Course Syllabus

Welcome to Agronomy 512 at Iowa State University!

Instructor portrait Dr. David Kwaw-Mensah  

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

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

Course Description: Soil properties and their impact on soil/plant relationships. Soil structure, aeration, moisture, and nutrients will be discussed in the context of soil fertility and environmental quality management. Required course for the Master of Science in agronomy degree program and agronomy graduate certificate program.

Course Prerequisites: AGRON 502. Recommended AGRON 501
Restricted to graduate students enrolled in MS Agronomy and Agronomy Graduate Certificate online degree program at ISU. Students from other departments must get permission.

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. The soil-plant system is an open system, in which plant nutrients are continuously removed from the soil by plant roots as long as there is active growth of plants in the soil. Therefore, the concept of inorganic nutrition of plants concerns the active absorption of plant nutrients in ionic forms from the soil into the plant system.  Traditionally, agronomists consider a productive soil as soil that is fertile, rich in soil organic matter, including living and dead roots, worms, and insects and the soil microbial populations. Therefore, a productive soil must be in a good physical condition to support root growth and enhance nutrient absorption for optimum yield. The goal in soil fertility management is to manipulate the soil to enhance its ability to continuously supply sufficient amounts of plant nutrients for optimum plant growth and yield. Agronomists’ primary focus in crop production, is to manage soil fertility at a level where the inorganic nutrition of plants is capable of sustaining optimum plant growth and yield. The soil in a particular area may be fertile but limited in productivity. This course will focus on addressing the ecological integrity and capacity of the soil to function productively as a medium of plant growth, capable of supplying adequate amounts of plant nutrients during a growing season. The course modules will include topics on plant root, the rhizosphere, soil structure, soil aeration and oxygen deficiency, infiltration, percolation and drainage properties, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients, soil testing and fertilizer. This course will also address the topic of soil tillage and the effects of tillage on soil strength, soil fertility, soil water, soil aeration and soil temperature, in relation to sustainable crop production.

Course Objectives

The objective of this course is to provide students with relevant information for critical reasoning when assessing and making decisions regarding soil fertility management.

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

  • Evaluate the impacts of different soil fertility management practices.
  • Interpret soil testing results for sustainable soil fertility management.
  • Adopt a holistic approach to soil fertility management.

Course Structure

The online course materials in Agronomy 512 consist of 15 modules  and a midterm and final exam.

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

  • Reading the online modules and utilizing the included learning tools.
  • Reading any required textbook pages.
  • Completing and submitting each Assignment. The assignments are designed to provide practice with concepts in the modules and, in some cases, to inspire deeper thought.
  • 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 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.C. and R.R. Weil. 2008. The Nature and Properties of Soils. 14th ed. Prentice Hall.
    Weil, R.R. and N.C. Brady. 2017. The Nature and Properties of Soils. 15th ed. Prentice Hall.
  • Marschner, Horst. 1995. Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants. 2nd ed. Elsevier 
    Marschner, Horst. 2011. Mineral Nutrition of Higher Plants. 3rd ed. Elsevier
  • Troeh, F. R., J. A. Hobbs, and R. L. Donahue. 2004. Soil and Water Conservation: Productivity and Environmental Protection, 4th ed. Prentice Hall. Available through the Course Reserve system.

Other printed materials provided electronically through the Course Reserves link in the main navigation of the course.

Note: The textbook by Marschner is a graduate-level textbook and, as such, will be at a higher reading level than perhaps other books you have read. As with much scientific writing, details are provided and references are given if further clarification is wanted.

Instructor Interactions

Office Hours: Key activities in Office Hours include answering unclear content from modules, review of 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: Instructor actively reads all discussion posts, and will provide a summary of the various discussions on the discussion board weekly. 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

I will be grading two types of assignments this term: contextual and participation. Contextual will be evaluated for context. Participation will be evaluated for your involvement; that is, you participated and gave a thoughtful response to the question asked or discussion generated. Assignments, slide presentation and review, midterm, and the final will be contextually graded. Discussions (topics and bonus) and Module Reflections will have both contextual and participatory grading. Please let me know if you have questions.

