Environment and Society in a Changing World



GEOG 30N: Environment and Society in a Changing World (Summer 2023)

Welcome to GEOG 30N! We look forward to getting to know you this semester. Please take the time to read the entire syllabus. We share critical information here that will help you succeed in the course, especially regarding assignment expectations and due dates.

This syllabus is divided into several sections. You can read it sequentially by scrolling down the length of the document.

Instructor & Teaching Assistants

Prakriti Prajapati 

Graduate Student (Ph.D.), Department of Geography | Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802

This course takes place entirely online so please correspond via email. I will do my best to reply to emails within 48 hours. Before emailing with an administrative question, kindly check the course syllabus. As many students tend to have the same questions, you may find it more convenient to use the course Q&A discussion board in the course Canvas page (under Discussions). I will reply to these posts on a daily basis (excluding weekends).

Also, when sending an email or Canvas message, be sure to include at minimum: GEOG 30n in the subject, a salutation addressing me, and your name so I know who is contacting me.

Office Hours: I will also be available for virtual office hours by appointment. Please email me to set up a time.

Class Support Services

Penn State Online offers online tutoring to World Campus students in math, writing, and some business classes. Tutoring and guided study groups for residential students are available through Penn State Learning.

Course Overview

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.

Prerequisites: None

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.

Where Is This Class Held/When Does It Meet?

All components of GEOG 30N will be conducted entirely on the World Wide Web. You do not have to be in University Park campus at any point of the course period or afterward for course completion, so long as you have reliable access to the Internet. There will be no set class meeting times, so students are responsible for setting aside time to complete the course work.

How Is The Course Structured? 

There are 10 modules spread over three units that will be completed over the course of the 15-week semester. GEOG 30N will be conducted entirely on the World Wide Web. There will be no set class meeting times, so students are responsible for setting aside time to complete the course work. Each module contains readings, links, animations, movies, and novel explanations of the basic principles related to sustainability and human-environment systems. Each of the three units includes two written assignments and will conclude with an open book, on-line assessment. There is no final exam for this course in Fall 2022.

Written assignments are due approximately every two or three weeks. The deadline for the submission will always be on Friday's by 11:59 pm EST. You should plan ahead as these assignments require a deep grasp of the module material as well as independent research to complete. We recommend beginning work on them at least one week prior to the due date. Please check Canvas regularly to ensure that you are completing all written assignments and quizzes on time. Anything not completed by the due date at midnight will be considered late and will receive a point deduction.

Modules will be graded with feedback in a timely manner, generally during the 10 days following their submission. Due dates for the assignments must be strictly followed. An exception will only be made in case of an official, written documentation of a family or personal medical emergency. Lack of Internet access is NOT a valid exception. Do the work ahead of time and you should easily avoid this issue.

Late Exams will NOT be accepted


All components of this course will be conducted entirely online. You do not have to be in University Park campus at any point of the course period or afterward for course completion, so long as you have reliable access to the Internet.

What Do We Expect of You?

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.

Specific learning objectives for each module and assignment are detailed within each module.

Course Goals, Objectives, and Outcomes

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

  • 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 Course Materials

All (other) materials needed for this course are presented online through our course website and in Canvas. In order to access the online materials, you need to have an active Penn State Access Account user ID and password (used to access the online course resources). If you have any questions about obtaining or activating your Penn State Access Account, please contact  Penn State IT Service Desk for World Campus students or  Penn State IT Get Support (for students at all other campus locations).

Assignments and Grading

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

  • 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.
  • 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. Each quiz consists of approximately 25 questions and is open note. These assessments are auto-graded by Canvas, so you will receive your scores immediately upon submission of your quiz.

You will earn a grade that reflects the extent to which you achieve the course learning objectives listed above. Grades are assigned by the percentage of possible points earned in each module's activities. Below is a breakdown of each assignment's value as a percentage of the total course grade.

Breakdown of course assignments as points and a percentage of the total course grade
Assessment Points Total Points % of Course Grade
Written Assignments (6) 50 points each 300 60%
Quizzes (3) 50 points each 150 35%
Microcredential (2) 50 points total 50 5%
Total Possible 500 100%

Each assignment is worth 10% of your grade. I expect well-written assignments that demonstrate a strong grasp of the course material. For grading rubrics and tips for getting good grades on the written assignments and quizzes, please see the Assignments page.

