All course information is listed within this syllabus.

SOILS 101: Introductory Soil Science (3 credits). A study of soil characteristics and their relationship to land use, plant growth, environmental quality, and society/culture.

Prerequisites: None

SOILS 101 fulfills a general education requirement for natural sciences (GN).


Instructor For SOILS 101.

Jennifer Weld
Assistant Research Professor
Director, PAOneStop

Department of Ecosystem Science and Management
119 Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building
University Park, PA 16802

Phone (Office): 877-722-4724
E-mail: Use Canvas Inbox

Course Overview

This introductory course in soil science introduces the student to the study, management, and conservation of soils as natural bodies, as media for plant growth, and as components of the larger ecosystem. This course presents basic concepts of all aspects of soil science including; composition and genesis; physical, chemical, and biological properties; soil water; classification and mapping; soil conservation; management practices; and soil fertility and productivity (soil testing, use of fertilizers and manures, and liming). It introduces the relationships of soil to current concerns such as environmental quality and non-agricultural land use. This course should instill awareness of soil as a basic natural resource, the use or abuse of which has a considerable influence on human society and life in general.

Specific Skills for This Course

You must be able to take screenshots and import those into a word processing program. You must be able to convert Word document files into a PDF format.

Course Objectives

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

  • appreciate the variety and complexity of soils
  • describe the ways in which soils are an integral component of the terrestrial ecosystem
  • use the technical terminology associated with the description and use of soils
  • identify soil properties important to land use, environmental quality, plant growth, and society/culture
  • demonstrate the skills required to make field observations and interpretations of soils for various uses
  • retrieve and use information from a variety of sources for land use planning and soil management decisions
  • explain the impact of land use and management decisions on agricultural productivity and sustainability, environmental and ecological health, and land degradation
  • understand how soils can affect everyday decisions like how to develop a garden or where to build a house

Course Schedule

For due dates, refer to the Course Summary on the Syllabus page in Canvas.

Course Materials

Most World Campus courses require that students purchase materials (e.g., textbooks, specific software, etc.). To learn about how to order materials, please see the Course Materials page. You should check the World Campus Course Catalog approximately 3–4 weeks before the course begins for a list of required materials.

Students must submit a soil sample to the Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory at Penn State. There will be a $29 fee for the analysis of this sample.


There is no required textbook for this course; however, the following text is highly recommended. The abbreviated version ("The Elements of...") covers plenty of detail for this intro course; the full version contains the same info, plus greatly expanded explanations and even more topics (it is about x2 as long). If you plan to take any more courses in soils, think it will be of particular interest to you, or you just find it cheaper, I recommend getting the full text. Any page numbers mentioned throughout the course refer to the most recent edition of the abbreviated version. Different editions will have different page numbers.

You may purchase course materials from Barnes & Noble College (the bookstore used by Penn State's World Campus). For pricing and ordering information, please see the Barnes & Noble College website. Materials will be available at Barnes & Noble College approximately three weeks before the course begins. Alternatively, you may obtain these texts from other favorite bookstores. Be sure you purchase the edition/publication date listed.

Abridged Version

ISBN: 978-0133254594
Weil, R. R., & Brady, N. C. (2019). Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils (4th ed.). Pearson.

Full Version

ISBN: 978-0133254488
Weil, R. R., & Brady, N. C. (2016). The Nature and Properties of Soils (15th ed.). Pearson.


This course requires that you access Penn State library materials specifically reserved for this course. You can access these materials by selecting Library Resources in the Course Navigation Menu, or by accessing the Library E-Reserves Search and searching for your instructor's last name.


Lab Assignments

There are five lab reports that will be submitted on the assignments page. Lab assignments are due by 11:59 p.m. on the date indicated on the Canvas Syllabus page. Lab reports submitted after the due date will be assessed a late penalty of 10% of the total lab report point value for each 24-hour period beyond the due date.


There are five exams in this course. There is not a comprehensive final exam.

  • All exams are closed book. This means the only resource you may use to answer questions is your own brain. You are not allowed to discuss questions with any other person and you are not allowed to refer to any textbooks or other printed materials, course resources other than the test, online or other digital resources, or notes you may have taken.
  • The exams consist of 35 multiple-choice and true/false questions.
  • Exams may be taken at any time during the week-long period for that exam (see the Course Summary on the Canvas Syllabus page). You will have 35 minutes to complete the exam once you have started it.

Extra Credit

Students can obtain 20 points of extra credit by writing an essay discussing at least one application of soil science at a certain site or region of the globe. It can be current or historical. The essays will be posted in the Extra Credit Essay discussion.

An additional 5 points can be earned by reading an essay by other students and posting a thoughtful reply of at least 50 words long in the Extra Credit Essay discussion. Additional details will be provided throughout the course.

Grading Policy

The following table is the grading criteria for the course.

Grading Criteria
Requirement Cumulative Point Value
Lab Assignments 250
Exams 350
TOTAL: 600
Extra Credit 20 (or 25)

The following table is the grading scheme for the course.

Grading Scheme
Letter Grade Percentage Points
A 100% – 93% 558–600
A- < 93% – 90% 540–557
B+ < 90% – 87% 522–539
B < 87% – 83% 498–521
B- < 83% – 80% 480–497
C+ < 80% – 77% 462–479
C < 77% – 70% 420–461
D < 70% – 60% 360–419
F < 60% < 360

Please refer to the University Grading Policy for Undergraduate Courses for additional information.

Note: If you are planning to graduate this semester, please communicate your intent to graduate to your instructor. This will alert your instructor to the need to submit your final grade in time to meet the published graduation deadlines. For more information about graduation policies and deadlines, please see "Graduation" under World Campus Student Resources.