  Max Possible Score Score Weight Weighted Points
Assignments, Discussions, Module Reflections, Peer Reviews  500 0.60* 300
Slide Presentation and Average Score of Peers' Reviews 200 1 200
Midterm Exam 225 1 225
Final Exam 275 1 275
Total     1000
*Scores accumulated on Assignments and DTs will be multiplied by 0.60. This correction is necessary for Assignments and DTs to represent 30% of the course grade.


  Max Possible Score % Total Grade
Assignments, Peer Reviews, Discussions 500 30
Slide Presentation  and Average Score of Peers' Reviews 200 20
Midterm Exam 225 22.5
Final Exam 275 27.5
Total   100

Your current score is available on the Grades tab in Canvas. Final Grades will be assigned on a curve, including +/– grading. The curve will be developed using the range, mean, and standard deviation of student scores.



Assignments are worth 15 points each (except for Assignment 1.1 which is worth 10 points). In your answer, quantity is not a substitute for quality and vice versa. We will interact mostly in a written format. Consequently, it is paramount that you express yourself with clarity.

Discussion Topics 

Discussion Topics are worth 6 points for regular Discussion Topics and 3 points for Bonus Discussion Topics. You are required to contribute at least one posting on each Discussion Topic. You will receive 6 points if you give a meaningful response. There are 14 regular Discussion Topics. During final grade assessment, up to an additional 66 points will be awarded based on level of contribution in discussions throughout the term. For this score, I evaluate each posting students make during discussion. I evaluate these on a scale of 0-1, and I do this for each discussion topic (total of 14). I then sum the scores and take this total times a multiplier to get final score out of 66 points. Consideration will be given to thoughtfulness of response, depth of response, collegiality, and contribution to the learning of others. Commenting on classmate postings is HIGHLY encouraged. The instructor will tend to stay out of the discussion until the due date. Shortly after the deadline, the instructor will normally comment on the postings.

Module Reflection

A Module Reflection appears as the last “activity” in each module. Question 1 is the contextual portion of module reflections and will be graded according to content, organization, and grammar (6 points). Question 2 will be granted participation points (2 points).

The purpose of this activity is to enhance your learning and information retention of important information. Some students tell us that they find writing a summary of the module in their own words helpful, whereas others consider this to be busy work. Therefore, to complete this activity, you have two options for the contextual portion (6 points). Reflection entries are due the same day as module assignments.

Criteria Excellent (8 points) Good (6 points) Need Improvements (4 points) Unacceptable (2 points)
Content (60 %) Clear, concise, and accurate description. Clear, concise, and accurate but missing components. Incomplete but with some content. Incomplete with little content.
(20 %)
Arranged logically and flows smoothly. Arranged logically but does not flow smoothly. Not arranged logically and does not flow smoothly. Unorganized and difficult to understand.
Spelling and grammar (20 %) 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

Question 1: Contextual portion of module reflections (6 points). Do only one of these activities:

a) In your own words, write a short summary (one–half page or less) of the main points covered in this module, or

b) Identify three (3) key points that you learned in this module and write three (3) short paragraphs (each key point in a new paragraph containing only three or four sentences). Indicate the key point and why it was of interest or importance. Can you relate this key point to your 'real world' experiences in a meaningful way?

Question 2: Unclear items (2 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 will thank you! 

Module 13 (Term Project) Slide Presentation and Average Score of Peers' Reviews 

As your Module 13 (Term Project), you will be asked to prepare a PowerPoint presentation which covers a subject related to soil science. The power point presentation is worth 100 points. Another 100 points will be calculated based on the average score your peers give your presentation.

Module 13 (Term Project) Peer Reviews

You will be asked to evaluate and score several presentations of your peers. Twenty-five (25) points will be awarded based on your participation in providing meaningful reviews. 

Midterm Exam

The midterm exam will include information from Modules 1 through 7, inclusive. The exam will be closed book and will require memorization, calculation, deduction, and elaboration. Expect the exam to be challenging. You will need to arrange for a proctor for the midterm exam.  Please read the Proctored Exam Policy below for instructions regarding exam procedures.

