science based and it made a nice change. The workload was quite high - you're supposed to do 18 hours a week but with young children at home I managed about 10-12 most weeks. I skipped over some of the self assessment bits I felt were irrelevant in order to keep up, since there is no exam I felt this was ok.

Some of the TMAs were hard going - not a frequent user of spreadsheets I find I can never remember how to use them effectively and I was also working on a Mac for which there is no OU support, but I managed somehow. The more journalistic type assignments were much easier and I consistently got higher than my usual grades.

The project I ummed and ahhed for ages about and did the bare minimum required, but started it in earnest in July sometime and it all came together in about six weeks. I worked directly into the web wizard as instructed and had no problems with editing, saving or losing any of my work, and I was able to produce a piece that I was very pleased with.

As a whole I really enjoyed this course and would say that it is my favourite that I have done, and the highest scoring on assignments and end of course assessment. I would definitely recommend it to others, because if nothing else it teaches you to use the internet more effectively and also made me much more aware as a consumer.

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: July 2011

What can I say about U316, well I absolutely hated it and if you are looking for a science course look elswhere. This course does require those taking part to co-operate in online forums and to submit data collected from a couple of field trips to complete some basic statistical analysis.

Yes you will look at online media and create a small web page for the project but the main focus of the course seems to be forum participation. My forum has a distinct clique and if you're on the outside you got nowhere and this became quite irritating.

The tutorial was a long way off at least 2 hours drive and was built around developing debate which was far from even when giving people time to voice their opinion. I had high hopes of this course but this was soon dashed when despite the high cost a very small box with a couple of thin books and CDs arrived.

After my experience I began to wonder if I took the same course as the other students posting their feedback. Perhaps my frame of mind was not good at the start but it only got worse as the course progressed so to sum up, its 60 credits if you can avoid getting bored and depressed.

Course starting: February 2010

Review posted: June 2011

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 February 2014 presentation of U316. The survey was carried out in 2014.

126 students (a response rate of 39.1%) 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 82.3 102
Overall, I am satisfied with my study experience 76.8 96
The module provided good value for money 72.6 85
I was satisfied with the support provided by my tutor/study adviser on this module 85.5 106
Overall, I was satisfied with the teaching materials provided on this module 80.6 100
The learning outcomes of the module were clearly stated 88.1 111
I would recommend this module to other students 64 80
The module met my expectations 66.1 82
I enjoyed studying this module 69.8 88
Overall, I was able to keep up with the workload on this module 57.1 72
Faculty comment: "The module team would like to thank all of the students who took the time to take part in the survey and provide feedback on their study experience.The module is wide-ranging, with internet and practical elements, group work and basic mathematical skills all essential components. Students emphasize that substantial time and organisation is imperative to master this breadth of material, but end-of-module responses show that the great majority of students are ultimately satisfied with the materials and with their overall learning experience, in particular the support from tutors. In response to student concerns, web-based materials, activities and TMAs are being thoroughly edited for 2016 and simplified or rationalised where possible to improve clarity and flexibility.""
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