Course Syllabus

Welcome to Agronomy 531: Crop Ecology and Management!


Instructor: Dr. Elnaz Ebrahimi
1126-B Agronomy Hall
Ames, IA 50011-1010

Virtual Office Hours: Send me an email if you need to schedule an online/zoom meeting individually or with your group. Key activities in Office Hours include answering unclear content from modules, review of the key module content, or assignment issues/questions.



The “Crop Ecology and Management” is about learning how farm management integrates ecological principles with technology options in the design and management of cropping practices. In this course, crop production will be examined in the context of management approaches, environmental resources and constraints, and socioeconomic considerations. The ecological principles underlying crop production systems will be emphasized using case studies. Several problem-solving tools will be studied and applied to systematically analyze problems and develop solutions, especially for crops common to the Midwest. With an understanding of various management strategies and crop ecology, you will be better prepared to develop and evaluate crop management recommendations and plans.


AGRON 501, AGRON 502, AGRON 503. Recommended: AGRON 512, AGRON 514.


  • What are the similarities and differences among crop management approaches?
  • Why are different crops prevalent in different regions?
  • What is the underlying ecology of crop production?
  • How can management strategies capitalize on ecological processes to optimize productivity?
  • What are some management tools that can be used to improve sustainable production?

Course structure

  • Learning contents will be delivered online in the form of asynchronous reading materials.
  • Agron531 consists of 13 modules. Some modules may take longer than others to complete.
  • Each module starts with an instruction page followed by various subjects, a summary, module reflection, and references in the end.
      • The instruction page includes the title of the module, assigned readings, outcomes, and requirements.
      • Summary captures a big picture of the module’s content.
      • Module reflection serves to identify the areas of the module that need improvement and help you think critically. You will answer similar questions in each module and is worth 10 possible points.
  • Collaborative group activities include Discussions Topic (DT) and Discussion summaries (DS).
  • One person from each team will be assigned as a Discussion Moderator

Course Requirements 

  • Once: Subscribe to Community Message Board and published DTs. 
  • Note due dates: Discussion or assignments deadlines vary widely!
  • Regularly: Check the course calendar, updates, and Community Message Board.
  • Weekly: Read all online materials, including “Study Questions” and “Try This!” activities. 
  • Weekly: Read required textbook pages and external resources.
  • Weekly: Subscribe to your group discussion board, write and submit your comments on DTs, DSs (If you are the Discussion Moderator). 
  • Complete and submit assignments and all Module Reflections.  


1. Community Message Board:  I encourage you to use the “Community Message Board” if you have general questions related to the course structure, technical issues, assignments, and discussions. Your question might be your peers’ question too! 
2. Virtual Office Hours: Please use Canvas Inbox to contact me. I will be available on Fridays 2-5 p.m. (CST) to meet individual groups by zoom/online (30 min time-limited for each group) to answer scientific questions related to the course materials.
3. Individual questions: Use Canvas Inbox to contact me. 

How I will interact with you?

  • Via Community Message Board, Canvas inbox, and Zoom (by arrangement)
  • I read all your class communications, comments, and discussions on daily basis after 3 p.m. CST.
  • I will only respond to your Introduction and DTs, I will not post comments in DSs unless necessary!
  • I will comment on graded assessments and will return grades with constructive, personalized feedback within 7 days of the due date.




 Sections of National Research Council (NRC) books:


NRC books provide an excellent set of case studies of real farms. Some of the 2010 case studies are updated from the same farms in 1989. Other cases are new profiles prepared for the 2010 book. Each is well researched and thorough yet concisely presented. Technologies, regulations, and other facets of agriculture have continued to change since this book was written; some of the practices described are now rather commonplace. We will use these NRC books to illustrate principles and to provide real situations in which we can apply the concepts learned.

Sections of the following books are also used as textbooks in the course; all of these books are free and available electronically!


Elanz Ebrahimi is a faculty member in the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University. She joined the Department of Agronomy in 2017 as a Post-Doc Research Associate and partially contributes to interdisciplinary research at the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering. 

