Course Information

In this class, we will explore what literacy is beyond simply reading and writing. We’ll visit literacy enacted in different contexts and historical periods to explore deceptively simple questions: What is literacy? How is it used in the world?

As we consider what literacy is, we will encounter theories of how literacy is learned, how it is distributed across various populations, and how it has changed throughout history. We will be in theoretical as well as practical dialogue with others as we read literacy scholarship and talk with people about their literacy development, practices, and teaching. We should all leave this class with an enhanced understanding of how people use literacy in the world so that we might better teach it and practice it in the future.

Course Goals

Students who successfully complete this course will have:

  • Increased understanding of: the role of literacy in our lives and others’; how literacy functions in society; the ways race, class, gender and other human traits intersect with literacy and formal or informal education in the United States.
  • Enhanced writing skills in creative non-fiction genres such as personal narratives, interviews, and research-based essays.
  • Greater facility with informal, online writing for blogs and a familiarity with the WordPress interface.
  • Stronger reading skills for complex, research-based writing in the field of education, rhetoric and literacy.
  • More strategies and skills to help others compose essays, for example: listening carefully to writers’ needs and ideas; noticing patterns in their work and process; offering supportive and constructive suggestions for improvement.
  • The ability to ask thoughtful questions on writing and life to peers.
  • Knowledge that literacy is always aspirational: we can all be better writers and readers.

Course Requirements

This is a course on literacy, so together we will be doing a lot of reading and writing: 2-5 pages of writing and 30-60 pages of reading each week. To succeed in this course, you will need to stay on top of assignments, participate actively in online and in-class discussions, and respect your peers in conversation and reviews of their work. Specifically, you will need to:

  • complete all course readings;
  • arrive on time and prepared for class meetings and conferences;
  • participate in discussions online and in-class;
  • draft, revise and submit all course projects;
  • review your peers’ work regularly and have your own work reviewed;
  • submit a Midterm and Final Portfolio including the work you’ve done for the class;
  • submit all drafts, projects and work on time (day/hour that it is due; no credit is given for late drafts; late papers will normally be docked one letter grade per day, unless you get my approval for an extension before the due date).

If, at any time, you have questions or concerns about your ability to fulfill the expectations for this course, please contact me. I aim to help you succeed in the course, and together we can resolve any issue that may come up. 

Course Readings

Readings for each week are listed on the course calendar (see below) by the day they are due to be read. You are not required to purchase texts for this course; all readings will be available online through CourseWeb unless otherwise noted. Throughout the semester, you will also be reading your peers’ work and your own. You should be interacting with all of these texts as you read them, so you may print them out to highlight and annotate them, take notes in a digital or physical notebook, or digitally annotate the texts using a program like Adobe Acrobat. We will regularly discuss your reading and writing strategies in class and in one-on-one conferences.


Your grade will be based on your portfolio of work for the class (reviewed by me up to 4 times and graded twice), your participation in the class, and your final presentation to the class.


Midterm graded review of portfolio:                 35%

Midterm blog portfolio:                                               10%

Final graded review of portfolio:                      30%

Final blog portfolio:                                         10%

Participation (in-class):                                                10%

Final presentation:                                           5%

Late work will be docked one letter grade per day it is late, unless prior arrangements are made with me for extensions, etc. I offer extensions only in extreme circumstances. Individual assignments are not graded until the portfolio; however, your portfolio grades will be adjusted proportionally for any individual late work or late drafts that your portfolio contains.


Participation in the class consists of short writings in class and on the course blog, peer review, discussion, and your general contribution to the work we do together. Participation grades are by their nature subjective, which does not mean they are arbitrary.

Someone with an excellent participation grade:

  • will have attended class and appeared engaged without fail;
  • will have offered timely, insightful comments to his peers;
  • will have always brought her readings or other materials to class;
  • will have contributed regularly and thoughtfully to class discussions both online and offline.

Some people are more likely to speak up than others and some are more comfortable sharing ideas after they have had more time to process them; for these reasons, I offer both online (that is, written and not spontaneous) and offline (that is, vocal and real-time) venues in which to participate in the class. It’s normal to be more comfortable in one space than another, but I strongly believe that you will need to be proficient in sharing your ideas in real-time, asynchronous, written and face-to-face contexts to be a successful teacher, entrepreneur, employee, or anything else you may want to be in the future. Therefore, I will consider your participation across all of these venues and may call on you both in class and online to give you an opportunity to share your ideas. Please see me if you have questions about how to participate more actively in any area of the class.


Writing and interacting online are essential parts of this class. Every week you will post to our class blog on some subject related to literacy or respond to two of your peers’ posts. This will be done on a regular schedule.

Group 1: If your last name begins with A-L

Group 2: If your last name begins with M-Z

Everyone posts by Thurs, Jan 14 classtime.

by midnight, Mon, Jan 18: Group 1 posts

by midnight, Weds, Jan 20: Group 2 responds to two posts

by midnight, Mon, Jan 25: Group 2 posts

by midnight, Weds, Jan 27: Group 1 responds to two posts…. Etc….