Make-up Exam Policy

We expect students to plan for and to take all quizzes and exams during the open period for each. In exceptional circumstances, make-up exams and quizzes will only be granted through the approval of the course instructor for legitimate and excused absences. Prior notification and approval for a make-up exam must be obtained by the student at least 72 hours prior to the scheduled exam. Special circumstances will be considered on a case-by-case basis.


There is no grading curve in this course.

Late Policy

In exceptional circumstances, you should contact me, your instructor, Elise, at . The earlier you contact me to request a late submission, the better. Requests will be considered on a case by case basis. 

Late Written Assignments will be penalized at 10% per day. Activities more than seven days late automatically receive zero points. All assignments have precise (to the minute) deadlines that are understood in terms of Eastern Standard Time (EST) as applied in Penn State's resident campuses in Pennsylvania. Anything past the deadline is automatically late, even if it is just one minute late. Every 24 hours (to the minute) after the deadline, another day of late penalty is incurred.


We will use the Canvas gradebook to keep track of your grades. The minimum scores for course grades are as follows.

Letter Grades and Points
Letter Minimum Points Needed to Earn this Grade
A 94%
A- 90%
B+ 87%
B 84%
B- 80.0%
C+  77%
C 70.0%
F 0.0% 
Unsatisfactory (student did not participate)

GEOG 30N Course Schedule

link to print schedulePrintable Schedule

Course length: 15 weeks

Below, you will find a list of topics covered and assignments due each week of the semester. Each week begins Monday and concludes Sunday. Written assignments are due on Fridays by 11:59 pm EST; likewise, the three quizzes will be made available for a 24-hour period between Thursday's and Friday's, during which time you need to take the quiz on Canvas. Please check the Syllabus link in the Canvas Syllabus regularly to make sure you are not missing any due dates.

Course Assignments and Activities
Week Topic Assignments due
Week 1

Course Orientation

Module 1 - Geographic Perspectives

Course Information Quiz (required but not graded - see Canvas page for more details)

Academic Integrity Training (required but not graded - see Canvas page for more details)

Week 2 Module 2 - Coupled Human-Environment Systems Citation Training (optional)
Week 3 Module 3 - Environmental Ethics Written Assignment 1: Understanding the Role of Ethics 
Week 4 Module 4 - Individual and Collective Action
Week 5 Module 4 - continued

Written Assignment 2: Carbon Footprints and Individual and Collective Action

Week 6 Unit 1 (Modules 1-4) Review

Unit 1 Quiz

Week 7

Module 5 - Development

Week 8

Module 6 - Food and Agriculture

Written Assignment 3: Development and Agriculture

Week 9

Module 7 - Urban Planning

Written Assignment 4: Sustainable Cities

Week 10 Unit 2 (Modules 5-7) Review

Unit 2 Quiz

Week 11 Module 8 - Natural Hazards
Week 12 Module 9 - Climate Change Written Assignment 5: Vulnerability Reduction
Week 13 Module 10 - Biodiversity

Week 14 Biodiversity, Continued Written Assignment 6: Biodiversity
Week 15 Unit 3 (Modules 8-10) Review Quiz 3

Tips for Success in GEOG 30N

Pay extra attention to course announcements

Read all the email announcements and read the whole announcement when you do. Unlike face-to-face courses where instructors have more diverse means to get your attention, online courses typically have email as the only channel through which you can get news and reminders. Not paying full attention to the emails may result in your missing deadlines and opportunities, which will be detrimental to your grade.


In order to make the most out of this opportunity, you will need to be actively involved in this course. 

Do the work on time

I see my role in this course as lead facilitator; that is, it is my job to help you achieve your educational objectives. I set deadlines to keep everyone on track to reach those goals. I think that if you do your best to adhere to those deadlines (for example, setting up a routine schedule when you work on the course), you will succeed. I strongly suggest setting a personal deadline that is earlier than the class deadline, which will help you avoid most issues that tend to cause delays. As described earlier in this syllabus, I am firm on deadlines. However, I do understand that emergencies may arise, and I am willing to work with you if I am informed (preferably ahead of time) and the reason was unavoidable.

Struggling? Get help!

There could be a case where you are paying full attention to the announcements and working hard for this course, but still somehow struggling. If this is you, please ask for help! The instructor can be a source of help. Let me know of your concerns (e.g., ways to improve your upcoming assignment) and the situations you want us to take into consideration when instructing and grading. Also, in case you didn't know, you can go to Penn State to get institutional yet individualized help! If you would like advice on writing, please go to Penn State Learning website for more resources (The Writing Center @ Penn State Learning). They give you a range of tutoring options from online tutoring to in-person meetings by appointment.

