AGR*3450 Research Methods in Agricultural Science

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The following description is for the course offering in Fall 2021 and is subject to change. It is provided for information only. The course outline distributed to the class at the beginning of the semester describes the course content and delivery, and defines the methods and criteria to be used in establishing the final grades for the course.

This course provides students with an opportunity to enhance their understanding of the principles and processes of agricultural research. The course will provide students with a foundation in critical thinking, experimental design and data analysis that will be applicable to independent research projects and graduate studies. Students will also explore the practical requirements and limitations of scientific research. Laboratory and field safety, animal care, intellectual property and research ethics will be reviewed. Students will be required to practice both oral presentation and writing skills as core components of their evaluation.

Pre-Requisite(s): Completion of 7.50 credits including (1 of GEOG*2460, STAT*2040, STAT*2060, STAT*2080)

Restriction(s): Enrollment in the BSC(AGR), BBRM, BSC.ABIO, BSC.PLSC or Minor in Agriculture.


Teaching Assistant:

Griffin Bailey

Credit Weight:


Course Level:

  • Undergraduate

Academic Department (or campus):

Department of Plant Agriculture



Semester Offering:

  • Fall

Class Schedule and Location:

Please refer to Web Advisor for class schedule and location.

Learning outcomes:

This course is designed to increase student understanding of the process of scientific investigation and the communication of research findings in the context of agricultural research.

The course balances the development of a conceptual framework for scientific research with the development of practical research skills.

By the end of this course, you should be able to:

  1. Describe the key components of scientific research, including the formulation of research questions, development of testable hypotheses and predictions, gathering and evaluating evidence and deriving and presenting conclusions.
  2. Define scientific inference and explain the use of inductive and deductive reasoning and the limitations of both.
  3. Differentiate between quantitative and qualitative observations and explain the concepts of reliability, accuracy and precision as they relate to measurement.
  4. Explain the consequences of variability and error with specific reference to Type I and Type II errors.
  5. Describe the principles underlying the design and implementation of experiments, including the function and use of controls, replication and randomization.
  6. Describe observer bias and the management of bias.
  7. Differentiate between field and laboratory experiments.
  8. Construct valid arguments and use evidence correctly and effectively to support their conclusions.
  9. Explain and apply appropriate methods of data presentation.
  10. Explain how scientific findings are formally communicated including the peer-review process and the key components of scientific papers and publications.
  11. Effectively and systematically access information from the scientific literature.
  12. Critically evaluate scientific communications, including publications and presentations.
  13. Describe how research is conducted in academic, government and industrial settings, including research funding and accountability.
University Level Learning Outcomes:

The course is designed to meet the following Learning Objectives of the University:

  • Literacy: Students will be required to critically review and understand up-to-date scientific information through lecture material compiled in course notes and Power Point slides. The students will also be required to review scientific papers and technical documents, and comprehend and present ideas and findings into an imposed format.
  • Inquiry and Analysis: A major theme of this course will pertain to the process whereby information is obtained from a variety of sources and presented and interpreted from various perspectives.
  • Depth and Breadth of Understanding: This course will cross the boundaries of several conventional disciplines within the broad areas of research design statistical analysis, ethics, and writing. Students will be encouraged to go beyond material discussed in class.
  • Oral and Written Communication: Students will be asked to communicate both orally and in written format through a research project presentation and paper.
  • Professional and Ethical Behaviour: Students will develop a research project with a team of their peers, conduct an experiment, and analyze the data. This exercise will require teamwork, leadership skills, organization and time management, and ethical reasoning to ensure validity of the study.

Lecture Content:

Topics to be covered in lectures include:

  • How We Know What We Know
  • Understanding Research, The Scientific Method, and Hypothesis Development
  • Reasoning
  • Experimental Hypotheses and The Scientific Cycle
  • Variation
  • Variability and Sampling Bias
  • Replication, Repetition, Observer Bias
  • Type I and Type II Error Rates
  • Controls and Randomization
  • Experimental Design
  • t-tests
  • Introduction to ANOVA
  • Means Separation
  • Correlation and Regression
  • Data Presentation
  • Scientific Writing – Organization and Style
  • Scientific Writing – The Abstract
  • Communicating Results to Non-Scientists
  • Funding Sources for Research
  • Research Ethics
* Specific topics may change throughout the semester
Labs & Seminars:

Topics to be covered in labs include:

  • Deconstructing a scientific paper
  • Plan an experiment
  • Data collection and basic analysis
  • Group project consultation (Time TBD by TA)
  • Data collection - Observer bias and randomization
  • Calculating t-tests
  • ANOVA calculations and Regression analysis

Course Assignments and Tests:

Assignment or Test
Contribution to Final Grade

In-Class Quizzes


Lab summaries




Group Project


Final Exam


DropBox Submissions:

Assignments should be submitted electronically via the online Dropbox tool. When submitting your assignments using the Dropbox tool, do not leave the page until your assignment has successfully uploaded. To verify that your submission was complete, you can view the submission history immediately after the upload to see which files uploaded successfully. The system will also email you a receipt. Save this email receipt as proof of submission.

