Provider: Open University at FutureLearn [course page]
Lecturers: David Robinson
Subject: Science / Biology
Delivery: intake-based asynchronous study
Recommended Load: 3 hrs/week over 6 weeks
Completion Date: 06/26/2014
Description: This course is an introduction to Ecosystems and the role that humans play in the management and future of Earth’s various ecosystems. This is presented in audio, video, weekly quizzes and forum discussions.
Strengths: This course makes use of various videos and audio snippets from the Open University to offer some insight into the structure of Ecosystems and why management of ecosystems is so important to our survival. It deals with the material in three parts, each section being two weeks in length. The first section defines what an Ecosystem is, moving on to extreme environments in the second, culminating in the human impact on ecosystems in the final section.
Though I found all of the material of great interest, the last week dealt with some rather notable regions, such as Loess Plateau in China and Galapagos Islands. We are encouraged to compare the impact of human behaviour on a given area, then consider the methods in which we can balance making a living with managing the environment. Last but not least is this focus on how we can make smart choices that can affect major changes in only a short period of time by making the environment a priority, such as in the case of the Chinese government in the Loess Plateau.
By offering real-life case studies, the team have given some great insight into how diverse and important the management of various ecosystems are in our future. There is also a lot that we don’t yet know about the natural world, hence preserving the various ecosystems also offers some further value. Human beings can benefit from living in accord with the natural environment rather than in opposition to it. It is a difficult sell for folks with the assumption that such cooperation removes quality of life, but the rewards are well worth it.
Weaknesses: I found no issues with the material covered in this course. However, some folks may find the material on Evolution offensive to their religious sensibilities and beliefs.
Conclusion: This course is a great brush-up on biodiversity and ecosystems biology, as well as a great introduction to Biology for individuals new to its study. The use of relevance and context ties the material together nicely, thus making the material not only accessible but convincing as well. This context offers a solid argument in support of action on climate change, poor farming methods, pollution, etc…
I recommend this course to anyone with an interest in ecosystems, the environment and some aspects of economics. I also recommend folks check out the short courses on ecosystems over at the OpenLearn section at the Open University website, as well as some of the free courses on Biology over at Saylor Academy and Khan University. There is also a host of excellent MOOCs on Climate Change and the Environment being made available on EdX and Coursera over the next six months.