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 WATER

  Syllabus

Course Description

Student Learning Outcomes

Class Schedule

Instructors

Format

Required Textbook

Support Services

Grading

Weekly Overview and Expectations

Course Description

Central to all ecosystems, water is essential to life as we know it. It shapes our planet on every level, from the chemical properties of the H2O molecule to its central role in global climate. Poised to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th, water is also a critical environmental issue. Where do we find it? Is it safe to consume? Who has access to it? How can we manage this precious resource to provide an adequate supply to all the species that depend upon it? This course will focus on why water is such a critical resource, the effect of human consumption on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the social, economic, and environmental implications of water management.

 

The course begins with an overview of the role of water as a key component of planetary systems, the many ways humans use water and the cumulative effects of human activity on Earth’s freshwater supply. It describes the link between water and biodiversity and the services that freshwater ecosystems provide, with a particular focus on wetlands. It considers how this finite resource is distributed across the planet, moves on to the effect of water quality on human health and concludes with an overview of the key challenges that affect water management on a global scale.

 

During each week of the course, case studies provide learners with in-depth, real-world and diverse exposure to these issues. They also provide opportunities for rich discussion. The studies include the history and hydrology of the Colorado River and the tradeoffs of water management; the livelihoods that revolve around the Mekong River and its fertile delta;  the clean-up of wastewater through constructed wetlands in Augusta, Georgia;  water supply and management in the New York City watershed; and the complexity of sharing water resources among the eight countries that share southern Africa’s Zambezi River Basin.

Student Learning Outcomes

Students will:

 

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of the importance of water in ecosystems and to human society through an analysis of stakeholder positions regarding the management of water from the Colorado River.
  2. Use the concept of ecosystem services to discuss how human activity has affected the Mekong River ecosystem.
  3. Conduct a field investigation of a local wetland to assess its health.
  4. Evaluate ways to resolve and/or prevent threats to watershed and drinking water quality.
  5. Generate a plan for teaching data-driven lessons about water.

 

Please refer to the Weekly Schedule below for a detailed outline of the course.

Class Schedule

This is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. The course is asynchronous and does not have specific meeting times. Assignments and discussions change on a weekly basis. Students are expected to complete work within the specific week it is assigned.

For the current schedule of offerings, please visit www.amnh.org/learn/calendar

     

Instructors

This graduate course is co-taught by an experienced educator along with a research scientist.

For current instructor information, please contact learn@amnh.org.

Format

  1. Water is a six-week online graduate course with an additional week for assignment completion. Enrollment is restricted to current or future educators. No prior course in environmental science is required.

  1. Weekly activities involve case studies, scientific essays and textbook readings. These materials are augmented by data visualizations, interactive simulations, images, videos and links to material on other websites.

  1. Online discussions encourage reflection on course content, support and model the inquiry process, and sustain interaction between the offering scientists, seminar instructors, and course members.

  1. Final projects support the creation on inquiry-based lesson plans focused on a key course concept that you might incorporate into your teaching practice. For current instructor information, please contact learn@amnh.org.

Required Textbook

This course requires the following textbook:

 

Environmental Science: Earth as a Living Planet

By Daniel B. Botkin, Edward A. Keller

Hardcover: 752 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 11 x 8.6 x 1.3

Publisher:  Wiley, 7th edition, 2009

ISBN:  0470118555

Support Services

Technical support is available by calling (800) 649-6715 or emailing learn@amnh.org.

The American Museum of Natural History welcomes learners with disabilities into its Seminars on Science program and will make reasonable accommodations for them. Please contact learn@amnh.org if you require information about requesting accommodation services. These services are only available to registered students with documented disabilities. Please submit requests at least two weeks prior to the start of the course.

Grading

Assessments are based on a detailed grading rubric developed for this course:

     

Course Assignments

30%

Course Participation & Communication

40%

Final Project

30%

  1. Course assignments will include reflection questions and written assignments.
  2. Class participation will be evaluated based on the quality and consistency of contribution to the discussion forum. The grades for participation will be posted two weeks after each question opens.
  3. Final Project - Application in the Classroom: This project allows learners to develop an application that could teach some aspect of the course content to students or other educators. The project may take the form of a classroom unit or a workshop plan (if used for professional development.
  1. Policy: Everything submitted as an assignment, project, or discussion post must be an original work. References to resource materials are expected and proper citation is required. Assignments are due on the dates specified. Late submissions will be penalized 10%. Revised assignments that incorporate your instructor’s feedback will be accepted until the course ends.

Weekly Overview and Expectations

Week 1: What is Water?

Covering over 70 percent of Earth’s surface, water is central to the movement of matter and energy on Earth. Only 3% is fresh, and only one percent of that is available to us in aquifers, lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. We begin our investigation by exploring how water circulates through Earth systems and is distributed across the planet. Civilization has always centered around access to water, with usage patterns varying across nations and regions. We consider how humans move and store water, and the local and global effects of altering water quality and flow, from lowering water tables to damming the Colorado River. A supplementary essay explains the unique properties of the water molecule.

