The Global Environment

Mike Phillips, ,
Illinois Valley Community College


This is an interdisciplinary course that introduces students to the study of environmental issues. Students read about and discuss a broad range of issues where humans interact with the environment. Topics range throughout the sciences including biology, geology, and the atmosphere. Student work includes discussion in class, written reflections, essay exams, and leading class discussions.

Course URL:
Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture only

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory general education course with no prerequisites. It meets a general education requirement for science with no lab. The course articulates throughout the state of Illinois via the Illinois Articulation Initiative. Most students are non-science majors. The course is flexible in terms of content and individual sections are tailored to meet the strengths of the teaching faculty.

Course Content:

The course begins with an overview of tools and techniques used to examine environmental issues including critical thinking, science, ethics, economics, and politics; the concepts of environmental justice are discussed as part of this beginning material. The students then use those tools and techniques to examine and discuss a variety of environmental issues. The current structure of the course allows the students to select and present the content with few limitations on content or the structure of the presentation. In the future, more structure will be provided: students will choose from a list of topics in order to focus content in certain desired areas and an outline will provide a structural framework for students to ensure scientific, ethical, economic, and political aspects (including environmental justice) are addressed.

Course Goals:

Students will be able to critically evaluate environmental issues using life, physical, and social sciences and provide meaningful contributions to discussions examining environmental issues. Students will be able to distinguish between biotic and abiotic factors in an ecosystem and identify and describe the relationships of those factors. Students will be able to describe the environment and resources in terms of economic and non-economic values and apply the concepts of sustainability to human interactions with the environment. Students will be able to explain how people with differing worldviews would approach an environmental issue. Students will be able to assess an environmental concern, develop and propose several ways to address the concern, and explain the costs and benefits (economic and non-economic) of their proposed ideas.

Course Features:

Students engage in classroom discussions of environmental issues in the news and facing the community. Students research an issue and lead the class discussion at least once; their research must include scientific, economic, ethical, and political aspects of the issue. When appropriate, the class has discussed and taken action in the community. During election years, students research candidates' positions on environmental issues and present their findings to the class prior to Election Day.

Course Philosophy:

At my college, our general education goals include preparing students to apply analytical and problem solving skills to personal, social and professional issues and situations and communicating orally and in writing. The course is designed to meet those goals using environmental issues as a vehicle for developing those skills. This is especially relevant because students are likely to encounter similar issues no matter what their ultimate vocation will be. Environmental justice is a key component because it illustrates the interplay of ethics, politics, and economics within many environmental issues and the limits of science when dealing with such issues.


I assess students through written reflections, essay exams and project, which includes research, presentation, and leading a class session. The course is structured around a series of overarching topical questions that allow students to explore topics through readings and in-class discussion; at the conclusion of each topic, students submit their personal response to the overarching question including an explanation of their answer. At mid term and the end of the course, students complete an exam that requires them to expand on the topical questions. Once during the semester, students (individually or in small groups) research a topic, provide resources to the class, and lead a class discussion on the topic; this assignment is assessed using a rubric developed, in part, with the students.


Global Environment Syllabus (Microsoft Word 297kB Mar15 13)

Teaching Materials:

Term Project for Global Environment (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 22kB Mar15 13)

References and Notes:

Environmental Science, Cunningham & Cunningham
The course changes each semester with students determining much of the reading resource content.