Online Students Use of the Library

As Penn State students, you have access to many of the materials that the library offers to students. The library website has a lot to offer but can be overwhelming. A guide has been created to serve as your introduction to important library resources, services, and important pages within the library. The Online Student Library Guide is updated regularly by the online librarian. It is intended to provide a level of comfort through an introduction to help you feel comfortable navigating the library website to find valuable information for your coursework.

Technical Requirements

This course is offered online and it is assumed you possess the minimum system requirements and computing skills to participate effectively. A list of technical requirements is listed on World Campus' Penn State Technical Requirements page.

Minimum Skills

  • You should have an understanding of basic computer usage (creating folders/directories, switching between programs, formatting and backing up media, accessing the internet).
  • You must be able to conduct word processing tasks such as creating, editing, saving, and retrieving documents.
  • You must be able to use a web browser to open web pages, download files, and search the internet.
  • You must be able to use an e-mail program to send and receive messages and to attach and download documents/files.
  • You must be able to download and install programs or plug-ins from the internet.

Getting Help With Canvas Courses

Canvas support is available 24/7 via chat or phone.

It is in your own best interest to be as specific as you possibly can. Try to include information such as the specific course page, quiz question, etc. you were on; what you attempted to do when that failed; the exact language of any error message displayed on your screen; the date and time when your problem occurred; and any other pertinent information (does the problem happen consistently and always in the same way, etc.).

Support Services

As a student, you have access to a variety of services and resources, including advising, tutoring, library services, career services, and more. Please visit the following resources for more information:

Accessibility Information


The term "Netiquette" refers to the etiquette guidelines for electronic communications, such as e-mail and discussion postings. Netiquette covers not only rules to maintain civility in discussions but also special guidelines unique to the electronic nature of messages. Please review Virginia Shea's "The Core Rules of Netiquette" for general guidelines that should be followed when communicating in this course.

Penn State Policies

Login Policy

Students are expected to log in regularly to keep up to date with announcements, discussions, etc. The class will progress at a regular pace throughout the semester and there are specific due dates and times for assignments, etc.

Course Availability

Your course will be available to you beginning the first day of class and will remain open for one year. After one year the course will close.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity in an open, honest, and responsible manner. Academic integrity is a basic guiding principle for all academic activity at The Pennsylvania State University, and all members of the University community are expected to act in accordance with this principle. Consistent with this expectation, students should act with personal integrity, respect other students' dignity, rights, and property, and help create and maintain an environment in which all can succeed through the fruits of their efforts. Academic integrity includes a commitment not to engage in or tolerate acts of falsification, misrepresentation, or deception. Such acts of dishonesty violate the fundamental ethical principles of the University community and compromise the worth of work completed by others (see Faculty Senate Policy 49-20, G-9 Procedures, and the Code of Conduct).

Please read the academic integrity guidelines for the College of Agricultural Sciences.

A lack of knowledge or understanding of the University's academic integrity policy and the types of actions it prohibits and/or requires does not excuse one from complying with the policy. Penn State and the College of Agricultural Sciences take violations of academic integrity very seriously. Faculty, alumni, staff, and fellow students expect each student to uphold the University's standards of academic integrity both inside and outside of the classroom.

Educational Equity Statement

Penn State takes great pride in fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for students, faculty, and staff. Acts of intolerance, discrimination, or harassment due to age, ancestry, color, disability, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religious belief, sexual orientation, or veteran status are not tolerated and can be reported through Educational Equity on the Bias Response page.

Privacy Policies

For information about Penn State's privacy statement and what it encompasses, please read their Web Privacy Statement. Visit Penn State's FERPA Guidelines for Faculty and Staff page for information regarding its rules governing the privacy of student educational records.

Copyright Notice

All course materials students receive or to which students have online access are protected by copyright laws. Students may use course materials and make copies for their own use as needed, but unauthorized distribution and/or uploading of materials without the instructor's express permission is strictly prohibited. University Policy AD40, Recording of Classroom Activities and Note-Taking Services, addresses this issue. Students who engage in the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted materials may be held in violation of the University's Code of Conduct, and/or liable under federal and state laws.

Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)

Many students at Penn State face personal challenges or have psychological needs that may interfere with their academic progress, social development, or emotional well-being. The University offers a variety of confidential services to help you through difficult times, including individual and group counseling, crisis intervention, consultations, online chats, and mental health screenings. These services are provided by staff who welcome all students and embrace a philosophy respectful of clients' cultural and religious backgrounds, and sensitive to differences in race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

Accommodations for Persons With Disabilities

Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. Every Penn State campus has an office for students with disabilities. The Student Disability Resources website provides contact information for every Penn State campus. For further information, please visit the Student Disability Resources page.

In order to receive consideration for reasonable accommodations, you must contact the appropriate disability services office at the campus where you are officially enrolled, participate in an intake interview, and provide documentation. If the documentation supports your request for reasonable accommodations, your campus' disability services office will provide you with an accommodation letter. Please share this letter with your instructors and discuss the accommodations with them as early in your courses as possible. You must follow this process for every semester that you request accommodations.

Accommodations for Military Personnel

Veterans and currently serving military personnel and/or spouses with unique circumstances (e.g., upcoming deployments, drill/duty requirements, disabilities, VA appointments, etc.) are welcome and encouraged to communicate these, in advance if possible, to the instructor in the case that special arrangements need to be made.

Use of Trade Names

Where trade names are used, no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by World Campus, Outreach and Cooperative Extension, the College of Agricultural Sciences, or The Pennsylvania State University is implied.

Subject to Change Statement

Please note that this Course Syllabus is subject to change. Students are responsible for abiding by such changes.

Course Availability

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