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OL 101: My Course Help offers Quick Start Guides, an FAQ, and other information to help you navigate this site.

For quick resolution to technical or administrative issues, please Contact Our Support Staff rather than your instructor.

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Required Textbooks

  1. Keller, Edward A., and Daniel B. Botkin. Essential Environmental Science. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 2008. ISBN 978-0-471-70411-9

This course preview outlines the details of this online course. For more information on taking this course, please send an e-mail message to our support staff at UW offices are closed on these holidays.


Course Preview
  • 19 Lessons
  • 2 Assignments
  • 3 Exams

Welcome to ESRM100, Introduction to Environmental Science! This course provides a comprehensive overview of environmental science. By using an "earth systems" approach, we recognize society and the environment as an interrelated system. Throughout this course, we will examine environmental issues investigate realistic solutions.

ESRM100 is designed primarily as an elective to meet the University of Washington's requirements for courses in the areas of Natural World (NW) and Individuals and Society (I&S). There is no prerequisite except an interest in the environment. In this course, you will experience a broad exposure to Environmental Science, ranging from the general structure of the earth and how it works to issues like biological diversity, pollution, and global warming. Case examples range from local to global environmental issues. This is a fun course for students and the instructor, and I believe it will change your present opinion of environmental science.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course, you will be able to

  • define and use correctly the common terms of environmental science;
  • explain the what makes up the environment, how it functions, and how humans are part of it;
  • apply the concepts and principles of environmental science to propose solutions to specific environmental problems;
  • critique environmental writings and predictions and their impact on subsequent developments in human relationship with the environment; and
  • evaluate the adequacy of conclusions about environmental phenomena.

Required Reading Materials

Course Textbook

The required textbook for this course is Essential Environmental Science by Keller and Botkin, Wiley, UW edition available in UW Bookstore, and can also be ordered online.

About the Online Environment

This is a Web-based, online course. Because enrollment takes place over several months, you may be on a different timetable than other students in your section.

Your online course offers several advantages over the traditional classroom, including the comprehensive Online Student Handbook, the ability to communicate electronically with fellow students and with your instructor, and access to an array of online resources.

Communicating with Your Instructor and Student Peers

Please read the guidelines for participating in online discussions.

You can e-mail questions and comments to your instructor. Or you can post questions to the course discussion forum. Online forums, designed by the University of Washington's award-winning Catalyst team, allow you to communicate with other currently enrolled students and with your instructor. You are encouraged to use the forums to exchange ideas, resources, and comments about your course work. Your instructor may monitor this forum and provide feedback as needed.

Online Resources

As an online student, you have access to a wealth of Web resources compiled by the University of Washington to provide fast, easy access to information that supports your online learning experience. Organized by subjects, the Online Resource page links you to sites with help for writing and research, study skills, language learning, and electronic library reference materials. All links have been assessed for credibility and reliability, and they are regularly monitored to ensure their usability.

Instructor Course Web Page

Your instructor maintains a separate course Web page that includes relevant current events as well as materials specific to the course, such as:
  • General Class Information
  • Exam Help
  • Grade Lookups

Course Overview

One of the most important ideas you'll be introduced to in this class is the concept of "Environmental Wisdom" and its practical applications in your life. The world is an incredibly interconnected place, both by its inherent nature and by human construct. We cannot separate humans from nature, and all of our concepts of the environment for this class are formed in our human minds. I do not want to dwell on this too much, but my primary goal in this course is to allow you to approach environmental information with some useful skepticism and knowledge. Environmental "Information" is constantly bombarding us, and it is often used to try to manipulate us—often into buying something, often into supporting an issue or taking a political stand: for instance, promoting certain kinds of coffee (such as shade-grown versus sun-grown), driving an SUV through a creek to show how it can get you close to "nature." buying bamboo instead of hardwood flooring, supporting the defunct Seattle Monorail, advertising investments as "green," and the list goes on. What I hope most is that, after you take this course, you will have some of the tools to understand and critique the basis for—if not all of the actual implications—at least some of the environmental information you receive. You'll learn about how small this world really is and how we depend on disparate parts of Earth for our lives. I expect you will have a different understanding of the "environment" and "environmental science" after you take this course.

