INSTRUCTOR : Dr. Patricia Muir, Professor of Botany & Plant Pathology, Oregon State University

OFFICE: 1096 Cordley Hall

OFFICE PHONE: 737-1745

E-MAIL ADDRESS: (Click on the highlighted version to send me e-mail)

OFFICE: 1096 Cordley Hall

OFFICE PHONE: 737-1745

E-MAIL ADDRESS: (Click on the highlighted version to send me e-mail)


I encourage you to contact me with questions or comments at virtually any time. The one time that I ask you NOT to stop by my office, however, is the hour before class, during which I'm often doing last minute preparations for lecture. I can be reached at the addresses and number given above. Please read the section on means of communication by clicking on "communicate," above. Near the bottom of this syllabus, you'll find information on how to use the Discussion Board for BI301, which will be a way for us to have "virtual discussions."

TEACHING ASSISTANT: (To be announced -- click on "Instructor" for information)

Click INDEX to jump to the master index for the course web site, that simply lists links for items of interest, without including lots of descriptive words.


This is a Baccalaureate Core Synthesis course in the Contemporary Global Issues category. Contemporary Global Issues courses must:

---Emphasize elements of critical thinking;
---Focus, from a historical perspective, on the origin and nature of critical issues and problems that have global significance;
---Emphasize the interdependence of the global community;
---Use a multidisciplinary approach and be suitable for students from diverse fields; and
---Include written composition.

Outcomes associated with this Synthesis course, as articulated by OSU's Baccalaureate Core Committee, include the following. Students completing this course will be able to:

1. Analyze the origins, historical contexts, and implications of contemporary global issues.
2. Explain the complex nature and interdependence of contemporary global issues using a multi-disciplinary approach.
3. Articulate in writing a critical perspective on contemporary global issues using evidence as support.

In this Synthesis Course, we will examine selected human impacts on ecosystems in depth, including management of agricultural and forest resources, altered air quality, and changes in global climate. . I selected these topics because each has: (1) global causes and implications, (2) complex scientific, social and ethical underpinnings, and (3) consequences for the natural world as well as for human societies. Further, there aren't single "right answers" to questions about causes or severity of, or solutions to, these problems. This requires that you learn to evaluate data, sources for those data, and policy options to reach your own conclusions regarding the issues we discuss. The history of, causes, approaches to investigating, and potential solutions for each issue will be discussed from scientific, social and ethical perspectives. For each environmental problem, we examine how human activities are transmitted through linkages among air, land, water, and the biota. Our discussion will not focus on effects on human health (except in that human health is linked closely to the healthy functioning of ecosystems). While we do discuss some legislative and regulatory approaches to solving the problems, these are not a primary focus of the course.


You will be able to:

(1) Demonstrate in writing your appreciation of the concept that the effects of human activities are transmitted through linkages among air, land, water, and the biota, such that the consequences of human activities are often wide-reaching and difficult to predict.

(2) Explain relationships of selected environmental problems to social, economic, political, and ethical issues, at scales ranging from local to global.

(3) Make predictions about the probable future of human populations in various nations based on the demographic parameters that currently apply to them.

(4) Explain the scientific underpinnings of debates about conventional versus organic agriculture, stratospheric ozone depletion, global climate change, and management of forests in the Pacific Northwestern U.S. You will be able to discuss the causes, impacts, and potential solutions for each of these issues or problems.

(5) Describe the strengths and weaknesses of observational, experimental, and modeling approaches for studying human impacts on ecosystems. You will demonstrate in writing that your understanding of these methods has fostered an inquiry approach to problem solving that can be generalized to problems beyond those addressed in this course.

(6) Demonstrate in writing your ability to think critically about environmental issues as you evaluate the truth of statements from the media and other sources about the topics we discuss in class.

(7) Distinguish between the roles of scientific information and social values in environmental decision making.


Because enrollment in this course is fairly large, most class meetings will be lecture format. However, I welcome (and encourage) you to participate by asking questions during lecture. Discussion should be an important part of this course, since many of the topics that we address are complex and controversial. Unfortunately, such discussion is nearly impossible in lecture, owing to our size. I hope we will be able to conduct discussions in spite of our size, through use of the Discussion Board feature in Blackboard. Click on "communication " for more information about these "virtual" discussions.

