Course Syllabus

Welcome to Agronomy 532 at Iowa State University!


Instructor: Dr. David Kwaw-Mensah
Phone: 515–294–5106
Email Address:

Office Hours: Key activities in Office Hours include answering unclear content from modules, review of the key module content, assignment issues/questions, and preparation for exams.

Course Description: Evaluates the impact of various soil management practices on soil and water resources. Combines and applies basic information gained in AGRON 502 and AGRON 512. Emphasizes the agronomic, economic, and environmental effects of soil management strategies. Required course for the Master of Science in Agronomy degree program.

Course Prerequisites: AGRON 501, AGRON 503, and AGRON 512. Recommended AGRON 513

Course Overview

The soil is a medium of plant growth with a dynamic natural body composed of minerals, organic matter, water, air, and a community of living organisms including soil microorganisms. Soil properties are therefore classified as physical, chemical, and biological. Besides its primary function as a medium of plant growth, the soil provides additional ecological services including air and water purification, climate change (floods and droughts) mitigation, water protection, wastes recycling, biotechnology for human health, and the overall integrity of the environment for ecological sustainability. In agriculture, the goal of soil management is to enhance soil productivity by setting the balance in the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the soil. Traditionally, agronomists consider productive soil as soil that is fertile and provides an environment that supports plant growth. The ability of agronomists to manage the soil to achieve sustainable plant growth is pivotal to modern scientific crop production and food security. The growth of the human population and the rapid urbanization of areas for human settlement has limited the availability of productive agricultural land, capable of sustaining food production for food security. Maintaining the ecological integrity of the soil is essential to any policies related to food security for a growing world population. Knowledge of and the adoption of sound scientific principles for sustainable land and soil management is imperative to achieving the goals of sustainable food production. In recent times, the concept of soil health has become the buzzword for sustainable crop production. Healthy soils are stable, resilient, and self-regulating and sustain the integrity of their biological community including the soil microbial population. This course will equip students with knowledge for sustainable soil management by focusing on the principles of soil management in relation to plant nutrient management, the factors, processes, management, and impacts of soil erosion, field-scale variability of soil properties, including soil water and soil temperature in relation to soil tillage and impacts on sustainable crop production.  

Course Objectives

The course objective is to provide students with the scientific basis to address the impact of management practices on the soil as a medium of plant growth.

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

  • Evaluate the impacts of different soil management practices.
  • Adopt scientific principles to manage the soil.
  • Develop sustainable soil management plans.

Course Structure

The online course materials in Agronomy 532 consists of 13 modules and two exams.

Each module is designed to take one week to complete. Your activities will include the following:

  • Reading the online module material and utilizing the included learning tools.
  • Reading the assigned textbook pages and additional required reading materials.
  • Responding thoughtfully to each Discussion Topic. The Discussion Topics are designed to help you gain perspective on how the concepts in the module might be applied in various situations.
  • Completing and submitting each Module Assignment. The assignments are designed to provide practice with concepts in the modules and, in some cases, to inspire deeper thought.
  • Completing and submitting each Module Reflection. The reflections are designed to help you think about the module concepts as a whole, to consider how module concepts apply to practical applications, and to let me know what is still unclear to you and/or if something has sparked an interest and you want assistance finding resources to learn more about the topic.
  • Asking questions during Office Hours when needed. Not mandatory.

Required Textbook

  • Brady, N. and Weil, R. The Nature and Properties of Soil. 15th Edition, March 2016. Prentice-Hall. ISBN: 9780133254488
  • Troeh, F., Hobbs, J., Donahue, R. Soil and Water Conservation for Productivity and Environmental Protection, 4th Ed. May 2003. Prentice-Hall. ISBN: 9780130968074

Additional readings may be available through the Agronomy 532 page in the Library's Course Reserve system.

Instructor Interactions

Office Hours: Key activities in Office Hours include answering unclear content from modules, review of the key module content, assignment issues/questions, and preparation for exams.

Email: Feel free to message the instructor via the Canvas Inbox if you have any questions or concerns.

Discussions: Instructors interact with students as the discussions are trending, leaving comments, and giving feedback. Feel free to draw the instructor into the discussion with a question.

Graded Feedback: All graded assessments will be returned with constructive feedback within 7 days of the due date and exams within 14 days. Personalized feedback will be provided for each assignment and reflection.

Grading Procedures

Your course grade will be composed of the following categories.

Discussion Topics, Assignments,
and Module Reflections
Midterm Exam 25%
Final Exam 25%

The following grading (with plus/minus grading) will be used to determine course grades:

A's 90% and above
B's 80-89%
C's 70-79%
D's 60-69%
F Below 60%

Final Grades will be assigned on a curve, including +/- grades, which will be developed during the course.


Most modules are designed to be completed in one week. The suggested beginning dates are typically on Wednesdays. Your assignments and module reflections will be due about one week after a module's start date, usually the following Tuesday.  Discussion Topic postings are due 7 days after the start of the module and Discussion Summaries are due 2 days after that. See the sections below for additional details.