Be sure to keep a back-up copy of all of your assignments in the event that they are lost in transition. In order to avoid any last-minute computer problems, your instructor strongly recommend you save your assignments to a cloud-based file storage (e.g., OneDrive), or send to your email account, so that should something happen to your computer, the assignment could still be submitted on time or re-submitted.

It is your responsibility to submit your assignments on time as specified on the Schedule. Be sure to check the technical requirements and make sure you have the proper computer, that you have a supported browser, and that you have reliable Internet access. Remember that technical difficulty is not an excuse not to turn in your assignment on time. Don’t wait until the last minute as you may get behind in your work.

If, for some reason, you have a technical difficulty when submitting your assignment electronically, please contact your instructor or CourseLink Support.

Final examination:

Please refer to Web Advisor for exam schedule and location.

Course Resources:

Required Resources:

There is no required text for the course.  All course materials will be provided via the CourseLink web site, as .pdf documents.  Students are encouraged to download and print lecture notes in advance

Recommended Resources:

Additional suggested online resources will be indicated in the relevant notes for each lecture topic.

Students wishing to undertake additional reading are encouraged to examine the following:

  • Holmes, D., P. Moody and D. Dine.  2011.  Research Methods for the Life Sciences (Second Edition).  Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Battersby, M.  2010.  Is that a Fact?  Broadview Press, Peterborough.
  • Matthews, J.R. and R.W. Matthews.  1996.  Successful Scientific Writing – A Step-by-Step Guide for the Biological and Medical Sciences.  Cambridge University Press, New York.
  • Lee, J.A..  2000.  The Scientific Endeavour – A Primer on Scientific Principles and Practice.  Addison Wesley Longman, San Francisco.
  • Ruxton, G.D. and N. Colegrave.  2011.  Experimental Design for the Life Sciences (Third Edition).  Oxford University Press, New York.
Lab Manual:

All written materials for the labs will be provided via the CourseLink web site, as .pdf documents.

Other Resources:

Every student must have a scientific calculator for use during quizzes and exams.

All quizzes and exams will be in person during class but this is subject to change based on COVID regulations. Some quizzes may be given through CourseLink and will be timed. The format of each quiz will be determined weekly.

Course Technologies and Technical Support:

This course is being offered using CourseLink (powered by D2L's Brightspace), the University of Guelph's online learning management system (LMS). By using this service, you agree to comply with the University of Guelph's Access and Privacy Guidelines. Please visit the D2L website to review the Brightspace privacy statement and Brightspace Learning Environment web accessibility standards.

CourseLink System Requirements:

You are responsible for ensuring that your computer system meets the necessary system requirements. Use the browser check tool to ensure your browser settings are compatible and up to date. (Results will be displayed in a new browser window).

Technical Support:

If you need any assistance with the software tools or the CourseLink website, contact CourseLink Support.

Tel: 519-824-4120 ext. 56939; Toll-Free (CAN/USA): 1-866-275-1478
Phone/Email Hours (Eastern Time): Monday thru Friday: 8:30 am–8:30 pm; Saturday: 10:00 am–4:00 pm; Sunday: 12:00 pm–6:00 pm


This course will use Zoom to record lectures and laboratories. Check your system requirements to ensure you will be able to access the recordings.

Technical Skills:

As part of your learning experience, you are expected to use a variety of technologies for assignments, lectures, teamwork, and meetings. In order to be successful in this course you will need to have the following technical skills:

  • Manage files and folders on your computer (e.g., save, name, copy, backup, rename, delete, and check properties);
  • Install software, security, and virus protection;
  • Use office applications (e.g., Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or similar) to create documents;
  • Be comfortable uploading and downloading saved files;
  • Communicate using email (e.g., create, receive, reply, print, send, download, and open attachments);
  • Navigate the CourseLink learning environment and use the essential tools, such as Dropbox,
  • Quizzes, Discussions, and Grades (the instructions for this are given in your course);
  • Access, navigate, and search the Internet using a web browser (e.g., Firefox, Internet Explorer); and
  • Perform online research using various search engines (e.g., Google) and library databases.

Contact your Teaching Assistant if you need support with any of the above.

Course Policies:

Grading Policies:

Any assignment submitted late is assessed a late penalty of 10% of the value of the assignment for each day or part of a day that the assignment is overdue.  Assignments submitted online are automatically given a time stamp indicating the date and time of submission. Exceptions will be made where academic consideration has been granted.