 

Expectations

  • Review the course orientation
  • Explore the physical, historical, and cultural context of the Colorado River system
  • Analyze how population growth, agriculture, and hydrological development impact the Colorado River
  • Review the water cycle
  • Reflect on the different ways that humans impact the supply of water
  • Understand the properties of the water
  • Participate in the Icebreaker Discussion
  • Respond to the Discussion Question: The Mighty Colorado

Week 2: Water & Life

This week describes the vast network of living things that depend on freshwater, and how water shapes wetland, freshwater,  and marine communities.  We look at different kinds of freshwater  systems  and the services  they provide, from mangrove forests that protect coastlines to watersheds that purify water and mitigate flooding — not to mention hydropower, transportation, and recreation. How do enterprises like agriculture, industry, and urbanization affect the way these systems function? The week wraps up with an explanation of the concept of ecosystem  services  and the challenge  of assessing  their value.   The Case Study looks at the Mekong River basin, where millions of people depend on the river’s rich sediment and fish-filled waters.

 

Expectations

  •  Examine how water shapes wetland, freshwater and marine communities
  •  Understand the nitrogen cycle
  •  Consider the concept of ecosystem services
  •  Reflect on the various ways that humans impact ecosystems
  •  Understand the main sources of water pollution and the toll on freshwater species
  •  Engage in the discussion question: A Challenged River

 

Week 3: Why Are Wetlands So Important?

Long dismissed as worthless, wetlands were routinely paved over or filled in until scientists grasped the critical biological, chemical, and physical roles they play in Earth systems. This week, we look at what defines a marsh, bog, or peatland (to name just a few kinds of wetlands), and how different species have adapted to these highly variable ecosystems. Nature’s water filters, they act as “kidneys” of the landscape, play a key role in the water cycle, and are extremely biologically productive. We go on to examine the major causes of wetland loss; its effects, both local and global; and mitigation and prevention strategies. This week’s Case Study takes us to Augusta, Georgia, where grasses and man-made marshes clean effluent from a wastewater treatment plant before it drains into the Savannah River

Expectations

  •  Explore how constructed wetlands are used to treat a city’s wastewater
  •  Understand the importance of wetlands
  •  Understand the major causes and effects of wetland loss
  •  Review the role of wetlands in biogeochemical cycles
  •  Explore the different ways that wetlands can be protected, managed, and restored
  •  Complete the assignment: Local Wetlands
  •  Participate in the discussion question: The value of an ecosystem
  •  Present preliminary thoughts on the Final Project

Week 4: Managing Earth’s Freshwater: What Are the Challenges?

This week addresses the location, quality, and scarcity of this finite resource, and the social, economic, and political aspects of managing water supplies.  We discuss the sources and uses of freshwater – including its finite nature, the effect of water scarcity on ecosystems and human populations as well as the industrial and agricultural uses of water.  In addition, we discuss the human impact on freshwater resources – including the balancing of competing demands on those resources, the nature of water governance, the implications of water as a privatized commodity, and technologies to increase supply and use water more efficiently, like desalination and reuse. Many of these issues are brought into focus in the first week of a two-week case study of New York City water supply and management, which focuses on stakeholders’ options for meeting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent water quality criteria.

 

Expectations

  • Consider the challenges involved in managing drinking water supply for New York City
  • Examine the biophysical, social and economic dimensions of watershed management
  • Understand how water scarcity affects human health, ecosystems, agriculture, and urban settlements
  • Explore the ramifications of public versus private ownership of water services
  • Evaluate the different technologies for addressing water supply and management issues
  • Complete the assignment: NYC stakeholders debate
  • Participant in the discussion: If you ran the show…

 

Week 5: What Is Clean Water?

This week discusses the effect of water quality on human health, and the feedback within an environment between healthy non-human species and healthy people. Topics include waterborne diseases, water treatment, water pollution, sewage treatment, techniques to identify and remedy threats to watershed and drinking water quality; and the Clean Water Act and other relevant laws.  In the second half of the New York City watershed case study , course participants compare their supply and management solutions to those arrived at in the New York City Watershed Memorandum of Agreement. They also consider the ongoing physical, chemical, and political factors involved in delivering water safely and reliably to nine million customers.

 

Expectations

  • Explore the ways water quality affects human health
  • Examine techniques to identify and remedy threats to watershed and drinking water quality
  • Review how stakeholders responded to EPA requirements regarding the NYC water supply system
  • Respond to the discussion question:  Your Drinking Water
  • Respond to the discussion question:  NYC Stakeholders Debate Revisited
  • Submit an outline for your final project

 

Week 6: How Should We Manage Water Systems?

What key challenges does the future hold? What new technological and political tools can we draw on? This week steps back for a look at the environmental, policy, and socio-economic factors that affect water management on a global level. Topics include climate change (including its relationship to water resources; ecosystems and biodiversity; melting ice and rising sea levels; and weather) as well as best practices (including water resource policy, management and conservation). This week’s case study focuses on the Zambezi River Basin of southern Africa, which is home to some 40 million people who rely on it for drinking water, fisheries, hydropower, industry, ecosystem maintenance, and other uses.  We look at why transboundary management of shared water resources is so challenging, especially in the developing world.

 

Expectations

  • Understand the ramifications of climate change on the world’s freshwater resources
  • Examine the environmental, political, and socio-economic factors that affect water management on a global level
  • Evaluate best practices in water resource policy
  • Reflect on the human right to water
  • Participate in the discussion:  Applying Your Knowledge
  • Submit your final project