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Sociology of the Environment

Purpose: to help other instructors teaching the same course

Common Course ID: Sociology of the Environment (SOC 308)
CSU Instructor Open Textbook Adoption Portrait

About the Course

Course Title and Number
Brief Description of course highlights:  

The complex interactions between society and environment. Environmental movements, food security, population growth. Local and global inequities regarding consumption, toxins, sea level rise, and “natural” disasters. Emphasis on environmental justice: race, class, and gender.

Prerequisite: SOC 110 “Comparative Societies” 

Student population:

This is a required course for Sociology majors and an elective course for Anthropology and Geology majors and for Interdisciplinary Studies majors. The majority of students are second- and third-year Sociology majors.


Learning or student outcomes: 

By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Identify social, economic, and political drivers of environmental degradation.
  • Explain how institutional failures have placed the burden of safe consumption on individuals. 
  • Examine the roles of race, class, and gender in determining one’s exposure to environmental toxins and disasters.
  • Defend (and, perhaps, re-evaluate) their consumer behaviors in light of their impacts on the environment, on marginalized populations, and on future generations.

About the Resource/Textbook 

Student access:  

  1. This is a new course, so it was always designed to use OER materials. 
  2. Students access the materials through links to the books and articles on the Canvas website.

My colleague and I made a concerted effort to select books and articles written by scholars from underrepresented and historically marginalized groups. If we had worked with an existing textbook, it would have obviously been much more challenging to hand-select the scholarly voices and perspectives in this way. 

Cost Savings:

Student savings was around $4875 last quarter (75 students times the cost of a $65 textbook).

OER/Low Cost Adoption

OER/Low Cost Adoption Process

Provide an explanation or what motivated you to use this textbook or OER/Low Cost option. 

My main motivation to adopt OER was to save students money. There exists a very good $65 reader that would have met the course needs, but I felt it was preferable to put together my own “reader” of materials that could all be accessed at no cost.

How did you find and select the open textbook for this course? 

Rather than finding an OER textbook, I identified academic books and articles that had been published by the top scholars in the field. All the articles and nearly all the books were already available at no-cost to our students through the university library. For the handful of academic books that were not yet available for free, I requested that our library acquire unlimited electronic access to the books, and they did. 

The whole process was very easy, and I am appreciative that our librarians were able to buy access to the books that we didn’t already have access to. Sometimes, acquiring access took a few weeks/months (like a hold-up acquiring one really important book from the MIT Press), so it was important to start the process early.

Teaching and Learning Impact

I don’t have any “before OER” period to compare impact to, since this course was new this year. However, I will say that process of hand-selecting weekly readings for this course (instead of relying upon a textbook) gave me many opportunities to discover scholarship with which I was previously unfamiliar. 

Student Feedback or Participation

The vast majority of students very clearly did all the readings, as evidenced by their detailed reading responses in the Canvas forum. Students expressed a lot of enthusiasm for many of the readings; it was a great first quarter teaching this course. 

Sharing Best Practices: 

Early on in the process of searching for OER books, I noticed that numerous books published by the UC Press and MIT Press were already freely available to the campus community to download as eBooks. I took this as a jumping off point, exploring the UC Press and MIT Press websites to get inspiration about other books that I might want to include in the syllabus. However, as I continued to encounter book chapters I wanted to assign that were from other academic presses (e.g. NYU Press), I found that my campus librarians were typically very receptive to my requests to acquire licenses to those books as well.

About the Instructor

Dr. Sara Lopus and Dr. Martine Lappé

Cal Poly SLO