Makeup quizzes are not administered, so students who miss quizzes for valid reasons will have their grade assessed based on the quizzes that they took.

Course Policy on Group Work:

For the group laboratory assignments (Experimental Plan, Written Report, and Lab Presentation), a group grade will be given.

Each group member will be asked to fill out a group member evaluation for individual members of the group. Each individual's grade will be adjusted based on the group member evaluations.

Students who have concerns about the level of participation of any of their group members should try to work these out amongst themselves. Failing a resolution of the problem, these concerns should be brought to the attention of the instructor prior to the assignment being graded.

Netiquette Expectations: 

The course website is considered the classroom and the same protections, expectations, guidelines, and regulations used in face-to-face settings apply. Inappropriate behaviour will
not be tolerated. Examples of inappropriate online behaviour include:

  • Posting inflammatory messages about your instructor or fellow students;
  • Using offensive language;
  • Copying or presenting someone else's work as your own;
  • Adapting information from the Internet without using proper citations or references;
  • Buying or selling term papers or assignments;
  • Posting or selling course materials to course notes websites;
  • Having someone else complete your quiz or completing a quiz for/with another student;
  • Stating false claims about lost quiz answers or other assignment submissions;
  • Threatening or harassing a student or instructor;
  • Discriminating against fellow students, instructors, and/or TAs;
  • Using the course website to promote profit-driven products or services;
  • Attempting to compromise the security or functionality of the learning management system; and
  • Sharing your username and password.

Other Course Information:

Course Delivery and Materials Access

Lectures and labs will both be delivered in person.

All lecture and lab sessions will be recorded to allow for students who cannot attend duringthe scheduled time to access the entire sessions and will be posted on CourseLink following the lecture or lab periods. Recorded sessions will be available for 1 week following the class time.

Materials related to the lectures and labs will be posted either before or shortly after the scheduled sessions.

Communicating with Your Instructors

During the course, your instructor will interact with you on various course matters on the course website using the following ways of communication:

  • Announcements: The instructor will use Announcements on the Course Home page to provide you with course reminders and updates. Please check this section frequently for course updates from your instructor.
  • Ask Your Instructor Discussion: Use this discussion forum to ask questions of your instructor about content or course-related issues with which you are unfamiliar. If you encounter difficulties, the instructor is here to help you. Please post general course-related questions to the discussion forum so that all students have an opportunity to review the response. To access this discussion forum, select Discussions from the Tools dropdown menu.
  • Email: If you have a conflict that prevents you from completing course requirements, or have a question concerning a personal matter, you can send your instructor a private message by email. The instructor will attempt to respond to your email within 24 hours.
  • Video Call: If you have a complex question you would like to discuss with your instructor, you may book a meeting, either in person or via video meeting on Teams (or alternate platform being used by your instructor). All meetings depend on availability and are booked on a first come first served basis.

University Policies

Academic Consideration

When you find yourself unable to meet an in-course requirement because of illness or compassionate reasons, please advise the course instructor in writing, with your name, id#, and e-mail contact. See the academic calendar for information on regulations and procedures for Academic Consideration:

Academic Misconduct

The University of Guelph is committed to upholding the highest standards of academic integrity and it is the responsibility of all members of the University community, faculty, staff, and students  to be aware of what constitutes academic misconduct and to do as much as possible to prevent academic offences from occurring.

University of Guelph students have the responsibility of abiding by the University's policy on academic misconduct regardless of their location of study; faculty, staff and students have the responsibility of supporting an environment that discourages misconduct. Students need to remain aware that instructors have access to and the right to use electronic and other means of detection. Please note: Whether or not a student intended to commit academic misconduct is not relevant for a finding of guilt. Hurried or careless submission of assignments does not excuse students from responsibility for verifying the academic integrity of their work before submitting it. Students who are in any doubt as to whether an action on their part could be construed as an academic offence should consult with a faculty member or faculty advisor.

The Academic Misconduct Policy is detailed in the University Calenders:


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For more information, contact CSD at 519-824-4120 ext. 56208 or email or visit the Student Accessibility Services website:

Course Evaluation Information

Your ratings and comments are important.  Course evaluation data are used to assess and enhance the quality of teaching and student learning at the University of Guelph.  Student course ratings and comments are used as an important component in the Faculty Tenure & Promotion process, and as valuable feedback to help instructors improve their teaching effectiveness and to improve the delivery of the course.

Your responses will not affect your grade.  Course evaluation data are distributed to individual instructors after final grades have been submitted to the Registrar, following the completion of each academic semester.

Please be honest, respectful, constructive and thorough.  Instructors and review committees place great value on student course ratings and read all comments provided in course evaluations. It is helpful to provide comments on the strengths of the course, in addition to the areas for improvement.  Please refrain from personal comments unless they relate to teaching and learning.

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