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Ecosystems

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This course considers the interactions between organisms and their environment that together form an ecosystem – which can range from a simple microbial community to the biodiverse rainforests of the tropics. Even the Earth as a whole may be considered an ecosystem. You’ll develop your understanding of the terrestrial environment as a habitat for a vast array of different organisms; the connections between them and their surroundings; and their resilience to anthropogenic changes – such as pollution and climate change. You’ll also gain practical experience in ecosystem science – making observations in your locality, and through extensive use of models to investigate processes essential to supporting life on Earth.

Modules at Level 3 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

Register for the course


Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£985.00
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Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£985.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

An additional fee for the examination may apply.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£865.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

See below for information about part time tuition fee loans available for study towards a qualification.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 30/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2017.

*Fees may vary by country.

What you will study

Understanding ecosystem structure and function is the key to understanding how life has persisted in the past and may yet flourish in the future.

The course offers a holistic approach and is composed of four blocks. They take you gradually from simple local systems and processes up to the complexity of the global scale. An introductory block defines what is meant by the term ‘ecosystem’ and presents a range of examples, describing their biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living) components. The second block then addresses the cycling of energy, water, carbon and inorganic nutrients through these systems. It reflects on how these flows control the type and number of organisms inhabiting the system and also how the presence of living organisms in turn affects the cycling of energy and matter. The resilience of the ecosystems to the perturbations of human activity is explored in the third block, using a range of case studies from across the globe. The final block looks at our planet as a whole to investigate the interdependence of the sub-systems within it.

The majority of this course is delivered online and you should expect to spend the following proportions of your time studying:

  • online text accessed via a website (15 per cent)
  • hardcopy course book (15 per cent)
  • a DVD-ROM from which you will access models, spreadsheets and video material (20 per cent)
  • web resources including electronic books and journal papers (20 per cent)
  • carrying out practical work (15 per cent)
  • web-searching (5 per cent)
  • assessment (10 per cent).

Throughout the course, the four core concepts of definition, cycling, resilience and interdependence will be illustrated by examples from around the world, using the full range of media. The course emphasises the nature of data obtained in environmental studies with its inherent variability. To understand our environment scientifically, manipulation and statistical interpretation of data are essential. You will be introduced to a number of statistical tests, accessed via spreadsheets (including ANOVA and multiple regression) to enhance your skills in this area. You will be given the opportunity to input data into these spreadsheets and critically analyse the statistical output.

One particularly interactive element will be the use of two digital thermometers, supplied in a home kit, to record your own observations. These observations will be made in two practical tasks; firstly on an individual basis and then in small groups involving an element of experimental design. Results will be compiled into a database that you’ll analyse to investigate some ecosystem properties. You will have the opportunity to apply your new skills with environmental statistics (e.g. ANOVA and multiple regression) to draw conclusions from your data. You will be assessed on the outputs from these activities in your tutor-marked assignments.

Another theme running through the course is the use of modelling. Predictive modelling of ecosystem response is now a frequent issue in the media. The course illustrates the different types of models that are used, exploring their inputs, components and assumptions so the output can be correctly interpreted. There will be a number of spreadsheet-based or stand-alone models that you will engage with to explore how a particular system responds to external influences. About 20 per cent of the course study time is devoted to the use of modelling and statistical tools, the majority of which are spreadsheet based.

In addition to the course book, DVD, web resources and digital thermometers, you will also have access to an introduction and guide, a glossary and a specimen examination paper. The three-hour examination will draw strongly on the activities undertaken during the course.

Entry

This is a Level 3 course. Level 3 courses build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at Levels 1 and 2. They are intended for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably with the OU.

You will be required to interpret fairly complex graphs, and to manipulate datasets in spreadsheets to create your own graphs and perform simple statistical tests (e.g. linear regression). During the course you will use bespoke spreadsheets to analyse datasets using the ANOVA, regression, and multiple regression statistical tests. So, if you are unfamiliar with spreadsheet operations, you are strongly advised to gain experience prior to starting the course. You will also carry out some practical investigations – some field-related – involving measurement and analysis of the results using statistics. It is very important that you have a basic understanding of certain statistical tests before you study this course (for example, the Spearman Rank Correlation test and the t-test). Further details are given in the Are You Ready For S396? booklet mentioned below.

You will therefore need a background in science, such as you would get from our Level 1 science course Exploring science (S104). The preferred route would be to take the Level 2 science course Environmental science (S216) before embarking on S396. Your regional or national centre will be able to tell you where you can see reference copies of the courses mentioned here. 

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis from which to tackle the course, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For S396? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the course or whether you need a little extra preparation. This can be viewed or printed from the Are you ready for science? website. If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

The course will be delivered via an online study commentary, so you will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. If either your sight or manual dexterity are seriously impaired, you may find using the web and the DVD exercises particularly challenging. Ecosystems modelling and spreadsheet statistical activities account for around 20 per cent of the course and these, in addition to the many textual diagrams and images in the course, require good visual acuity. The text for all journal articles and books accessed online is accessible using a screen reader.

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

A course book, Introduction and Guide, a DVD-ROM, a website, web-based materials and two digital thermometers.

You will need

Microsoft Office for word processing or spreadsheet activities. You will need a headset, with a microphone and earphones, to talk to your tutor and other students online during some of the course activities.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some course software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device is not suitable for this course – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this course by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. Tutorial support will be available online. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.

Assessment

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

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs). Assessment is an essential part of the teaching, so you are expected to complete it all. Please note that the substitution rule does not apply to this course.

Please note that there is a practical task related to the completion of the first TMA that you will need to start in the first study week. You should bear this in mind, especially if you register late for this course.

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that starts in November 2013. We expect it to be available again in October 2014 and then for the last time in October 2015. 

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Student Reviews

“A most enjoyable course, the tutor was fantastic. The statistics (regression and ANOVA) was very well explained. Among other things, ...”
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“I was apprehensive about taking S396 as I knew it was the follow on level 3 module to the level ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code S396
Credits 30
OU Level 3
SCQF level 10
FHEQ level 6
Course work includes:
4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

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