Course Syllabus

Welcome to Agronomy 501 at Iowa State University!


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

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



Course Overview

Course Description: The Crop Growth and Development (Agronomy 501) is a required course and one of three foundational courses in the Master of Science in Agronomy degree program and Agronomy Graduate Certificate program. Subsequent courses build on and apply the material presented in these foundational courses. Thus, it is essential you develop a solid and fundamental understanding of the principles of crop physiology and the relationships between metabolic processes underpinning growth and development and the regulatory pathways that control them. This course includes physiological processes by which crops control and execute growth and development. the metabolic processes that are involved in water relations, seedling vigor, photosynthesis, respiration, light interception, mineral nutrition, assimilate partitioning, shoot growth, root growth, reproduction, and yield formation will be discussed. Crops beyond corn and soybean will be used particularly in the first half of the course when we are working on universal physiological principles. Corn and soybean will be used predominately in the second half of the course.  

Course Prerequisites: AGRON 181 or equivalent, MATH 140, CHEM 163, BIOL 101. Restricted to graduate students enrolled in MS Agronomy, Agronomy Graduate Certificate, and MS Plant Breeding online degree programs at ISU. Students from other departments must get permission.

Course Objectives

Learning Outcomes


Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • identify mechanisms that control crop growth and development. 
  • explain how environmental (climatic and soil) factors influence the development of crops.
  • utilize applications and science underlying many crop production practices to develop science-based solutions.


   By participating in group activities and reading scientific articles, you will be able to:

  • search for scientific literature to review specific topics in crop physiology.
  • critically evaluate scientific articles on specific subjects.
  • lead discussions and provide constructive feedbacks discussing applications and science underlying different crop production systems.
  • cite scientific literature to support statements.

Course Structure

Your ability to use a web browser, input assessment responses via text-editing software such as Microsoft Word and access all of the technologies will directly influence your success in the course. If you have not already done so:

  1. Visit the MS Agronomy website and look for the section titled "Browser and Computer Compatibility Test: Your Results". Ensure your computer passes all areas of the test. This will ensure your ability to fully utilize the online course materials.
  2. Then, visit the CELT Canvas@ISU  developed by the Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Iowa State University. Complete the steps on “Getting Started in Canvas”, to learn about Canvas’s technical requirements and which browser you should use for Canvas.
  3. If you are interested to create PDF files for each Module visit Generate Module PDF: Agronomy Course Tools.

Online Course Materials Format

The online course materials in Agronomy 501 consist of 14 modules. Your activities include:
  • Reading the online module material and utilizing the included learning tools.
  • Responding thoughtfully to each Group Discussion Topic (DT). The Discussion Topics are designed to help you gain perspective on how the concepts in the module might be applied in various situations.
  • Completing Individual Assignments particular to your area and crop choice.  
  • Completing each Module Exam. The exams occur on a weekly basis and take the place of midterm and final exams. 

Required Textbook

There is no required textbook for this course. All instructional materials will be provided via Canvas.

Recommended Resources

Some students have asked for a reference textbook particularly if they did not have plant science coursework in their undergraduate program. The following is recommended:

Plant Physiology and Development, Sixth Edition: paper version or ebook rental

Field Guides It is important to have a good understanding of crop growth and development stages and general progression for corn, soybean, and wheat. This content is similar to what you would learn in a 1- or 2-day crop scouting class. The following extension publications and videos will be helpful throughout your career:

Grading Procedures

Your course grade will be composed of the following categories. Points earned on each discussion and exam will be posted in the Grades section of Canvas.

Modules Module Total Points Points Per Module
Group Discussion Topics 11 10 110
Individual Assignments 3 20 60
Module Exams  14 35 490
Professionalism 10

Your grade will be calculated as the number of points earned out of 670 total points, as shown in the Table. I will not scale at the end of the semester. 

Be aware the ISU Graduate College requires you to maintain a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 (B) on all course work taken, exclusive of creative component credits. For more specific information, please refer to the ISU Graduate Student Handbook.

Total Points Earned Percent Letter Grade
616 or more 92 A
603 90 A-
583 87 B+
549 82 B
536 80 B-
516 77 C+
482 72 C
469 70 C-
449 67 D+
514 62 D
402 60 D-
<402 Below 60 F


Discussion Topics

Discussion Topics (DTs) are designed to explore or apply a module concept and contribute to the development of your professional communication skills. Points are earned through your lead post and active participation in the discussion group (see Study Tips).

