Environmental Science, with Lab

Daniel Vaughn, Earth Science & Agriculture, Vincennes University


This course focuses on the basic parameters of, and human interaction with, the natural environment. Labs involve environmental testing, field observations, review of case studies, and various "hands on" activities (like waste stream analysis.) Lecture and lab are synchronized to maximize thematic focus.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Two Year College

Course Context:

This is an introductory level course. Placement into english composition and pre-college algebra are prerequisites. It is required of most Earth science major concentrations and satisfies the college's general education lab science requirement, and is a "speaking intensive" course. Student mix is generally about 25% science majors/ 75% non-science majors.

Course Content:

Topics include environmental pollution of various states (air, water, land), issues related to resource extraction and consumption, and environmental science fundamentals such as biomes and mass/energy transfer. Thus the course brings together aspects of hydrology, meteorology, geology, and ecology. Skills gained include water parameter measures (TDS, pH, DO, salinity) and soil textural analysis, as well as other critical thinking problems associated with lecture themes.

Course Goals:

1. Insight into the many dynamic processes occurring in the earth and on its surface.
2. Awareness of the status of world natural resources and trends in their use.
3. An understanding of the methods by which the earth is studied and the importance of studying it.
4. A better understanding and appreciation of Earth's fragile environment.
5. Awareness of threats to the environment, their health, and the health of organisms therein.
6. Increased awareness of related fields within Earth Sciences and future educational and vocational opportunities.

Course Features:

Major themes of the course revolve around sustainability and aspects of human responsibility with respect to resource use practices. Real-world connections are stressed via current events article discussions, as are the geologic origins of our basic natural resources. The term project this past Spring was a series of debates where students chose a set of environmental issues and were then split into "pro" and "con" group by random lot. The results were unexpected and intriguing.

Course Philosophy:

I have found across several years of similar courses that students have a disconnect with the notion that themes from classes such as ERTH101 have real-world linkages that affect their everyday lives. Mandating student opinions without adverse reaction to them helps them to reframe their perception with empirical information as opposed to preconceptions. We do also possess (the campus does) a 660 acre nature preserve that is used as a living laboratory for several classes.


Assessment occurs in a number of ways. Labs have individual reports as well as a final that assesses their knowledge of fundamental skills. Lecture has a midterm and final, as well as biweekly quizzes of critical concepts. A unique assessment item is the course Wiki wherein the students (mandatory) participation builds a study guide based on their observations. As noted elsewhere the term project is the development of debates that occur in the last week of classes. Along the way we will have discussed relevant current event articles that serve to steer their focus.


Syllabus ERTH101 (Acrobat (PDF) 26kB May22 12)

Teaching Materials:

Term Project Brief (Acrobat (PDF) 35kB May22 12)

References and Notes:

Environmental Science: Foundations and Applications, Andrew Friedland et al
Additional readings may vary by term as they tend to be current-events driven.