Assignments are worth 10 or 15 points each. In your answer, quantity is not a substitute for quality and vice versa. We will interact mostly in a written format. Consequently, it is of utmost importance that you express yourself with clarity.

Each assignment is due by 8 a.m. U.S. Central time, typically the Tuesday following the module's start date. Check the course calendar in Canvas for specifics.

Discussion Topics

Each module contains at least one graded Discussion Topic. Note that some modules contain two or more discussions.

Discussion Topics are worth 10 points. You are required to contribute at least one posting on each discussion topic. Further commenting on classmate postings is strongly encouraged.

Please attempt to post discussion contributions throughout the week. Discussion postings must be completed by the due date to receive participation points. However, subsequent discussion postings are encouraged anytime. Note that some modules have two discussion topics and will have different due dates than other modules. Pay careful attention to the course calendar in Canvas.

The class will be divided into discussion groups of approximately 4 to 6 students per group. The groups will be created based on what we know about your location and work experience. We will attempt to get as much 'experience diversity' in each group as possible. You will receive your discussion group assignment prior to the first discussion.  

Each Discussion Topic must also be summarized for the whole class to view. Discussion Summaries are worth 4 points. You are required to summarize at least one discussion topic throughout the semester. Please work together with your group members to assign responsibility for writing and posting a group discussion summary for each discussion topic. 

Discussion group summaries will be due by 8 a.m. U.S. Central time 2 days following the closure of the discussion for that topic (for example, if the discussion closes at 8 a.m. U.S. Central time on Tuesday, the summary must be posted by 8 a.m. U.S. Central time on Thursday).

Module Reflection

A Module Reflection appears as the last "activity" in each module. The purpose of this activity is to enhance your learning and information retention and to call attention to areas of the course which may need to be revised. Reflection entries are due the same day as module assignments. The reflection is designed to help you reflect on what you have learned and improved your learning style and skills. Each Module Reflection is worth 10 possible points, assigned accordingly with the guidelines described below.

  1. In your own words, write a short summary (<150 words) for this module highlighting and concisely discussing the major concepts of the module (4 points); where appropriate, briefly relate the module's main points to other concepts learned. This can be a great study tool! It will be graded according to the following criteria: 
    Criteria Excellent
    (4 points)
    (3 points)
    Needs Improvement
    (2 points)
    (1 point)
    (70 %)
    Clear, accurate, and complete account of module. Accurate but one or two concepts were not present (incomplete). Accurate but more than two concepts were not present (incomplete). Incomplete AND inaccurate account of module.
    Organization / Style
    (20 %)
    Summary is arranged logically and flows smoothly. Summary is arranged logically, but does not flow smoothly. Summary is not arranged logically and does not flow smoothly. Summary is unorganized and is difficult to understand.
    Spelling and grammar
    (10 %)
    Free of writing and spelling errors. Contains very few writing and spelling errors. Contains some writing and spelling errors. Contains many writing and spelling errors.
  2. Value or usefulness of concepts learned (3 points). Connect the information learned to the 'real world' and/or to other information you know.
  3. Unclear items (2.5 points). If anything remains hazy, or you are unsure about some point, please ask! This is another opportunity for you to verify your understanding and to solicit clarification from the instructor. This question also serves to identify those topics that need improved presentation—future classes thank you!
  4. Learning strategies (0.5 point). Tell us about what approaches you use to help yourself learn. Test out and share new strategies. Those that seem to be especially useful or unique will be shared with your classmates, with your permission first. 

Each module reflection is due by 8 a.m. U.S. Central time, on the Tuesday following the module's start date. Pay careful attention to the course calendar in Canvas.


There will be two exams during the course: a midterm and a final.

The Midterm Exam includes information from Modules 1 through 7, inclusive. The exam may require calculation, deduction, and elaboration and discussion. Expect the exam to be challenging. Points will not be given away! You will earn them. Check the course calendar in Canvas for exam availability.

The Final Exam focuses on material covered in modules 8 through 13, but will rely on concepts covered in modules 1 through 7 as well. Check the course calendar in Canvas for exam availability.

Additional details regarding these exams will be provided two to three weeks prior to exam week.


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.

Use the Course Questions forum in Canvas or e-mail ( to ask questions, share an interesting article or observation, or comment on current and relevant events. Keep informed—check the discussion board frequently. I will monitor the discussion board and my email during "regular business hours" and you can expect a response within 24 hours. You should expect a delay if you contact me outside of those hours. 

General announcements will be posted to the Announcements section of the Learning Management System.

Be sure to properly configure your Notification settings or commit yourself to checking Canvas daily for new communication.

Feedback Policy

All graded assessments will be returned with constructive feedback within 7 days of the due date and exams within 14 days. Personalized feedback will be provided for each assignment and reflection.


All deadlines are posted on the course calendar in Canvas. Any changes to deadlines will be followed up with an Announcement in Canvas.

Need extra time to meet a deadline? Explain the situation to your instructor IN ADVANCE and accommodation can be made.  The explanation doesn't need to be extensive.  The important factor is to attempt to notify the instructor ahead of time.

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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 (Links to an external site.) .

Anita Kay
Agronomy Research Guide (Links to an external site.)

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