Earth Week

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Earth Week Earth Day Dr. Martin Connors Athabasca University Science Ecology Biology AthaU AU University Canada Edmonton Calgary AlbertaAs spring makes us look to the renewal of the Earth, Earth Week makes us wonder how to make informed decisions about environmental matters. Earth Week began in 1970, through the call of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, to have a “National Environmental Teach-in.”

A ‘teach-in’ will remind many of us (who lived through) the 1960s protest movements (those of us who weren’t yet born, will likely be familiar with pop-culture renderings of the period) with demonstrations involving an educational component. But, when you really think about it, what better way to teach about the environment, on a national scale, than through distance education?

Athabasca University is a leader doing exactly this.

Most obviously, the Introductory Environmental Science course, ENSC 200, covers a wide range of topics for online study with no prerequisites. At a more advanced level, Environmental Chemistry, CHEM 330, goes from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of soils and oceans. Preparation to take this course is through the combination of CHEM 217/218 Chemical Principles courses, which feature Athabasca’s pioneering home lab technology, with experiments relevant to everyday life and done in the home.

Of course, Earth itself is the topic of GEOL 207, Environmental Geology – an online course with no prerequisites. Again, it has a home-lab component for a hands-on learning experience. After covering general topics needed for understanding how Earth works, the course covers environmental topics ranging from landslides to global warming.

Athabasca University is located in a thriving, natural environment, in north-central Alberta. As such, our BIOL 345 Ecology course gives the opportunity to visit it, firsthand, to study its local conditions. The course’s emphasis on biological systems means that Principles of Biology I and II (BIOL 204 and 207)  – both online courses – are required as pre-requisites. BIOL 204 has home labs, while BIOL 207 has the fun field-trip component of bring students to Athabasca for a lively week of lab work. Careful scheduling, arranged though our university’s modern teaching lab, allows this visit to be combined with the Ecology course, for two-weeks of environmental immersion.

In addition to its outstanding teaching in areas relevant to Earth Week, Athabasca University carries on research with a focus on the major Athabasca River Basin, with environments ranging from the high mountains of the Rockies to industrial lands near Fort McMurray. Active topics include environmental remediation through appropriate biological means, through to watershed and air pollution measurements. Advanced students may participate in the research through various Science Project courses, including those in Environmental Science (ENSC 495/496).

In short, Athabasca University greets Earth Week knowing that, on the research and teaching sides, our institution is making a difference through gathering environmental knowledge and helping learners –  anywhere  – to gain understanding.


Martin Connors directs aurora observations using a robotic telescope in the dark skies of Athabasca County. He teaches astronomy online for Athabasca University. Strangely, he claims that one can find enlightenment in dark!