Dr. Mark C Gardener

Open University Associate Lecturer: S206 Environmental Science

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Mark's Open University Student Page

This page is now somewhat defunct as I no longer teach for the Open University as an associate lecturer. I do however still teach OU field schools for the Field Studies Council. I decided to leave the page as it was when I left the OU because there are things here that will continue to be useful to OU students.


If you are reading this then the chances are that you have been allocated me as your tutor for S206. I have written this as a form of introduction and to give you a bit of background information about me. The Open University sends me very little information about you, generally name and address and scant details of past courses are all I get. So please drop me a note via the Tutor Group forum and tell me a little bit about yourself.

This is the second presentation of S206 and undoubtedly there will be a few tweaks from time to time. I will try to update this page moderately often and keep up to date.

Link to my research page.

Link to the Open University Science faculty pages.

View all OU science courses.

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A bit about me:

I started out as an Optician - trained in Bristol and the West Country - and had a variety of jobs in that industry. I was a Dispensing Optician and Practice Manager for many years before becoming a Contact Lens Consultant. I have also done stints as a sales rep (for a contact lens manufacturer) and optical technician.

Then I decided upon a career change and began study with the Open University. I ended up with a degree in Biological Sciences and studied: S102 Science Foundation; S203 Biology: Form and Function; S236 Geology; S330 Oceanography; S327 Living Processes; S324 Animal Physiology; S365 Evolution and S328 Ecology. After that I worked in Conservation for a while as a Ranger for the London Borough of Sutton.

In 1999 I began a PhD at Walton Hall. I worked with Mike Gillman and Jonathan Silvertown. My research was entitled "The Role of Amino Acids in Floral Nectar". This involved looking at the composition of nectar from many species of plant as well as examining the responses of some animal species to differing nectar types. See My Research Page for more details. I have worked in many habitats in the UK as well as abroad. I have studied in the US and Australia. Most recently I worked on the pollination of some endangered plants in Hawaii.

Since returning to the UK I have been teaching with the Open University, as an Associate Lecturer (currently only S206, Environmental Science) and also at Residential Schools. I used to teach on S328 (Ecology) and U316 (The Environmental Web) as well as S216 (the forerunner for S206). I also work at field schools for the Field Studies Council (including SXF206). I previously worked on a course on Biological Recording (teaching data analysis) at MSc level for the University of Birmingham. Currently I teach data analysis for conservation biologists, ecologists and general scientists and am currently writing textbooks in ecology and statistics.

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Stats for Ecologists S4E20

Managing Data MDUE20

Publications page

The Field Studies Council promotes "environmental understanding for all" at its Field Centres.

Link to information on all Open University Science courses.

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Students at Nettlecombe, Field Centre, Somerset (during the S328 course).

Environmental Science in the Field:

There's nothing like doing practical science to aid your understanding of it. The Open University has been running residential schools in collaboration with the FSC for over 20 years. I have been involved for a bit less time than that but have still seen hundreds of students peering into quadrats and trays of freshwater invertebrates. A few notes about the latest version of the course are below:

The latest version of the practical course is SXF206: Practical environmental science.

There are two field schools, one at Malham Tarn in Yorkshire and one at Preston Montford in Shropshire.

Both are run by the Field Studies Council on behalf of The Open University. These two three-day programmes will include both outdoor exercises and follow-up laboratory work.

Hydrology and meteorology in the field is based at Malham Tarn with a range of dates on offer in April. Vegetation and soils in the field is based at Preston Montford with dates available in July and early August. For both field schools, mid-week and long weekend options will be offered.

After the field schools you will write-up a project report based on the work you did and this forms part of your examinable component of SXF206.

If you opt not to do the residential schools then you have to conduct your own small project and a virtual field trip. These are written-up as a TMA, which forms part of your examinable component of S206.

My phone number is: 020 8661 7990


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eTMAs must go to the OU via the eTMA system on your StudentHome page (you will need to login).

Make sure documents are in .doc format (or .xls), which is Word 97/XP type.

.docx format is acceptable but .doc is more robust.

.rtf is not a good idea, convert to .doc using Save As..

Make a ZIP archive: select the files you want and right-click, then make the archive (Send to > Compressed folder). Send that to the eTMA system.


Assignments are delivered via the OU eTMA system. As of 2012 you can use the latest Microsoft Office formats e.g. DOCX or XLSX. Using RTF is not a good idea, even though the OU system allows it. The file sizes for RTF are very large and some formatting doesn't work very well. If you are able to make an RTF file then you'll be able to make a DOC or DOCX file instead. Generally DOC is still a more robust format.