Elnaz obtained B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees in Agricultural Engineering-Agronomy from Iran, and a Ph.D. in Agricultural Sciences from the University of Natural Resources & Life Sciences, Vienna–Austria. As an instructor, she seeks to foster scientific understanding and impactful learning experiences. Her current research is focused on evaluating the effects of buried pipeline installation on crop yield and soil degradation.

Performance Evaluation


The assignments (6 assignments, check for updates!) are designed to provide practice with concepts in the modules, inspire more profound thought, and provide opportunities to practice your professional skills. Assignments will be evaluated based on content, clarity in the presentation (ideas arranged logically and flow smoothly), and writing mechanics (proper spelling and grammar).


Discussion Topic (DT): Participation in discussion is graded based on your total contribution and constructive and professional comments to your group members. You can find your Agron531 discussion group by clicking on the Groups tab in the red bar in Canvas. The Discussion Topics are designed to help you gain perspective on how the concepts in the module might be applied in various situations. Some modules have more than one Discussion Topic.***Note: Everyone has access to the DSs and the Course Questions discussion. 


      1. The class will be divided into 4 discussion groups. You will only have access to your group’s discussion board. 
      2. I will review your posting in the introduction. 
      3. Visit each DT, respond to your classmates’ postings (at least 2 persons). Discussions are more exciting and informative when everyone makes multiple contributions to the ‘conversation.’ Don’t wait until the due date to make your initial posting! 
      4. Your discussion score is based on your total contribution to the given discussion. A good rule of thumb is to post your initial response within two days of the start of the module.
      5. Postings made after the topic’s closing date will not be included in the evaluation of your participation unless prior arrangements are made. 

Discussion Summary (DS):  In each discussion group, members will take turns serving as a Discussion ModeratorThe purpose of moderating is to build your leadership and professional skills. The moderator’s task is to promote thoughtful and in-depth discussion on the given topic and to encourage everyone to contribute to the conversation.


      1. Each student will be the Discussion Moderator for approximately four discussions based on their time availability. We will correspond via Community Message Board to schedule dates.
      2. The moderator may start the conversation by asking one or more open-ended questions relevant to the topic. 
      3. She/he will respond to others with follow-up comments, expand on comments, ask additional questions, or request clarification.
      4. If the discussion gets off track, the moderator will re-focus the conversation on the topic. 
      5. Finally, she/he will summarize the group’s discussion and communicate the summary to the entire class via DS in Canvas.
      6. The DS should communicate the highlights of the group’s discussion in no more than 120-150 words. 
      7. Do not include “who said what”!
      8. You may share first within the group to check that the group agrees that it is representative of the discussion. 


There are no exams in this course!

Due dates

  • Assignments, graded discussion postings, and module reflections are due by 8:00 a.m. Central Standard Time on the due date unless otherwise stated on the course calendar or prior arrangements are made with the instructor. 
  • Some assignments and discussions will be completed over a period of several weeks or modules. 
  • Module reflections are due on the start date of the next module
  • Discussion summaries are due two days after the topic’s closing date.
  • Late Submissions:  Unless the instructor approves other arrangements, a 10% per day penalty will be assessed for late assignments and module reflections; items more than 3 days late will not be accepted.


Practice and polish your professionalism. Professionalism includes your active participation in discussions, timely postings and submission of assignments, constructive reviews of assignments, clear and logical expression of ideas and thought, and general esprit de corps. Because most communication in this course is written, writing quality is important.

Agron531 Scoring (Rubrics will be updated!)

  • 6  Completed assignments (various 15, 50, 75 and 185 pts)
  • 19  DSs (15 pts each)
  • 25  Dts (15 pts each)
  • 13  Module reflections ( 10 pts each)
  • 50   Professionalism
  • --------------------------------
  • 1000 total points


Grading Procedures

Your course grade will be composed of several categories. Grades are not weighted by category but work out to the approximate percentages listed below.

Assignments 415 42%
DTs 375 38%
DS 30 3%
Reflect 130 13%
Professionalism 50 5%
  1000 100%

Your current score is available on the Grades tab in Canvas. Final grades will be adjusted at the end of the semester based on the overall distribution of student grades for this class.  