My lectures provide you with both basic concepts and a large number of numerical "facts." I am most interested in your mastering the concepts, and I view the factual material as necessary documentation. Ten or twenty (or even two!) years from now, I hope that you will remember the concepts, and that you will know where to go to look up the facts. My exams reflect that philosophy, in that they focus on mastery of concepts (including application of concepts to new situations) rather than regurgitation of facts.


In an effort to reduce paper use -- and save you money! -- all of the required readings are posted in the Course Documents section of the Blackboard site for this course. A calendar for reading assignments is given below.


Click on "course topics" above to see a detailed list of topics that we'll cover this term, along with links to notes on each topic.


I have created a study guide and a list of supplementary readings for each unit of the course. The web version of the study guides contains links to portions of the web notes where each topic is first, or primarily, discussed -- this is a great help when you are preparing for exams or quizzes! The supplementary readings on the study guides, largely from the primary literature, are strictly optional, and expand upon what is covered in lecture and the readings packet. You can look at the study questions and list of supplementary readings for each unit by clicking on the study guide of interest below:

BI390000.gif Human population

BI390000.gif Agricultural issues

BI390000.gif Air quality issues

BI390000.gif Global climate change

BI390000.gif Stratospheric ozone depletion

BI390000.gif Biodiversity and forestry issues.


NOTE: This schedule is subject to change, as some topics may take more (or less) time than I have allotted. I will notify you if changes are necessary.

You can see which sections of the web notes were covered (actually covered, not just planned for coverage) on a given date in class by clicking calendar here. This will allow you to get information covered in lecture (and more than that, actually), should you need to miss class for some (good) reason.

You may jump to notes by clicking on the highlighted topics, below.

Week: Dates: Topic(s)

1: 1/6 - 1/10

2-5: 1/13-2/7 (No class Monday 1/20-- MLK Day)

6: 2/10 - 2/14

6: 2/14 -- Midterm

7 - 8: 2/17 - 2/28

9 - 10: 3/3- 3/14

BI390000.gif Global Climate Change, continued. Wrap up loose ends, search for generalizations, make predictions....

Final Exam — Monday March 17, 6:00 p.m. -- held in the usual classroom


Many of the reading assignments include material that will not be covered in lecture, and most of the lectures contain much material that is not covered in readings. This allows me to broaden your foundation in the subjects far more than I could if we only had our three hours per week. Further, the subjects that we discuss are controversial, and it is useful for you to be presented with a diversity of approaches to the subjects. I do not spend much time in lecture discussing readings, but I am happy to answer questions on them, either in or out of class. One small writing assignment is based on readings; quizzes and exams focus on material covered in lecture, but major concepts from the reading are also fair game.

Week: Dates: Assignment(s)

All assigned readings are available in the Course Documents section of the Blackboard site.

1: 1/6 - 1/10 (Note that this looks like a lot for one week, but they can be spread over the first couple of weeks -- many are general context.)

"Green Destiny: Universities Leading the Way to a Sustainable Future"

"Science and Environmental Policy: Making them Compatible"

"The Tragedy of the Commons"

"Human Domination of Earth's Ecosystems" (Note: 25 word summary of this due on Wed. Jan 16; see section on "Grading," below; more information will be given in class.)

" Transitions in World Population"

"Population Policy Options in the Developing World"

2-5: 1/13-2/7 (I'll give guidance in class on how to distribute these across these weeks)

"Feeding Nine Billion"

"Forecasting Agriculturally Driven Global Environmental Change"

"Environmental, Energetic, and Economic Comparisons of Organic and Conventional Farming Systems"

"Crop Scientists Seek a New Revolution"

"Can Crop Transgenes be Kept on a Leash?"

"Genetically Engineered Organisms and the Environment" (Just read the Executive Summary)

"Should Cows Chew Cheatgrass on Commonlands?"

"Can Cows and Conservation Mix?"

6: 2/10 - 2/14

Nothing assigned (midterm this week) -- you could jump ahead to next week's if you feel the urge....

7 - 8: 2/17 - 2/28

"Modern Global Climate Change"

"Recent Climate Change Compared to Predictions"

9 - 10: 3/3-3/14

"Global Warming is Changing the World"

"The Challenge of Long-term Climate Change"

"Climate Change: the Political Situation"

"Expert Credibility in Climate Change"

"IPCC 2013 - Summary for Policy Makers" [Only for those interested in more details than I offer in class...]