If you do not have Microsoft Office then the Open Office program is a good alternative. This will save files in DOC or XLS format and works fine. You can go the the options and set the default to Office XP/97 format quite easily and then know that your files will be readable!

When the course is up and running you will have the opportunity to send a "test" TMA using the system. This is labelled TMA00. I will login from time to time and if I see any test TMAs I'll collect them and have a look. I will return them in the usual way and you will see the result. This will permit both of us to test that the system is working! If there are any problems then don't hesitate to contact me - is a good method.

There are 5 TMAs for S206 and they are equally weighted, so each is worth 20% towards your continuous assessment. Note that for S206 the assignments are formative, that is they do not count towards your actual grade. You need to get 40% overall to be accepted into the exam. A good idea is to treat the TMAs as exam practice. I'll give you feedback on your TMAs and focus on how you can answer the questions in the most effective manner (as well as general notes about the environmental science of course).

Here are some notes about assignments in general that I usually post to my Tutor Group early in the course – I hope they are generally useful.

File formats

Whilst DOCX is acceptable to the OU system there are still issues with the format and documents do not always appear as you intended on another's computer. I will of course accept them but caveat emptor. You are better off sending regular DOC, a long-tried and tested format that is rather more "robust". You can set the default in Office to save in the older format. To be honest you shouldn't need the bells and whistles that XML provides – this is mainly fancy text art and odd formatting. Better to keep things a bit simpler. I suggest that you save your document as DOC and then quit Word and re-open it to see what it looks like (to make sure).

eTMA system

The eTMA system is how you send your TMAs to me for assessment. It requires a single file so if you have more than one (e.g. a spreadsheet) you'll need to make a ZIP Archive, see the next section for details. The eTMA system is not supposed to be a Cloud Storage solution, although you can send your TMA and then send it again (as a new version). I will see the various versions you sent. However, your tutor (me) is not obliged to mark the last version you send – in fact we are supposed to mark the first one unless there is a pressing reason. The system accepts additional submissions because there are times when a computer/internet/power glitch could cause a problem. If you think that has happened send a new submission and send me a note. I try to get the marking done as soon as possible, you want the feedback and I want to get the job done for you. This means I may collect TMAs as soon as they start appearing on the system.

Additional files – making ZIP archives

Sometimes you are requested to send additional files with your assignment. Mostly your Word doc file will contain everything that you want marks for, but there are times when something extra is asked for. Generally a spreadsheet will be requested. This is intended to give you some practice at using a spreadsheet. It is important that you only use the spreadsheet for the calculations, put any graphs in the main Word document (see next section).

The eTMA system will only accept a single file. This means you'll need to combine your Word doc and Excel xls files into a ZIP Archive. In Windows 7 you can do this quite easily and do not need any additional software. Use the Windows Explorer and the mouse to highlight the files you require. Then Right-Click, a pop-up menu opens, you need to select the Send to option.

Send to Compresses Folder option
Select several files. Right Click opens a new menu allowing you to make a ZIP archive

The top option from the Send to sub-section is Compressed (zipped) folder, this is what you want. You'll end up with a .zip file. You can rename this and move it to a new location, if you double-click it the file will open like a folder but it has compressed the original files into one file. Importantly, it will now be acceptable to the OU eTMA system. Send this as your TMA submission.


You'll be sending graphs from Excel – please make sure that you use copy and then paste special... to transfer the graphs to your word processor. Please do not send graphs inside Excel, we want the main Word document to contain everything (more or less). Select a picture format then the object is "fixed". If you simply paste a graph it actually embeds the entire spreadsheet into the Word file and makes it bigger. Also, make sure that your graphs are "wrapped" properly. You need to set the wrapping to "InLine" and not floating over the text. I will be adding text to your document, and if your pictures float about they will end up in the wrong location. You might be interested in my Tips & Tricks (for R and Excel) page.

I have also made a brief Guide to Graphs using Open Office. So if you have Open Office (or Libre Office or NeoOffice or some other derivative) you may like to look at that.

Formula objects

In a word "don't" (technically two words I suppose). The formula may well display correctly but it is hardly ever necessary in a TMA to include one! Type the formula as nearly as you can using regular text: beta = gamma ÷ alpha is perfectly acceptable and you are going to have to do it that way when doing calculations (see next).


Please show all calculation steps. Start with the formula (see above) and include units. Then substitute in the values and away you go. At the end show the final result to an appropriate precision and show the units. There are usually marks for showing the original formula and calculation steps as well as units. If an answer is worth 8 marks then only 2 might be for the actual final result!