Additional Course Policies

Academic Integrity

I will assume that everyone in the class will behave with integrity. As a student at Penn State, this goes beyond simply avoiding "what you assume" as lying and cheating, but accepting and adhering to what Penn State regards as academic integrity and violation of the value. You will have to actively study to be a person of integrity and remain as one. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly projects in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." I have zero tolerance for plagiarism, including self-plagiarism, and I will be checking for it. Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure and I have observed students failing the course as a consequence.

Academic Integrity Advice

  1. Your violation being an "honest mistake" may help reduce the severity of your sanction, but it does NOT make your violation a non-violation. If you are really an honest person and made one mistake, you will naturally want to study to make sure you don't do it again. Penn State does have buffer measures for its members (e.g., your one-time breach will amount to nothing in terms of your career until you make two more breaches) but it does NOT have enough measures for those people who simply do not care if they repeat similar kind of mistakes or not.
  2. Remaining a student of academic integrity needs active work. You need to study what academic integrity means to avoid violation of it. Individuals do NOT define what academic integrity is and what actions violate it. It is Penn State who defines it for its members. This is because individual opinions vary, and we cannot accommodate all. But as you understand the process of making Penn State policy, you will probably understand how the policies we have came to exist and what purposes they serve.
  3. If in doubt, please consult official materials and relevant person(s) before taking any action.
  4. You may collaborate before taking quizzes or submitting essays (working toward making an efficient summary of course materials), but you may not communicate anything related to quiz content in any form during the quiz with your course-mates or any person, or third-party websiteonce the quiz questions are revealed to you. Similarly, you are not to share essay feedback with course-mates or third-party websites. 
  5. Do not procure actual quiz questions from former takers of quizzes. Yes, it is a violation of academic integrity.
  6. Nobody can stand in for you. Do not let any other person take any part of your quiz for you or lend knowledge of questions. This applies to you being the source of information.

Citation and Reference Style

In this course, you will be expected to follow a specific formatting guideline for your references. You should use Chicago Style or APA format for all citations done in all assignments in this class. You can see specific examples of how to cite different types of references (books, journal articles, website, etc.) by visiting the Chicago Manual of Style reference guide or APA style manual. Please make sure that you have selected 'Author/Date' not 'Notes and Bibliography' when reviewing the formatting guidelines. To make this process as easy as possible, you may use a free citation manager, such as Zotero, to collect, organize, and format your references.

You can also visit the "Plagiarism" section in Penn State's Academic Integrity training website to learn more about how and when to cite.


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as email and bulletin board postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions, but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of forum messages. Please review Virginia Shea's "The Core Rules of Netiquette" for general guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course. Most importantly, do not use slang, informal language, or text messaging jargon when communicating via email or when posting to the discussion board. Emails and posts should never begin with "Hey" or similarly informal language.

Penn State E-mail Accounts

All official communications from Penn State are sent to students' Penn State e-mail accounts. Be sure to check your Penn State account regularly, or forward your Penn State e-mail to your preferred e-mail account, so you don't miss any important information.

Academic Integrity

This course follows the procedures for academic integrity of Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. Penn State defines academic integrity as "the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest and responsible manner." Academic integrity includes "a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception." In particular, the University defines plagiarism as "the fabrication of information and citations; submitting others' work from professional journals, books, articles, and papers; submission of other students' papers, lab results or project reports and representing the work as one's own." Penalties for violations of academic integrity may include course failure. To learn more, see Penn State's Academic Integrity Training for Students

Course Copyright

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor’s express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD 40, the University Policy Recording of Classroom Activities and Note Taking Services addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct, and/or liable under Federal and State laws.

For example, uploading completed labs, homework, or other assignments to any study site constitutes a violation of this policy.

Accommodations for Students with Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Office for Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for Campus Disability Coordinators at every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Office for Student Disability Resources website.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled. You will participate in an intake interview and provide documentation. See documentation guidelines at Applying for Services from Student Disability Resources. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus’s disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Change in Normal Campus Operations

In case of weather-related delays or other emergency campus disruptions or closures at the University, this online course will proceed as planned. Your instructor will inform you if there are any extenuating circumstances regarding content or activity due dates in the course due to these delays or closures. If you are affected by a weather-related emergency, please contact your instructor at the earliest possible time to make special arrangements.