Course Organization

This course consists of 19 lessons associated with the book's 19 chapters, as listed below. Each lesson includes a Presenter lecture with audio, located on the My Course page. Your instructor maintains a course web site where you will find

  • Chapter/Lesson 1: Fundamental Issues in Environmental Science.
    Chapter Goals: Develop an understanding of why science is necessary to solve environmental problems.
  • Chapter/Lesson 2: Human Population Growth.
    Chapter Goals: Understand why human population growth is the primary underlying environmental problem.
  • Chapter/Lesson 3: Biogeochemical Cycles
    Chapter Goals: Understand why biogeochemical cycles are essential to long-term life on Earth.
  • Chapter/Lesson 4: Ecosystems
    Chapter Goals: Understand requirements necessary to sustain life on Earth.
  • Chapter/Lesson 5: Biological Diversity
    Chapter Goals: Develop an understanding of how to protect endangered species and to keep biological diversity high.
  • Chapter/Lesson 6: Restoration Ecology
    Chapter Goals: Understand ways and approaches for restoring damaged ecosystems.
  • Chapter/Lesson 7: Forests and Wildlife
    Chapter Goals: Understand how far as function, provide habitat for wildlife, and how society might utilize but also sustain forests and wildlife.
  • Chapter/Lesson 8: Environmental Health, Pollution and Toxicology
    Chapter Goals: Understand the function of pollutants, their pathways, and the basic principles of environmental health and toxicology.
  • Chapter/Lesson 9: Agriculture and Environment
    Chapter Goals: Develop an understanding of the role of agriculture in feeding us, and as part of the environment how we can feed ourselves but not damage the environment.
  • Chapter/Lesson 10: Energy and Environment
    Chapter Goals: Understand how energy is produced, the primary forms of energy that society uses, and impacts of energy use on the environment.
  • Chapter/Lesson 11: Water and Environment
    Chapter Goals: Develop an understanding of where water exists, what forms it is in, and ability to recover and utilize different forms of water, and understand the impact of water use on the environment.
  • Chapter/Lesson 12: Oceans and Environment
    Chapter Goals: Understand the role of the oceans in their lives, the resources they supply, and the role in the environment.
  • Chapter/Lesson 13: Earth's Atmosphere and Climate
    Chapter Goals: Understand the elements and structure of the Earth's atmosphere, and in particular, the role of the atmosphere and component gases in global warming.
  • Chapter/Lesson 14: Air Pollution and Environment
    Chapter Goals: Develop an understanding of what air pollution in as, the different kinds of pollutants, and their impact on the environment. Particular consideration is given to pollutants impact on global warming.
  • Chapter/Lesson 15: Minerals and Environment
    Chapter Goals: Understand where minerals come from, how society uses them, and in particular, how nonrenewable mineral resources might be utilized sustainably.
  • Chapter/Lesson 16: Waste Management
    Chapter Goals: Understand what waste is, where it comes from, how it is managed, and why it is an environmental problem sometimes, and a resource sometimes.
  • Chapter/Lesson 17: Natural Hazards
    Chapter Goals: Develop an understanding of what natural hazards are, and why we always have worse disasters and catastrophes in terms of society.
  • Chapter/Lesson 18: Environmental Economics
    Chapter Goals: Understand how economics is very much a part of our consideration of the environment, how we value different things, and why we always need to consider economics when we consider approaches to solving environmental problems.
  • Chapter/Lesson 19: Planning for a Sustainable Future
    Chapter Goals: Understand how can we plan and achieve a sustainable Environment.

Reading Assignments

Each online lesson relates to a chapter or a portion of a chapter in Essential Environmental Science. The online "lectures" consider the general material covered in the chapter, along with examples that are relevant and important to students at the University of Washington and residents of the Pacific Northwest.