Word limits

These are a guideline, not a target. Be concise and stick to the point. What does the question ask? If it doesn't actually say "write an essay" then don't! Bullet points and short sentences/paragraphs are the way to go. There is no need to repeat the question in the answer. However, I appreciate that for revision purposes it might be helpful to you to have the original question at the top of your answers.

How much to write

See above. In the "old" days when I was a student (last century!) when a question was worth 4 marks I expected to put 4 "things" in my answer. These "rules" (like the Pirate Code, more of a guideline it seems) are more "flexible" nowadays but it is still worth bearing in mind. You can often think of gaining 1 TMA mark for 1 bullet point, or one "idea" or short sentence. A sentence is ~15 words so a 10point question might be 150 words max. In S216 sometimes you get only 1/2 a mark for a "bold word", and sometimes you get 2 marks for something considered "hard" but as a guideline you can't go far wrong.

All of the above are especially useful things to bear in mind for the exam – you will not have your books, the internet (!!) and you won't have loads of time. Bullet points, short sentence/paragraphs and lists are the way to go!


You can answer most TMAs without resorting to much material outside the OU. However, we do encourage you to use references, including course books. There is a good OU online guide to referencing – look at the OU library pages for the link, which I forget. In general you give a citation in the text (Name, date) and then at the end of the question/section you give the reference. If you cite OU course books then the OU says you can give it like so: (S216 Book 2) but it is a good habit to use the full citation e.g. (Conway & Reynolds, 2002). In the reference you can put the S216 Book 2 bit somewhere. If you need to refer to a section or pages then add that information after the date e.g. (Conway & Reynolds, 2002, section 2.2), that way you only need one reference for each book. Put references at the end of each question rather than at the end of the TMA, the assignment might cover several topics and having the references by the relevant answer is best.

IT stuff

Using spreadsheets and so on can come as a bit of a shock to some students, especially early in the course. Here are a few notes I've written about copying spreadsheet items to a word processor – should be useful for S206. There is also a guide to using graphs for Open Office here.


Of course I never make mistakes <ahem> but if you do have a query then please do not hesitate to contact me - is good. If something needs to be altered then you can send the assignment back to me and I will look at it again, no problem.


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I am here to help! So, if you have a query then get in touch, is good as I am often teaching in the field and will be able to answer email sometime or other. It's a good idea to prefix the message title with your course code (makes it easier for me to prioritize). If that's not okay then give me a ring.

S206: It's a requirement of the course to have a computer and internet access. The OU provides all students with an email address. You can arrange for the messages to be forwarded to your 'regular' email account (very handy). There are a number of conferences set-up for S206 so go and have a look a them on the StudentHome page at the OU. These forums are designed to take the place of the common room in a regular university. They are for peer-to-peer communication.

The Tutor Group Meeting Room is a forum dedicated for your tutor group and for contact with your tutor (i.e. me) so if you want a response from an "OU person" then this is the place for those queries. I will put messages in there from time to time so keep an eye on that. The TG forum is important as there are some online activities and the information will be there. I will also post extra "stuff", like help with certain topics I know students generally struggle with and material particularly relevant to the practical/project work (which is not dealt with so extensively in the module material).

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As soon as I have tutorial details I will post them here.

The tutorials for S206 are all delivered online except for the field trip (details below). The OU Live system is powered by the Blackboard Collaborate conferencing software and works on most computers that can run Java. You don't need any special software but headphones are useful (to prevent feedback through your microphone. Tablets don't work well with OU Live so you'll need to be at a desktop or laptop computer.

At the moment the dates are somewhat vague but there will be 4 one-hour sessions spread through the year. I will post more details as soon as I can.

S206 OU Live tutorials:

Dates, times and subjects to be arranged soon.

  • Week 4Spreadsheets and Graphs in Science. Wednesday October 28th 2015 19.30–20.30. Click on the link to view the HTML file before the event but please don't treat this as a substitute for attendance. There are some data files associated with the tutorial, which you can download. We'll look at these and I will use them to demonstrate various things, if you have the files in advance you can follow along yourself.
  • Week 15Hypotheses and Basic Statistics. Thursday January 28th 2016 19.30–20.30. You can click on the link to view some background material in advance (another part of my website). Please do not treat this as a substitute for attendance though. There is also a datafile that you can view/download – these data are used in the tutorial and you can use them yourself for practice.
  • Week 21 – Project planning. Thursday March 10th 2016 19.30–20.30. This tutorial will be about project planning and aims to get you started thinking about your own project (S206 or SXF206). In a more general sense this will be about investigating the natural world. I have not got any "preview" material but my web pages on Data Analysis should be useful as well as the page on choosing statistics.
  • Week 28 – Field Trip. Saturday April 30th 2016 10.00–14.00. Nonsuch Park, Cheam, SM3 8AB. Nonsuch park is a large open space in Southwest London. There are meadows, scrub and woodlands to explore (and some seasonal ponds). The Mansion House has a small formal garden and a café. There are public loos. The Wikipedia entry is quite informative. We'll meet outside the mansion house main entrance, click the following link to download a Google Earth kmz file (which points to the meeting place). The plan is to wander about a bit and look for ideas for projects. We'll discuss ecological habitats, niches and various sampling methods along the way. You need to sign-up for this field trip (Health & Safety) so look out for the details from the S206 website.
  • Week 44 – Revision, planning for the exam. Tuesday August 23rd 2016 19.30-20.30. This tutorial will be about getting the best out of yourself for the exam. In essence I'll show you how to create a plan and time-budget for the exam.

