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Learning About the Parks, and Getting Credit for It, Too!


It's one thing to visit the National Park Service's web site to learn about the national park system, and it's entirely another thing to enroll in a college course that takes you to school on the parks. That's just what Bob Janiskee does with his course on the national parks.

Dr. Janiskee, a distinguished professor emeritus in the Geography Department at the University of South Carolina's Columbia campus, offers a course available via the Internet that takes you through much of the national park system. Dubbed simply "Geography C370," the independent learning course is designed to familiarize students with "the physical, cultural, managerial, and user characteristics of America’s national park system."

"The course serves a broad constituency that consists of undergraduate geography students, other students in liberal arts and sciences programs, teachers, journalists, national park employees, and anyone else interested in the systematic study of our national parks," Dr. Janiskee tells me.

While the opening lesson provides a broad overview of the national park system and the agency that administers it, the National Park Service, the next four take a close-up look at Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, and several other “flagship” parks whose size, diversity, managerial complexity, and popularity make them especially worthy of more detailed study.

From there the professor takes you through parks with physical features shaped by geologic and "gradational" processes such as volcanism, glaciation, and carbonation. The next two lessons deal with parks that preserve and interpret ecosystems such as forest, desert, and tundra. Then, after a lesson focused on water-based parks, there are three that deal with historical-cultural parks. The final lesson examines urban parks and the national parks in Washington, DC.

Of course, there's also material on how exactly the National Park Service was designed to operate.

Now the not so good news. This course is not available on the Internet for public use. Students must pay the required fee and be officially enrolled in the course in order to receive the syllabus and related materials, submit lessons, take exams, and receive college credit for satisfactorily completing all course requirements, says Dr. Janiskee.

The cost for the course is $375, or $125 per credit hour.

"Students enrolled in the course must complete 14 written lessons and submit them for grading. They may submit these assignments via e-mail, or if they prefer, via regular mail," Dr. Janiskee told me. "There are two exams, a mid-term exam, and a final exam that each count one-third of the final grade (the remaining third is accounted for by lesson grades). Since we can fax test materials to proctors nearly anywhere, students can arrange to take exams at convenient off-campus locations if they cannot take the exams at the University of South Carolina's Columbia campus.

"Students may begin the course at any time and normally must complete the course within one year (a brief extension is usually granted upon request)," he says.

This is not a gravy course, one you can use to simply pad your GPA. Rather, it forces you to bone up on the national park system and the National Park Service. For instance, as you work through the material you should be able to explain how a national park differs from a national monument; say what percentage of the U.S. land area consists of national park land, and which state has two-thirds of the park system’s total land area; explain why the national park system is likely to expand at a comparatively slow pace for the foreseeable future, and; explain why "facilitating public use and protecting park resources are inherently conflicting goals for park system management."

Sound interesting? For more details, call 1-800-922-2577.


Worth both the time and the cost. I don't recall any 300+ level course being a "cakewalk", at least not in the sciences. And did anyone ever complete a "cakewalk" course and acutally learn anything, I mean actually RETAIN, as in long-term, any principles or concepts from the 16+ weeks of the program? Insofar as the cost, highly justified by modern collegiate standards. There are no lab fees, inconvenient field trips (unfortunately, in this case) getting up early, all night study much easier could it be? I'm sorry you might have to commute 2-3 times during the semester to your local community college for an exam and submit a few short papers, but considering the scope of materials the course intends to cover, I'd say the trade off easily justifies the effort. Reflect for a moment on what it would take in personal effort to even attempt to gather printed and mulit-media materials and dare study this material IN-DEPTH as an individual. For those who still are having trouble with the tuition, just give up your nicotine, carbon dioxide infused symetrical pastries and the "why pay a little when you can pay a LOT!" caffeine-based beverages with the diminishing stock for just one month and you're covered. Expand your mind and give your waistline a semester off!

I couldn't agree more, your comment says it all:)

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