Key Terms

Since an introduction to environmental science requires you to master a new vocabulary, each lesson includes a number of key terms that are important to your understanding of the chapter. Knowing what these terms are in advance will help you focus your reading of each assigned chapter.

About the Discussion Forum

The discussion forum provides a site where you can think about and talk about issues of interest to the class. You are required to post at least two comments to the discussion forum. Your postings can be either
  • a question related to Environmental Science; or
  • an answer that adds to the resolution of a question that another student has posted.
Don't duplicate question topics. Do add to the conversation after another student has started a conversation on that topic, or do post new question topics.

Each of your postings will be graded on a scale of 0 to 100, and the best question and answer will be selected as your discussion posting grade. Note that this grade counts as 25% of your overall course grade. For a thorough description of acceptable discussion postings, see "About the Discussion Postings."

Check the course schedule for due dates for each posting.

About the Exams

Please refer to the class website for all information regarding exams.


Grading is as follows:

  1. 50% is for exams. The lowest grade of Exam 1, 2 or 3 will be dropped. The two highest will count for 25% each (for a total of 50%).
  2. 25% of the class grade is for the two discussion forum postings.
  3. 25% is for the class project (see "About the Class Project").

I may or may not apply a grading "curve," depending on class performance. In previous years, I have always applied a curve to bring the class average up to the UW average for a 100-level course. For such a large class as this, I use the University of Washington average for 100-level classes, which is currently 3.2. If the class average is higher than 3.2, I will give those grades without a curve. If the class average is less than 3.2, however, I will scale the average up to 3.2. The normal scale is as follows:

Please refer to the class website for for specific grading criteria.

If I apply the curve, it will affect the grade for the entire course, not individual requirements such as exams or projects.

How to Succeed in ESRM100DL

The following is a formula for success in ESRM100DL.

  1. Keep up. The easiest pitfall in a class that is largely Internet-based is to fall behind on readings and assignments. Keep up with the pace the syllabus sets for you, and you'll find the amount of material and work to be easier to handle.
  2. Use the online lectures and the textbook together. The textbook will cover nearly any particular concept comprehensively, but the lectures will help you focus on key concepts, and give you even more "real world" examples. Pay attention to both, and you won't miss a thing!
  3. Use your TAs. Have you ever had a class that offers office hours for 15+ hours per week? Well, you have one now! Meet with a TA and get help on everything from projects to exam prep. You have nearly around-the-clock access to your TAs via e-mail. Drop us a line, and we'll get right back to you! You'll find contact information at the Participants link on your course Web page.
  4. Put extra effort into your discussion postings. Don't forsake this, as it is 25% of your grade! Also, two questions on each exam will come from the discussion list. This assignment is easy! Easy to forget, easy to slack off on . . . but give it good effort, and it should be easy to ace as well!
  5. Think hard about the class project (see "About the Class Project"). You can do this project either as an individual or with others. The projects can be (and usually, are) fun, have sometimes led to jobs for ESRM 100 students, and are almost always healthy exercise. You also get the satisfaction of doing something voluntary and good as well as earning a high grade. Wow! Sign me up, TAs!

About the Developer, Professor Rob Harrison

Rob Harrison is Professor of Soil and Environmental Sciences in the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington in Seattle. He received degrees in Soil Science and Forestry from North Carolina State University, the University of New Hampshire, and Auburn University (Alabama), and completed a Postdoctoral Research Associateship at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He has studied nutrient, heavy metal, and pathogen movement in soils; the impacts of compost, biosolids, wastewater, and fertilizer additions on soil/plant systems; the use of organic wastes as soil amendments; long-term forest productivity; the impacts of forest fertilization and management on forest soil properties; and carbon sequestration. He variously teaches 12 different courses, ranging from large introductory courses to courses on advanced soil chemistry and soil, plant, and water analysis. He has served as advisor to 31 graduate students, and taught about 20,000 students in his classes over 22 years. He is also a grader for Advanced Placement Environmental Science, and enjoys teaching in any capacity to any audience.

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