There are also going to be some national tutorials. Look out for these in your Study Calendar.

Online activities:

S206 has a number of online activities. You will find a link to your Tutor Group forum on the S206 website (it will appear shortly before the course start date). This is for the use of you and your tutor and the rest of the students in the tutor group (as the name implies). You can use this to introduce yourselves to me and each other (please); a little bit about who you are, what you've done in the past in the way of study and what you hope to get out of S206 would be handy. Your geographical location would be nice too. If you want to give out your address, phone number or whatever then feel free. The information will be seen only by me and the others of our tutor group. The TG forum will be used to introduce the online activities and to disseminate information/data and so on.

Field trips:

S206 has a field-trip allocated. The date and venue will be Saturday April 30th 2016 10.00–14.00 (This is week 28 of your OU Study Calendar). The location will be announced later (I am in the process of moving so I doubt my previous site will be sensible).

I usually focus on ideas for projects, especially useful for S206 students. If you are taking SXF206 (and therefore going to the residential schools) you should still find the trip useful, as we'll talk about exploring the environment, which will be a good introduction to the soils & vegetation field school.

I will post more details about the field trip in due course... watch this space!

This is where you get to collect some data for yourself and carry out a small investigation.

Click here to get help with choosing which stats test to use

If you are doing S206 then you may decide to use secondary data, e.g. from the internet.

See Tips, Tricks & Hints for R and Excel.


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Your Project/Investigation:

During your study of  S206 you will carry out a small project or investigation. Most students find this part the most rewarding element of the course as it allows you the freedom to do whatever you want (more or less)! I encourage everyone to think about their project as soon as possible, contact me with a few vague thoughts and we'll soon have you up to speed. I'd like to stress that this is supposed to be a small investigation. We are not after a major thesis here. If you are going to collect data from the field then aim for a solid 'day' out: 6 to 8 hrs is plenty. There are word limits (1500 words for S206). This project is also supposed to be 'fun' so don't get too worked up about it. Often the hardest part is deciding what to do - the world is your lobster <sic> so you will need to focus a little. I am here to help so please do contact me with your preliminary thoughts. As you progress through the course things will become easier. Selecting which statistical test to use is something you should plan right from the outset.

Deciding how you are going to analyze your data is important and should be part of the planning process. I will help you with that aspect of your project but there are also materials sent out to you that will guide you. For S206 we expect a smaller range of statistical tests and you will be sent information about these with your course materials. You might like to look at my Guide to Statistics for more information.

S206: In this course you collect some environmental data for a small investigation. The data does not have to be your own - you can use information from the internet for example as secondary data. The main write-up comes in TMA06 (part of your examinable component) when you present your findings. The format is broadly like a scientific paper.

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Course materials

The S206 course materials are exclusively online. I am sure the move will have teething problems but there are many benefits. I will add some notes about accessing materials here in due course but for now...

There are two main ways to go:

  • Online via the S206 website
  • Offline via downloaded material

If you use the S206 website you'll have access to all the course materials directly. This means that you will need a computer with Internet access. A laptop will work fine. The website works fairly well with an iPad or other tablet device but there are other, more effective, ways to use your tablet (if you have one).

If you want to work offline then you can download the materials in various formats. The eBook formats are likely to be the best formats to use as they are most flexible. If you use the interactive epub format you can use an iPad or other tablet to view the material offiline. With an iPad you can use the iBooks app but other devices have apps that will work.

I will add some more notes about managing and using offline materials at some point in the (near) future.

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Open University Course Links:

This is a bit out of date; I will update soon:

Notes and booking for SXF206 Residential Schools

For general information about S396 Ecosystems

For general information about U316 The Environmental Web

Information on all Open University Science Courses

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