Environmental Assessment

Maureen Padden, School of Geography and Earth Sciences, McMaster University


Students in this fourth-year course explore the policy and requirements of environmental assessment in both a Canadian and international context. Students gain familiarity with the environmental assessment process and have an opportunity to participate in a current environmental assessment. Assessment is in the form of two tests (one during the semester and one in the final exam period), lab debates and a major project. The project is peer-reviewed before final submission.

Course Size:
There are approximately 120 students in the course.

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This is a fourth-year interdisciplinary course with students from the earth science, environmental science, geography and environmental studies programs. There are also smaller numbers of students from other faculties, such as engineering and business. It's a required course for environmental science majors and environmental studies majors and helps earth science majors to complete the academic requirements necessary for professional certification.

Course Content:

This course investigates environmental assessment in Canada. Students debate previous environmental assessments to become familiar with online environmental databases and gain practice stating a persuasive, evidence-based opinion. The main project is a letter written in response to a current environmental assessment and is completed in real time.

Course Features:

The main project is a letter written in response to calls for public participation in a current environmental assessment. Students wait until approximately 30 days before the due date and start checking government websites for current assesssments and calls for public participation. Students need to request information from the appropriate authorities, research the options and write a letter either supporting the proposal or explaining their concerns with the proposal. I strongly encourage students to send the letters to the appropriate authority. I want the project to function for students as a bridge between university life and their continuing civic life after they graduate.


There are four course components used for assessement. There are two exams, which include multiple choice and short answer questions. Early in the course, students debate a previous environmental assessment in groups and their debate is marked by two members of the teaching staff. The final letter project is peer-reviewed before submission. Students are able to get feedback from teaching assistants before they submit the letter. The final letter project is also marked by two members of the teaching staff independently. All teaching staff then compare grades and come to a consensus.


Course Outline for Environmental Assessment (Acrobat (PDF) 131kB Jul12 12)

References and Notes:

Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment: A Guide to Principles and Practice by Bram F. Noble