Communication Policy:  All communication within the course should adhere to university standards of Netiquette at ISU. Specifically, communication should be scholarly, respectful, professional, and polite. You are encouraged to disagree with other students, but such disagreements need to be based upon facts and documentation. It is the instructor’s goal to promote an atmosphere of mutual respect in our interactions. Please contact the instructor if you have suggestions for improving the interactions in this course. Iowa State University supports and upholds the First Amendment protection of freedom of speech and the principle of academic freedom in order to foster a learning environment where open inquiry and the vigorous debate of a diversity of ideas are encouraged. Students will not be penalized for the content or viewpoints of their speech as long as student expression in a class context is germane to the subject matter of the class and conveyed in an appropriate manner.

Academic Integrity Policy: The class will follow ISU's policy on academic dishonesty. Anyone suspected of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Students Office. It is your responsibility to understand ISU's policy on academic plagiarism. All Discussions and Exam Questions will be screened for plagiarized content. There are several resources available to help you avoid committing academic misconduct.

Disability Accommodation: Iowa State University complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Sect 504 of the rehabilitation Act. If you have a disability and anticipate needing accommodations in this course, please contact the instructor to set up a meeting within the first two weeks of the semester or as soon as you become aware of your need. Before the meeting, you will need to obtain a SAAR form with recommendations for accommodations from the Disability Resources Office, located in Room 1076 on the main floor of the Student Services Building. Their telephone number is 515-294-7220 or email Retroactive requests for accommodations will not be honored.

Harassment and Discrimination:  Iowa State University strives to maintain our campus as a place of work and study for faculty, staff, and students that is free of all forms of prohibited discrimination and harassment based upon race, ethnicity, sex (including sexual assault), pregnancy, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, or status as a U.S. veteran. Any student who has concerns about such behavior should contact his/her instructor, Student Assistance at 515-294-1020 or email, or the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance at 515-294-7612.

Religious Accommodation: If an academic or work requirement conflicts with your religious practices and/or observances, you may request reasonable accommodations. Your request must be in writing, and your instructor or supervisor will review the request. You or your instructor may also seek assistance from the Dean of Students Office or the Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance.

Study Tips

Steps to Success

This list of modules is provided to help you plan ahead and anticipate the number and approximate closing and due date of required discussions topics and assignments for each module; some changes may be made during the semester. Refer to the online course calendar in Canvas, as well as the Course Questions discussion, for due dates and up-to-date information.

Module# Module Topic Discussion Topics  DT Points Discussion Summaries DS Points (2/person) Assignments Assignments Points Module Reflections Professionalism
1 Management Approaches DT 1.1  15 DS1.1 30 None   10 50
2 Challenges in Agriculture in an Era of Climate Change DT 2.1 15 DS2.1 None   10
DT 2.2  15 DS2.2
3 Agricultural Ecosystems DT 3.1 15 DS3.1 A 3.1  55 10
4 Management Tools DT 4.1 15 DS4.1 A 4.1 75 10
DT 4.2  15 DS4.2
5 Indicators and Monitoring Tools DT 5.1  15 DS5.1 A 5.1 50 10
DT 5.2 15 DS5.2
6 Crop Geography and Adaptation DT 6.1  15 DS6.1 None   10
7 Crop Functions DT 7.1  15 DS7.1 None   10
DT 7.2  15 DS7.2
8 Cropping Systems 1—Rotations and Sequential Cropping DT 8.1: Part A-4th wk Oct 60 DS8.1A A 8.1- peer review: early Nov., final edition: early-mid. Dec. 185 10
Part B-4th wk Oct DS8.1B  
Part C-early Nov DS8.1C  
Part D-early Nov DS8.1D  
9 Cropping Systems 2—Intercropping DT 9.1  15 DS9.1 None   10
DT 9.2  15 DS9.2
10 Water Management (Note: This 2-week module contains a lot of material. Don't procrastinate on it!) DT 10.1  15 DS10.1 None   10
DT 10.2  15 DS10.2
DT 10.3  15 DS10.3
11 Forage Growth, Development, and Quality DT 11.1 15 DS11.1 A 11.1 50 10
12 Forage Management DT 12.1 15 DS12.1 None (Final edition of A 8.1 due mid-Dec.)   10
DT 12.2  15 DS12.2
13 Multifunctional Agricultural Landscapes: Benefits to Ecosystem Processes DT 13.1  15 DS13.1 None   10
DT 13.2  15 DS13.2


Get the most that you can from this course. Here are some study tips.

