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.


Instructor for SOILS 101

Professor Robert Loeb, Ph.D.
Professor, Biology and Forestry

Swift Building, Room 239
1 College Place
Dubois, PA 15801

E-mail: Use Canvas Inbox


  • BS, Biology, Biology Education, Environmental Science - Long Island University
  • PhD, Biology - New York University

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.

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

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.

The required textbook is Brady, N. C. and R. R Weil. 2010. Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils, third edition, Prentice Hall. The printed textbook is available from the Penn State DuBois bookstore. You may be able to obtain a printed copy from other online sources.

Reference Reading

Singer, M.J. & Munns, D.N. (2006). Soils: An Introduction, 6th ed. New York: Prentice Hall.



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 time 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.

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.

Grading Policy

Grading Criteria
Requirement Point Value
Lab 1 25
Lab 2 50
Lab 3 50
Lab 4 75
Lab 5 50
Exam One 70
Exam Two 70
Exam Three 70
Exam Four 70
Exam Five 70
TOTAL: 600
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.

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. This will be due at the end of the semester. Details will be given during the last week of the course.

The essays will be posted in the Extra Credit Essay & Discussion Forum. An additional 5 points can be earned by reading two (2) essays by other students and posting a thoughtful reply of at least 50 words long for each in the Extra Credit Essay & Discussion.

Technical Requirements

This course is offered online and it assumed you possess the minimum system requirements and computing skills to participate effectively. A list of technical requirements is listed on the 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.

Accessibility Information

  • Accessibility statement for Canvas.


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.

Support Services

As a World Campus student, you have access to a variety of services and resources, including advising, tutoring, library services, career services, and more. Please visit the World Campus Student Services page for more information.

If you experience technology problems of any kind in Canvas, please select the Help icon and select "Report a Canvas Problem," "Chat with Support," or "Call Support." It is in your own best interest to be as specific as you possibly can. Vague descriptions of a problem only delay assistance. 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.).

Online Students Use of the Library

As Penn State World Campus 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 and 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.

Penn State Policies

Log-In 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 for each semester and will remain open for one year. After one year the course will close.

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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.

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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 AD 40, the University Policy 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.

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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's 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 the 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.