Blogging ends Week 14.

I will give feedback on blogs occasionally throughout the semester (and whenever you specifically ask me for feedback), but you should rely primarily on your peers’ responses to your writing as feedback. The blog is your space to introduce and discuss ideas about the class topic that are most interesting to you.

I will assess blogs twice during the term: once for a Midterm Blog Portfolio, and again for a Final Blog Portfolio. Portfolio grades will be based on the quality of writing as well as the general level of participation on the blog.

Policies and Procedures


Regular attendance in this course is required. Because this is a low enrollment course, your presence and contributions affect everyone. Regular attendance also means that you are writing and responding to writing regularly, and it means that your peers and I can give your writing the attention it deserves. For these reasons, you need to be in class, on time, prepared, every meeting. If you miss more than one week total of this course (2 class meetings), your final grade may be affected, up to half a letter grade for each absence over two. If you miss more than two weeks total of this course (4 class meetings), you are unlikely to pass the course. 

It is your responsibility to get the assignments, class notes, and course changes from a classmate if you do miss a class. It is also your responsibility to keep track of and complete the missing work. In-class work such as peer review cannot be made up. If you miss class on the day a written assignment is due, make arrangements to turn it in on time. As mentioned above, every day the paper is late the grade drops by one letter grade.

I understand that things happen and occasionally you may need to miss a class because you’re sick, you’ve missed your flight back to campus, or you have pressing personal or family issues. The policy above allows for such occasional absences without penalty. If you need to be absent for some extraordinary reason—because of a severe accident or illness, a family emergency or death, a religious holiday or jury duty—please let me know, and we will work something out. For such absences, either prior notification or subsequent documentation will be required.

Guidelines for Written Work

I specify word limits for assignments rather than page limits so that you do not need to use wide margins or tiny, strange fonts to display your work. Please use reader-friendly fonts such as Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, Garamond, or Helvetica and sizes that are humane for your readers (10-12 point). Please use 1.5 to 2 line spacing. All peer review drafts should be printed out at the beginning of class the day they are due. All drafts to Prof. Vee should be turned in via CourseWeb for me to comment on electronically.

Physical copies of work are due when class begins. Online work is always due at 11:59pm of the due date.

Academic Integrity

The University asks us to include in our course descriptions this quotation from Pitt’s Senate Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom (February 1974):

The integrity of the academic process requires fair and impartial evaluation on the part of faculty and honest academic conduct on the part of students. To this end, students are expected to conduct themselves at a high level of responsibility in the fulfillment of the course of their study. It is the corresponding responsibility of faculty to make clear to students those standards by which students will be evaluated, and the resources permissible for use by students during the course of their study and evaluation. The educational process is perceived as a joint faculty-student enterprise which will perforce involve professional judgment by faculty and may involve—without penalty—reasoned exception by students to the data or views offered by faculty.

Plagiarism hurts the relationships and scholarship we construct during this class. Assignments for this course are designed to be relevant to your specific contexts—your personal literacy narrative, your future work as a teacher or learner, etc.—and are therefore rarely plagiarized in full. More commonly, students plagiarize by improperly quoting and documenting their sources. We will review how to properly document sources in class and I am happy to answer questions about how you can ensure that work you do for the class is your own. Additionally, please visit the English Department’s site defining plagiarism and explaining how to properly document sources: .

Should you plagiarize, consequences are severe: students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy on Academic Integrity, noted above, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process that I initiate. A minimum sanction of a failing grade for the paper or project will be imposed.

Disability Resources

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, please inform me and the Office of Disability Resources and Services as early as possible in the term. You can reach DRS at (412) 648-7890 or (412) 383-7355 (TTY) and you can visit their office at 216 William Pitt Union.  DRS will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

The Writing Center

The Writing Center is a free tutorial service for Pitt students.  Writing Center consultants can help you learn how to generate ideas, organize your writing, and understand assignments.  They can help you understand and deal with any sentence-level problems that you have, too.  It’s a great place to go in order to have a reader respond to your work so that you can do some intensive work on your writing.  You can call for an appointment at (412) 624-6556 or make an appointment online:

The writing center is located in 317B of O’Hara Student Center, at 4024 O’Hara St. Visit the Writing Center website at for more information.

Technology etiquette

Please turn off or silence your cell phone before class begins and keep it inside your book bag, purse, etc—do not keep it on your desk or lap during class. I allow and encourage the use of computers, netbooks, tablets, etc. in class for those who want to take notes digitally during class. These devices are not for socializing during class, however—during class you must log out of Facebook, Twitter, IM, message boards you follow, and any other site or service that will distract you from class. Studies show that these activities impede our ability to learn and participate. You may visit our blog, Wikipedia or dictionary sites, etc. to help you understand a concept we’re discussing in class, but be prepared to explain any of your in-class Internet use to the entire class. If you are socializing online or on your phone (including texting) during class, then I will warn you only once during the term. After that, you will be considered absent for that class period. Please contact me if you have specific questions about this policy.