Undergraduate Course Policies and Requirements

Erin O'Connor


This is a paperless course. The syllabus can be found online. The course weblog--a forum for electronic discussion--can be found at www.oconnorcourses.net.

This course also has an electronic mailing list (known as a listserv) that will have all of our names on it. If you send a message to the class listserv, your message will go to everyone in the class.

You are required to have an electronic mail account. I will use electronic mail as my chief way of making course announcements, sending out reminders, and communicating with you outside of class.

You will be required to submit your formal written work electronically, via email attachment.


This class will conduct itself as a combination of lecture and discussion. Much of our time will be spent discussing and debating the works we are reading and the issues they raise. The topics of our discussion will be determined as much by your intellectual interests as by my own. This means that you should expect class periods to be intense and fun, a place to test out your own ideas about what we're reading.

Intense classroom dialogue is one of the single most educational experiences you will have at Penn. You often learn from yourself as you speak, and you will frequently produce ideas and theories as a class by building on and occasionally challenging each other's comments. Dialogue cannot happen if you do not all commit to speaking regularly and thoughtfully in class.

Because of the intensely interactive nature of this course, I expect you to attend all classes and I expect you to come to class prepared. You should have completed the reading assigned for that day, and you should be ready to discuss it.

I reserve the right to give periodic, unannounced quizzes on the assigned reading. If you are not present in class on the day of a quiz, your score for the quiz will be zero. There will be no make-up quizzes.


You will typically be responsible for reading 300-350 pages per week. I have spaced the reading assignments to give you a bit of a breather mid-week; therefore you will do more reading over the weekend. It is crucial that you do the reading in a timely manner. Plan carefully for this course! If you allow yourself to fall behind, it will be very difficult for you to catch up.

Mathematically, 300-350 pages per week averages out to 45-55 pages of reading per day. You should be able to read at a rate of at least 30 pages per hour when you are reading fiction; you should budget more time for secondary readings as critical prose tends to be quite dense. In short, you should allow yourself around 2-2.5 hours per day to read for this course. If the weekly reading takes you longer than 11 or 12 hours to complete, it is a sign that you need to make some adjustments in your reading habits. Your success in this course depends in large part on your ability to read quickly and efficiently.

Although we will spend most of our time concentrating on literary texts, we will also devote significant attention to secondary readings on issues relevant to the course. These assignments are every bit as important as the primary reading--you will be expected to integrate them into class discussion, to use them in your papers, and to be able to discuss them intelligently on the course weblog.

If you cannot commit to intensive, regular reading, do not take this course.


This course is as much a course in writing as it is a course in reading. Writing is an integral part of learning. You often don't know what you think until you have to write it down; similarly, the writing process always helps you to refine and focus your thinking, to explore and articulate your ideas, and to uncover fresh insights into what you have read. For this reason, you will be writing continuously for this course, producing two formal papers and participating continuously in the ongoing electronic discussion located on the course weblog.

When done properly, writing is a laborious and time-consuming process. If you are not interested in improving your writing, this course is not for you. Similarly, if you have other commitments that will prevent you from giving your writing assignments the time and care they deserve, this course is not for you. Conversely, making a commitment to the work for this course will be its own reward: you will be able to watch your capacities for critical thinking and analytical writing improve during the term.

Formal Papers:

Due dates are marked on the class syllabus. It is important to plan ahead: I do not give extensions, and I penalize late papers severely--a paper one day late will be marked down one full letter grade (in other words, the highest it can get is a B); a paper two days late will suffer two grades off (the highest it can earn is a C) and so on. Don't test me on this: your grade will suffer for it. The best way to combat these rules is to plan ahead. With careful planning, lateness will not be a problem for you.

Informal Writing:

In the spirit of electronic dialogue, you will all do a minimum of one weblog posting every week. This posting should be a minimum of 200 words, although you should feel free to write more if you get inspired. This posting can take a number of forms--it can consist of a series of questions about the reading for that week, or it can consist of an effort to sketch out an idea or even a short reading of an assigned text or texts, or it can consist of some combination of the two. Whenever possible, include links to articles or sites that pertain to your post.

The purpose of the assignment is twofold. You should use the assignment as an exercise in framing and expressing your thoughts and queries about some particular aspect of what we have read, and you should also conceive of your post as part of an ongoing dialogue: respond to other posts, raise questions, add context, debate.

The purpose of the weblog is to provide you with a forum for discussion that is not directly controlled and mediated by me. The weblog will enable you to generate new ideas as well as explore issues raised in class in more depth. This assignment should be an enjoyable one--indeed, the discussions that will arise on the weblog will be as fun, creative, quirky and productive as you collectively make them. While the paragraph above outlines the minimum contribution I expect you to make to the weblog, you are encouraged to respond to one another and to initiate discussions as often as you wish.


Your grade will be determined by 4 components: the overall quality of your weekly weblog writing (20%); your work on small in-class and research assignments (20%); and your formal writing assignments, 60% (20% for first paper, 40% for second).


Plagiarism consists of lifting the ideas or the words of others. Plagiarism of words or ideas will result in a failing grade for the course. If you are uncertain about what constitutes plagiarism, or are unsure of how to cite the work of others properly in your writing, see me.