The class will be divided into several groups each week; you will be assigned to one of them at random. Discussion contributions will be evaluated on these criteria: 

Criteria Grading Criteria Possible Points
Timely posting Lead post is made by Friday midnight (11:59 pm CT).  3
Lead post on the topic Respond to the discussion topic with an in-depth post supported by literature and/or personal experience. Cite all sources of published information used. See Writing Guide 3
Respond to classmate's lead postings Respond to 3 lead posts with thoughtful questions, aspects to consider, or a differing viewpoint. Ensure your post promotes critical thinking and further discussion (1 pt each). 3
Respond to questions about your lead post Respond to questions posed by your classmates on your lead post.   1
  Total Possible: 10

Module Exams

Exam (35 points each). An exam occurs at the end of each Module and is comprised of true-false, multiple-choice, and open text (couple paragraphs typically). You have two hours to complete each exam. Questions are designed to evaluate your understanding of the physiological concepts presented in the module and their application to 'real world' agronomic and crop production issues. Access to the current and previous modules is permitted while answering these questions. Answers that address the question directly, are logically developed without plagiarizing the module text, and are physiologically accurate will be graded favorably. Grades for all 14 Exams will be pooled to calculate your 'Exam Grade' for the course.  I will provide feedback on each exam particularly in areas that points were deducted. 


Practice and polish your professionalism. Professionalism includes respectful and courteous interactions with classmates and instructor, your active participation in discussions, clear and logical expression of ideas and thought, and completion of the course evaluation. Because quality is an important part of your professional development, apply good writing skills to all of your discussions. Need a refresher on grammar or other writing mechanics? Check out the ISU online Writing Help Center. Cite your sources! Plagiarizing published information is unethical and will be reported to the Dean of Students. 


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.

Please contact me by email:

Use the General Discussion forum in Canvas (or e-mail) to ask questions, share an interesting article or observation, or comment on current and relevant events. General announcements will be posted to the Announcements section of Canvas.

Be sure to properly configure your Notification settings or commit yourself to check Canvas daily for new communication. Use the Subscribe feature in the Discussion Forums if you want to receive an email when someone in your Discussion Group or the instructor or other classmates post a comment. Additional guidelines apply to communication within your discussion groups. Please review the Discussion Topic rubric shown above.

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.

Feedback Policy

All graded assessments will be returned with constructive, personalized feedback within 7 days of the due date. Be sure to check your graded submissions for constructive, personalized feedback regarding your work.


All deadlines are posted on the Course Calendar in Canvas. Late assignments will receive a reduction in points received. Any changes to deadlines will be followed up with an Announcement in Canvas. Need extra time to meet a deadline? Explain the situation IN ADVANCE and accommodation can be made. Your explanation does not need to be extensive. Late Submissions without prior arrangement will be assessed for late submissions and will receive a 10% per day penalty, items submitted 4 days late will not be accepted and will be graded as zero.

Steps to Success

Time management is essential for your success in this course! The Academic Coaching | Academic Success Center provides in-person coaching and workshops. Do not hesitate to schedule an online appointment to get help with time management.

In the MS Agronomy Program, we require the ASA-CSSA-SSSA citation style format so you will need to read the instructions explained in the American Society of Agronomy Publications: Handbook & Style Manual and ISU Writing and Media Center: Writing Resource.

This list of modules and discussion topics is provided to help you plan ahead. Refer to the course calendar for module start dates and due dates, opening and closing dates for discussion topics, exam question due dates, and up-to-date schedule information.

Module Module Topic
1 Water Relations
2 Seed Germination and Dormancy
3 Seed Vigor and Stand Establishment
4 Photosynthesis—Processes
5 Photosynthesis—Regulation
6 Respiration
7 Temperature Effects
8 Canopy Growth—Light Interception, CO2, and Other Environmental Effects
9 Root Growth and Function
10 Mineral Uptake and Utilization
11 Nitrogen Fixation by Legumes
12 Partitioning and Transport of Assimilates
13 Initiation of Reproductive Development
14 Reproduction and Yield Formation

Study Tips

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

  • Start each module on the date indicated on the calendar. Complete one module each week. Allow about 6 to 7 hours per module (approximately 3 or 4 hours is needed to do the module, plus 1 to 2 hours to participate in discussions). To better understand and retain the information, spread your study time over several days. Work ahead when you know that you will be out-of-town or unable to do a module during its designated period. 
  • Do each In Detail as you come across its link in the module. In Detail, items contain the required information. 
  • 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 let you evaluate your understanding of the material. They often expand on the concepts—don't skip these.
  • Discussion Topics. The discussion forum is an opportunity to interact with your classmates on practical issues related to the weekly module. The topics are an integral part of the course. Your individual 'lead post' (or first post in each DT) and responses to other members of the group are required for full credit. 
  • Module Exam. Each module is designed to test your knowledge and ability to apply one or more of the concepts from the module to a practical problem or issue.  A concise, well-conceived, and logically presented answer will be graded more favorably than one that wanders aimlessly.  Read the questions carefully and consider what they are asking.  Post your answer by the due date to receive full credit.  It is most important that the answer is your original work.
  • Interact with your classmates and instructor. Visit the discussion boards often! Discussions need not be limited to assigned topics—use the discussion board 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.
  • Something unclear? Please consult with me and your classmates. Questions are welcome anytime.


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 refer to the Library's FAQ page.

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.

Course Reserves FAQ


Agron DevLab Support

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.

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

Writing Guide

CELT's website or via 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