Teach the Earth > Energy > Course Descriptions > Energy in the Human Environment (GEOS 370)

Energy in the Human Environment (GEOS 370)

Cristina Archer
California State University - Chico


Coverage of scientific concepts needed to understand energy and its environmental interactions at the local, regional, national, and global scales; in-depth examination of alternative energy sources and their environmental impact.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

GEOS 370 is an approved General Education course that belongs to the Theme G (Global issues). The prerequisite is one course in Breadth Area B1 (Science, with emphasis on the Physical Universe). GEOS 370 is not a requirement for other courses.

Course Content:

GEOS 370 covers fossil fuels usage for heating and/or electricity generation, nuclear power, renewables (winds, solar, hydro, biomass), and geothermal energy. This course is lecture-based with no lab. Students have one homework project to work on throughout the semester, consisting of keeping track of their energy consumption in their own homes during the semester and analyzing their data in relation with weather patterns at the end of the course in groups.

Course Goals:

The first goal of this class is to deliver content knowledge about how energy/electricity is generated and how it works.

A second goal is to achieve a change in attitude by
making students aware and conscious of:
1) where the energy/electricity comes from and why;
2) the fact that different energy types/source have different impacts on the environment;
3) their own energy choices at home/work;
4) global connections/consequences exist because of energy issues.

Course Features:

This course is lecture-based, with one homework project assignment in which students are required to gather their own data on energy and electricity consumption and analyze them in relationship with weather data.
The course would benefit to a certain extent from a lab, to experience, for example, how a magnet or an electric generator work, but most students are not that interested in the science.

Course Philosophy:

I have a background in environmental engineering and a strong research interest in wind power and renewable energy. The course is a great fit for my background and my teaching style. Surprisingly, though, most students lack a physics background and therefore have difficulties in the class.


I assess the content delivery via tests and quizzes. I did not set up tools to assess the changes in attitude, although, by talking to them at office hours or after class, I know that some students have changed their attitude towards energy consumption and have become more aware of environmental and sustainability issues because of this class. For example, they have been telling friends and family about what they learn, or ask their roommates to flip off their lights when they are gone.


Teaching Materials:

References and Notes:

Hinrichs and Kleinbach, "Energy, its use and the environment," Thomson Brooks/Cole
The book lacks on the renewable energy part and I integrated it with my own supplementary notes and slides.