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Teaching and Learning Showcase
Earth Environment and Society- New Elective Developed

Module Title:

Earth Environment and Society

Module Coordinator:

Professor Frank McDermott

Module Code:


Prior to establishing this general elective module there was anecdotal evidence of considerable unsatisfied student demand for electives in the general area of ‘the global environment'.  The popularity the continuing 1st semester level 1 module 'How the Earth Works' (GEOL 10010) that has been offered by the School of Geological Sciences for several years was taken as further evidence for demand in this area.  The new general elective module (Earth, Environment and Society, GEOL 10040) was designed to be Earth systems based, but genuinely cross-disciplinary in nature, exploiting fully the strength of UCD Horizons. The module was designed to appeal to large numbers of students from across the university, in the life and physical sciences, engineering, arts and the human sciences.  Although evidence based in approach, the module was deliberately designed to be accessible to science and non-science students alike.


The goals of this open elective module were to provide undergraduate students from across the university with a sound knowledge of Earth systems so that they can make rational judgements about the problems surrounding climate change and environmental degradation.  A key goal of the module is to enable students to critically assess the causes of these changes and to evaluate possible solutions. Students learn about the interconnected nature of Earth’s systems and the strong coupling that exists between the solid Earth and its hydrosphere, biosphere and atmosphere, using climate change as an example.  Students also learn to quantitatively assess the nature of risk, comparing natural (geohazard) risks with those associated with everyday human behaviour.  The module also provides students with a global view of important issues that impact on Earth’s environment, ranging from energy usage to societal attitudes surrounding the use and recycling of Earth’s resources such as metals and water.  The notion of sustainable development and the near and long-term future of planet Earth are also discussed. 

The Innovative Approach:

A key innovation in the delivery of this module was the extensive use of Blackboard-based, student-driven weekly assignments and quizzes.  The assignments were designed to draw on a combination of new material presented during lectures and complementary material on Blackboard. Videos and podcasts, accessed via Blackboard, were used extensively to reinforce the traditional lecture-based delivery of the course, and to make the material more accessible to non-science students.  Each week, students were required to undertake a 10 question quiz exercise on Blackboard as a self-directed learning exercise.  These online assignments did not count towards the students’ assessment grades, but instead were designed as a learning tool. Students were encouraged to repeat the quizzes in order to improve their understanding of the subject.


This general elective module provided considerable additional capacity (360 students enrolled) and capacity had to be increased to meet the demand.  Despite the diverse background of the student cohort, feedback was generally very positive. Students particularly liked the online assignments and the use of videos and podcasts to convey information about particular issues and case studies.