Reporting Educational Equity Concerns

Penn State takes great pride to foster a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated (Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance) and can be reported through Educational Equity via Report Bias.

Counseling and Psychological Services

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being.  The university offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings.  These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients’ cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.  Services include the following:

Counseling and Psychological Services at University Park  (CAPS): 814-863-0395
Counseling Services at Commonwealth Campuses
Penn State Crisis Line (24 hours/7 days/week): 877-229-6400
Crisis Text Line (24 hours/7 days/week): Text LIONS to 741741

Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Connect Online with Caution

Penn State is committed to educational access for all. Our students come from all walks of life and have diverse life experiences. As with any other online community, the lack of physical interaction in an online classroom can create a false sense of anonymity and security. While one can make new friends online, digital relationships can also be misleading. Good judgment and decision-making are critical when choosing to disclose personal information to others whom you do not know.

Technical Requirements

For this course, we recommend the minimum technical requirements outlined on the World Campus Technical Requirements page, including the requirements listed for same-time, synchronous communications. If you need technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Internet Connection

Access to a reliable Internet connection is required for this course. A problem with your Internet access may not be used as an excuse for late, missing, or incomplete coursework. If you experience problems with your Internet connection while working on this course, it is your responsibility to find an alternative Internet access point, such as a public library or Wi-Fi ® hotspot.

Mixed Content

This site is considered a secure web site which means that your connection is encrypted. We do however link to content that isn't necessarily encrypted. This is called mixed content. By default, mixed content is blocked in Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. This may result in a blank page or a message saying that only secure content is displayed. Follow the directions on our Technical Requirements page to view the mixed content.


This course must be viewed using the latest version of Firefox, Safari, Chrome, or Edge. Internet Explorer is not supported. If you use any other browser, or if you are not using the latest version of your browser, some pages containing equations may not render properly. In addition, javascript must be enabled for equations to render properly. If you have any issues with equations not rendering properly, please update your browser to the latest version or try using a different browser. If you need additional technical assistance at any point during the course, please contact the HelpDesk (for World Campus students) or the IT Service Desk (for students at all other campus locations).

Deferred Grades

If you are prevented from completing this course within the prescribed amount of time for reasons that are beyond your control, it is possible to have the grade deferred with the concurrence of the instructor, following Penn State Deferred Grade Policy 48-40. To seek a deferred grade, you must submit a written request (by e-mail or U.S. post) to the instructor describing the reason(s) for the request. Non-emergency permission for filing a deferred grade must be requested before the beginning of the final examination period.  It is up to the instructor to determine whether or not you will be permitted to receive a deferred grade. If permission is granted, you will work with the instructor to establish a communication plan and a clear schedule for completion within policy.  If for any reason, the coursework for the deferred grade is not complete by the assigned time, a grade of "F" will be automatically entered on your transcript.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Respect

Penn State is “committed to creating an educational environment which is free from intolerance directed toward individuals or groups and strives to create and maintain an environment that fosters respect for others” as stated in Policy AD29 Statement on Intolerance. All members of this class are expected to contribute to a respectful, welcoming, and inclusive environment and to interact with civility.

For additional information, see:


This course will be conducted entirely online. There will be no set class meeting times, but you will be required to complete weekly assignments with specific due dates. Many of the assignments are open for multiple days, so it is your responsibility to complete the work early if you plan to travel or participate in national holidays, religious observances or University approved activities.

If you need to request an exception due to a personal or medical emergency, contact the instructor directly as soon as you are able. Such requests will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Mandated Reporting Statement

Penn State’s policies require me, as a faculty member, to share information about incidents of sex-based discrimination and harassment (discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, and retaliation) with Penn State’s Title IX coordinator or deputy coordinators, regardless of whether the incidents are stated to me in person or shared by students as part of their coursework. For more information regarding the University's policies and procedures for responding to reports of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, please visit Penn State's Office of Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response website.

Additionally, I am required to make a report on any reasonable suspicion of child abuse in accordance with the Pennsylvania Child Protective Services Law.


Please note that the specifics of this Course Syllabus can be changed at any time, and you will be responsible for abiding by any such changes. All changes will be communicated with you via e-mail, course announcement and/or course discussion forum.