  • Start each module on the date indicated on the calendar. Spread your study time over several days—you'll learn the material more thoroughly and retain it better. Work ahead when you know that you will be out-of-town or unable to do a module during its designated period. Don't get behind! 
    As you begin each module, preview each of its discussion topics and assignment; use the quick links at the top of the screen to rapidly locate these. The preview will better prepare you to participate in the discussion and to complete the assignment.
  • Do each In Detail as you come across its link in the module. In Details contain the required information.
  • Read each FYI link for more information about a topic. FYI links are optional unless otherwise noted.
  • Do each Study Question and Try This! as encountered. These interactive features are specifically designed to enhance your learning, to provide opportunities to apply the information presented, and to enable you to evaluate your understanding of the material. They often expand on the concepts and contain important information, so don't skip these.
  • Be sure to submit all assignments on time. They are an integral part of the course. Please note that some assignments overlap modules; these should be started as soon as they are assigned so that they may be completed in a thoughtful and timely manner.
    Your instructor understands work, life, and travel.  If you know in advance that you will have difficulties completing an assignment on time, please let me know as early as possible.
  • Module Reflection is required. Its purpose is to enhance your learning and information retention. The first two questions are designed to help you reflect on the module and obtain instructor feedback on your learning. The last two questions are designed to help you evaluate and improve your learning skills in this uncommon learning environment. Your answers also help course developers improve module and course design for future students in this course.
  • Interact with your classmates and instructor.
    Visit the discussion boards often! Discussions need not be limited to assigned topics—use the discussion board (or e-mail) to ask questions, share an interesting article or observation, or comment on current and relevant events. If you work ahead, be sure to go back and check the discussion boards (and post your comments and responses to classmates) during that module's scheduled period.
  • Do the readings. 
    Readings from the text and other materials included in your course packet supplement or expand on the information presented in the module and are required. Don't skip these opportunities to learn.
  • Something unclear? 
    Please consult with your instructor and/or classmates.


Category Description Action

Course Content Support

Questions related to course content or grading should be directed to the course instructor. Instructor via Canvas Inbox

Student Support

The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching is an organization dedicated to supporting, promoting, and enhancing teaching effectiveness and student learning at ISU.

Self-guided orientation which you may find useful.

CELT: Online Learner Support

Self-Guided Orientation

Canvas Technical Support

If you experience any technical issues while using Canvas, contact the Solution Center. The Solution Center's hours are posted on their website.

Solution Center

Technology support

If you have any technical issues while using the University Library's Course Reserves system, please contact The Library's Help Desk hours are posted on their website.

For all other technical issues, contact Agron DevLab Support. The Agronomy Development Lab staff is guaranteed to respond to requests within 24 hours during regular business hours. All requests made during the weekend will be addressed first thing Monday morning.

Agron DevLab Support

Library staff

Writing Support

The MS Agronomy program has built a Writing Guide to help answer some of the questions you may have while working on your courses.

Deborah Burns is available for one-on-one consultations and can assist you with any part of the writing process. Schedule an appointment with Deborah through the CELT's website or via email.

Writing Guide

CELT Website or email.

Library and research support

Anita Kay is the liaison librarian to the Department of Agronomy. She can help find any article, book or any other piece of information that you want assistance finding.  Anita has also built a really useful Agronomy Research Guide.

Anita Kay
Agronomy Research Guide

Department Contact

Contact Dr. Mary Wiedenhoeft , Associate Chair for Academics in Agronomy, if issues persist after working with the support systems listed above.

Dr. Mary Wiedenhoeft

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Course Summary:

Date Details Due