Working with our Environment: An introduction

Introductory advice

There are two ways to approach this Introduction. The first is the more natural one: to read it straight through to get a general feel for its style and content, and to see whether you are going to find the unit and the issues it raises interesting; in short, to get an overview. There is nothing wrong with this at all.

You will find as you read through it, though, that the Introduction covers a wide range of topics. In part this is because the unit authors takes a broad view of ‘Technology’. We see it as the application of science and other knowledge to practical tasks by people working in organisations and using machines. In other words we are interested in the interactions between people, their organisations, and what they produce and consume. The other, related, reason is that in studying environmental issues we need to draw on a wide range of academic disciplines from biology and the earth sciences through to management and the social sciences.

(Tip: Whenever the key concepts ‘environment’, ‘technology’ and ‘sustainability’ are discussed in the text, keep a record of where this happens and make your own notes on how each term is described or defined.)

As you read through the text you will come across different technical ideas and terms. While you may well be familiar with some of the areas, it is likely that others will be new to you. In this case, taking the time to do a bit of research to check to your own satisfaction that you are following the argument and evidence being presented should improve your confidence in handling the material. But it is not just the technical material you should look out for. Inevitably in such an overview I have made many assumptions about you, the reader, about the views we might hold in common, and have also introduced my own values and prejudices. In places I try to make this subjectivity clear, and ask you to consider a different viewpoint; your own or another's, for example, but only to a limited extent. So be wary: don't just accept what you are told, look for arguments and evidence to support each statement as you read through the unit.

The second approach, then, is to be an active and engaged reader and to take responsibility for your own learning as you read through the Introduction. This is more difficult, it takes longer, but is ultimately much more rewarding. The purpose of the advice in the last section of this study guide is to explain how the unit material can be used to help you learn as you read, and give you some pointers to do this. One of the best ways to help you in this task is to make your own notes as you go along.

What you have to do

Studying this unit should take you around 11 hours. Each section builds on some of the ideas preceding it, so I recommend you read it in order.

First, the unit contains quite a few technical terms and concepts. Each time a new technical concept is introduced it will appear in bold. This means it is defined or described in the Glossary. You may or may not be familiar with the term, but you are recommended to refer to the entry in the Glossary because we may use the term differently from you. You'll find the Glossary by clicking on screen number 25 at the top or bottom of this pane. I suggest you keep it open in a separate browser window throughout your study.

To help you manage your studies I recommend that you obtain a copy of The Sciences Good Study Guide by A. Northedge et al., published by Open University Worldwide. Where particular skills, such as reading, note taking and using diagrams may be needed to help your study, you can read the appropriate section. How often you will need to do this will, of course, depend on your existing skills.

Finally the unit contains some Exercises and Self-assessment Questions (SAQs) which I recommend you attempt. Their purpose is to help you engage with the unit material, and to consolidate your understanding of it. It is tempting just to look at the answers, but if you make the effort to answer them yourself, you are far more likely to appreciate and remember the points being made. Good luck with your studies!