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GEOG 30N - Environment and Society in a Changing World

This is a sample syllabus.

This sample syllabus is a representative example of the information and materials included in this course. Information about course assignments, materials, and dates listed here is subject to change at any time. Definitive course details and materials will be available in the official course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.


This course introduces the study of sustainability and human-environment interactions from a geographic perspective. We examine both the influence of humanity on the environment and the influence of the environment on humanity, with attention to the sustainability of current human activities. We take a complex systems perspective on major environmental and societal challenges and examine linked human-environment issues in a variety of contexts. We emphasize the major individual and societal decisions which impact the environment and the ethical views implicit in the decisions. We explore key concepts such as scale, systems analysis, and individual and collective action, as well as various topical issues related to climate change, agriculture, biodiversity, and development. The key concepts above are cross-cutting and applicable to several topical issues; in turn, topical issues are strongly interrelated. By introducing cross-cutting key concepts and asking students to apply them across topical issues in human-environment systems familiar to them, this course encourages students to think both within and beyond the main topic of each unit, thereby integrating previous and new knowledge. Course assignments highlight both major themes in human-environment geography and the experience of what it is like to perform human-environment geography.

GEOG 30N: Environment and Society in a Changing World (3 credits) GEOG 30N is an integrative study, inter-domain general education course. Students who started at Penn State prior to summer 2018 can apply these credits to either GS or GN requirements. The course also covers U.S. or international cultures requirements.

GEOG 30N can be applied toward Penn State's General Education "Social and Behavioral Sciences" (GS), "Natural Sciences" (GN), "United States Cultures," or "International Cultures" (IL) requirements.


Through completion of course modules, learning activities, and quizzes successful students will be able to:

  • understand foundational principles of nature-society geography;
  • build a toolkit of key concepts and theories for analyzing human-environment systems;
  • evaluate how biophysical and social environments are intertwined and shape one another;
  • critique specific nature-society problems across a range of geographic contexts;
  • develop possible solutions for addressing contemporary sustainability challenges.

Required Materials

Typically, there are no required materials for this course. If this changes, students will find a definitive list in the course syllabus, in Canvas, when the course begins.




We expect that you will treat this course in the same manner you would a face-to-face section of an introductory level course. You should expect to spend the same amount of time on this course that you would spend in and out of class in your other courses. On average, that may be about eight hours per week. However, you will find your workload depends on your familiarity with the technology needed to take an online course and any past experience you have with the subject matter.

In our experience, the students who reach their goals in online courses are those that are able to motivate themselves to keep up with the coursework and those that take the opportunity to communicate with the instructor and their peers. We encourage you to ask as many questions as you would in a face-to-face class. If you are struggling with any aspect of the course, we can only help you if you ask.

Major Assignments

GEOG 30N will rely upon a variety of methods to assess and evaluate student learning, including:

Written Assignments (65% of total course grade)

Written assignments provide you with an opportunity to synthesize the course concepts and supporting information you’ve learned in the class. These assignments will allow you to communicate your understanding of the material, demonstrate your critical thinking skills, and showcase your ability to analyze information. Each written assignment should be approximately 500-750 words in length, engage a minimum of three course concepts in bolded font, demonstrate quality academic writing skills, and include compelling arguments with supporting evidence. Rubrics are provided for each writing assignment to ensure the expectations for these assessments are clearly articulated to you.

Quizzes (32% of total course grade)

Automated quizzes will allow you to practice your mastery of the concepts presented in the course readings and supporting materials. There are three quizzes you will be required to participate in throughout the semester. The quizzes are open book.

Citation Training (3% of total course grade)

Citation training assignments will help you learn more about the basics of APA in-text citations and how to cite sources you use in your work appropriately. There are a total of three assignments associated with the training, two short quizzes and a discussion that requires a brief response.

Course Schedule

Course Schedule
1Course Orientation
  • Course Information Quiz
  • Initial Course Survey
2Module 1 - Geographic Perspectives
  • Citation Training (Part 1)
  • Quiz
3Module 2 - Human-Environment Systems
  • Citation Training (Part 2)
  • Quiz
  • Discussion
4Module 3 - Environmental Ethics
  • Written Assignment 1: Understanding the Role of Ethics
5Module 4 - Individual and Collective Action---
6Unit 1 (Modules 1-4) Review
  • Written Assignment 2: Carbon Footprints and Individual and Collective Action
7Module 5 - Development
  • Unit 1 Quiz
8Module 6 - Food and Agriculture
  • Written Assignment 3: Development and Agriculture
9Module 7 - Urban Planning---
10Unit 2 (Modules 5-7) Review
  • Written Assignment 4: Sustainable Cities
11Module 8 - Natural Hazards
  • Unit 2 Quiz
12Module 9 - Climate Change
  • Written Assignment 5: Vulnerability Reduction
13Module 10 - Biodiversity---
14Module 10 Biodiversity, Continued
  • Written Assignment 6: Biodiversity
15Unit 3 (Modules 8-10) Review
  • Quiz 3