Final Exam

The final exam will focus on materials covered in modules 8 through 15, but will be comprehensive in nature and also cover materials from the beginning of the course. The final will be closed book and will cover about 80% new material (since midterm) and 20% old material. Your final exam will use the same proctor as your midterm exam.  Please read the Proctored Exam Policy below for instructions regarding exam procedures.


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 Canvas.

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

Additional guidelines apply to communication within your discussion topics. Please review the Discussion Topics section above.

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 and you will be notified of any changes via an Announcement in Canvas.

It is important that activities are completed in a timely fashion. This facilitates my scoring of assignments and discussion. I plan to give one day of grace after a due date and then penalize for late submissions. If you cannot complete an assignment by the due date, let me know beforehand when I might expect it.

Modules are designed to be completed in one week. The suggested beginning dates are on Mondays. Your discussion board posting will be due about one week after a module's start date, usually on a Tuesday (except for Modules 13, 14, and 15). Discussion postings must be completed by the assignment due date. However, subsequent discussion postings are encouraged anytime. Be sure to check the course calendar weekly for current start and due dates. Need extra time to complete a module? Contact the instructor in advance!

Honor Exam Policy

The midterm and final exams are Honor-based Exams. Therefore proctors will not be required to take the midterm or final exam. Each exam will be taken based on individual integrity. The Honor Code will be take as a quiz to allow access to the midterm or final exam.

Study Tips

  • Do not fall behind schedule! Be sure to check Agron 512 Course Calendar weekly for due dates.
  • Start each module on the date indicated on the calendar. Complete one module each week. Allow a minimum of 6 to 8 hours per module (4 hours to do the module + 2 hours to do assignments and participate in discussions + 2 hours for text readings). Make sure to allow extra time for Module 7 (the largest module in Agron 512). 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 week.
  • Do each In Detail as you come across its link in the module. In Details contain required information (it may be asked in the exams). Visits to each 'FYI' and 'Try This' are also encouraged and exam questions may come from these pages as well.
  • Do each Study Question and Try This! as encountered. They are 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 and help you identify the important ones. Don't skip any!
  • Assignments and Discussion Topics may be done as they appear or after you finish the module and readings. Be sure to submit all assignments and discussion postings on time.
  • Assignments answer format. Your answer to Assignment questions will be individually evaluated. Consequently, it should stand–alone. In other words, it should cover the full scope of the question. Be thorough!
  • Discussion Topics posting format. Discussion Topics are designed to promote the exchange of information and opinions among classmates. Consequently, I strongly encourage you to comment on each other's postings and make it as interactive and dynamic as possible. Total postings will be a part of your contribution score.
  • Bonus Discussion Topics about learning strategies. An experimental approach will be used to educate Agron 512 students about various categories of learning strategies. The intent is to expose you to various learning strategies and encourage you to share and learn different ways to learn a subject. This issue will be addressed in seven Bonus DTs scattered through out the semester. I strongly encourage you to comment on each other's postings. Many students have found this quite informative. Three bonus points will be given for participation.
  • Interact with your classmates and instructor. Visit the discussion board often! Discussions need not be limited to the assigned topic––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 board (and post your comments and responses to classmates) during that module's scheduled week.
  • Module Reflection must be done by the due date. Question 1 will be graded according to content, organization, and grammar (6 points). Question 2 will be granted participation points (2 points).
  • Presentation skills. Part of your grade in Agronomy 512 will be based on developing your presentation skills and evaluating the presentations of others (Module 13). If you are unfamiliar with PowerPoint, I encourage you to spend some time earlier in the course exploring its features.
  • Do the text readings. Readings from the texts supplement the material presented in the module and are required unless stated otherwise.
  • Something unclear? 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 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. Allen Knapp, Associate Chair for Academics in Agronomy, if issues persist after working with the support systems listed above.

Dr. Allen Knapp

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Course Summary:

Date Details Due