Quizzes (in-class, 10-minute) will be given in class on Fridays of weeks 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8. We will drop the score from your lowest quiz, so each of the four retained quizzes will total 8% of your grade, and these quizzes will, collectively, constitute 32% of your final grade.

Exams: There will be one midterm on Friday, Feb. 14 and a final exam on on Monday March 17, 6:00 p.m. Last year's exams and keys to them are available via the highlighted links (above). The sample exams contain links to portions of the web notes where topics are first, or primarily, discussed. Be forewarned, however, that course content and exam format change from year to year, so use old exams only to indicate the types of questions to anticipate.

Informal writing assignments:

Resource use reduction project: To be described in class, but basically this asks you to keep track of reductions in your use of selected resources over the week of Jan. 20 - 26. You will turn in a table in which you catalog your use on Monday January 27.

"Participation:" The participation (or "Communication") score simply requires that you communicate at least once with me or our TA or the class. This must be completed before the beginning of our last class meeting of the term (March 14). You can do this by e-mail to the TA or me, by talking with one of us on the telephone or in person, or by posting a comment to the Discussion Board. Outside event: Attend one event (lecture, discussion, field trip) related to class topics and turn in one paragraph describing it (I'll announce relevant possibilities over the BlackBoard site or by email in case you don't hear of things in another way). Due anytime before the beginning of our last class meeting.

Policy on late work: late work will not be accepted unless you have made arrangements with me in advance of the due date.

Blackboard Discussion Group : Since the large size of this class makes in-class discussion difficult, I hope that you'll participate in the Discussion Board that is available through Blackboard, OSU's web-assisted instruction portal. Many of you have probably used Blackboard in other courses, but in case you are new to it, here is a brief primer. I will use Blackboard for only a few things, given that I have this website instead. I have posted the required readings in the Course Documents section of the Blackboard site (see "Readings" above)and we will use it for discussions via the Discussion Board.

(1) You need an ONID account to use blackboard. One is automatically assigned to you when you register for classes at OSU, and all you need to do is activate it by going to Instructions there are self-explanatory. Note that, if you use a different email server (such as hotmail or yahoo), you can have mail from your ONID account forwarded automatically to that address so that you don't have to check two addresses- information on doing that is given at the site listed above.
(2) Once you have an ONID account, to enter Blackboard, direct your browser to and click the Login link. Type in your ONID username and password, then hit Enter or click the Login button.
(3) Once you are in Blackboard, You'll see a tab near the top of the page (or maybe in a box along the left side of the page) titled, "My Courses." Click on that. I've never done this as a student, but I assume that it then takes you to a list of the courses that you are registered for, and you can then click on BI 301, Human Impacts on Ecosystems (and it may also say winter 2014 - check to be sure you are using the site for the correct term!)
(4) Then, once you are into the BI 301 section, use the links or buttons on the left hand column of the course menu area to navigate the course materials. Click the "Discussion Board" link. Once you are there, the "forum title" that is underlined is the active title. It says, "BI 301 Virtual Discussion Group - Winter 2014," and is followed by a description of what I hope the group will achieve for us and a few comments about etiquette. Click on the underlined forum title. If messages have been posted, they will be listed by subject, author, date and time. To read a message, click on its subject line. To reply to a message, select the reply button while you have that message open. To start with a new message, select the Add New Thread button. In either case, the message that you send will then be posted on the discussion board for everyone who is active on it to read. To show other options, select the Show Options tab. From the options bar that appears, you can select some or all messages and then use the Collect button to view those messages on a single page. To search messages (by person or keyword), select the SEARCH link that is in the upper right in the discussion forum.
(5) We'll see how this virtual discussion goes! I want it to be driven by you, the students, not by me

-Statement Regarding Students with Disabilities
"Accommodations are collaborative efforts between students, faculty and Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD). Students with accommodations approved through SSD are responsible for contacting the faculty member in charge of the course prior to or during the first week of the term to discuss accommodations. Students who believe they are eligible for accommodations but who have not yet obtained approval through SSD should contact SSD immediately at 737-4098."

-Link to Statement of Expectations for Student Conduct (i.e., policies on cheating)

Click on the "CONTENTS" box at the bottom of the page to return to the master directory for the BI301 home page. For general information on moving within and among these pages, click "Navigate," here.

This page is maintained by Patricia Muir at Oregon State University. Address questions or comments to me here: Page last updated Dec. 2, 2013.