Required Reading

  • Mark Z. Danielewski, The Familiar (2015) (I will provide you with an advance copy of this novel during the first week of the course)
  • William Gibson, Pattern Recognition (2003) (ISBN-10: 0425198685)
  • Ellen Ullman, The Bug (2003) (ISBN-10: 1250002494)
  • Various articles, book chapters, and online material available through this course site and our Blackboard site

Note: You are required to acquire the print editions of the course novels that I have linked to above (no Kindle editions or other ebook formats). These are also the editions I have ordered for the course from the campus bookstore. We will refer to and use all course texts extensively in class, and you are required to bring whatever texts we are reading to class every class meeting. It will be important for all of us to work from the same edition of each text we read so that we can all (literally) be on the same page during class discussion.

Required Work

The graded work for ENGL 3490 will take several forms: (1) class participation; (2) weekly blogging; (3) investigation paper 1; (4) investigation paper 2; (5) a final project.

(1) Participation (20% of course grade): Class discussion is an essential component of this course; discussion, not lecture, will be the primary way we investigate our course texts. It is crucial that everyone has carefully considered the day’s material, attends class, and participates. I expect you to bring the day’s readings to class, marked up with notes and annotations. Daily attendance is crucial for full participation. More than four absences will lower your participation grade by at least a letter grade. More than six absences will result in a zero for your course participation grade. See my attendance policy below for more specific information.

Your participation will also occasionally be assessed through pop reading quizzes.

(2) Blogging (20% of course grade): Blogging is part of the first investigation paper (see below), but you will also contribute to the course blog semi-weekly. There will be approximately 10 prompts throughout the semester, and each student will respond to 6 of these. Each post should be 400-500 words. See the blogging guidelines for more information on what I expect from these posts, and the blog criteria below for more information on how I grade blog posts.

Your responses are due each Wednesday night by 10 pm. All of your blog posts must be submitted Wednesday, April 15 by 10 pm (Wednesday of the second-to-last week of classes). You may not write more than one blog post per week, and you may not make up missed blog posts. You are free to choose which of the weekly prompts you would like to respond to, with the following exception: everyone in the class must respond to Prompt 10 (due Wednesday, April 15).

(3) Investigation 1 (15% of course grade): This investigation paper has two parts – blogging and a reflective analysis of that blogging – and it will be completed in two stages. The first stage comprises our reading of The Familiar. _As we read this novel, we will be joined by six other classes on six other campuses in the US and the UK (UC Santa Barbara; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; De Montfort University; University of Notre Dame; UC Davis; and Weber State University) who will also be reading the novel. We will use as a home for our online discussions of the novel with these other classes. You will be responsible for posting at least two new posts and at least three responses to existing posts over the course of our reading of the novel. We will not begin our regular course blogging until after we read _The Familiar.

The second stage of this assignment consists of a reflective analysis of your blogging and of the experience of reading and responding to a novel in tandem with other students at other universities using digital technology.

(4) Investigation 2 (20% of course grade): Your second investigation will be a close reading of just one word from Pattern Recognition. You will analyze the significance of this one word in the novel, noting what patterns emerge from this word’s use, how its meaning shifts throughout the novel, and what themes the word brings into focus.

(5) Final Project (25% of course grade): Your final project will be a multimodal comparative analysis of two media forms. It will involve some outside research, but the specific form it takes will be up to you.


Your final grade will be calculated as follows:

  • Participation: 20%
  • Blogging: 20%
  • Investigation 1: 15%
  • Investigation 2: 20%
  • Final Project: 25%

Every assignment except for your blog posts will be given a letter grade that has a percentage equivalent:

A+ = 100%     A = 95%      A- = 90%

B+ = 88%       B = 85%      B- = 80%

C+ = 78%       C = 75%      C- = 70%

D = 65%

F = below 60%

Blog Criteria

I will evaluate the blog posts according to the following 0-3 point scale:

Rating Characteristics
3 Exceptional: The blog post is focused and coherently integrates examples with explanations and analysis. The post is thoughtful and nuanced, and it avoids description and summary. The post makes an analytical point rather than rants or rambles. It connects to other readings when appropriate. The post includes at least one rhetorically useful image or media clip that illustrates — rather than trivializes — its point. The source and context of the image or media clip is also indicated.
2 Fully Satisfactory: The blog post is reasonably focused, and explanations or analysis are mostly based on examples or other evidence. Fewer connections are made between ideas, and the post contains more description or summary. The post reflects good to moderate engagement with the topic.
1 Partial Credit: The blog post is unfocused, or simply rehashes previous comments. It displays little evidence of student engagement with the topic, and has been posted only to fulfill the requirement.
No Credit: The blog post is missing, late, consists of one or two disconnected sentences, or is otherwise incomplete.

Late Work

All assignments should be submitted through Blackboard by the date and time indicated in the course calendar. Unless you make prior arrangements with me at least 24 hours in advance of an assignment’s due date, late papers will be penalized a full letter grade for each day that they are late, and I will not accept assignments that are more than 4 days late. Late final projects will not be accepted at all. If you find that you will need an extension on a particular assignment, please contact me as soon as possible to arrange an alternative due date (again, you must contact me at least 24 hours before the paper is due, but the sooner the better). Assignment extensions will not be granted retroactively.

Late blog posts will not be accepted, and you cannot make up missed blog posts.

Technological Failures are Not Emergencies

Technological failures and mishaps – file corruption, computer crashes, wifi connection problems, uploading the wrong file to Blackboard – are predictable facts of twenty-first century life. They happen all of the time and are thus NOT emergencies. For this course, for all of your courses, for your career, for the rest of your life on this earth, you need to develop strategies that take such failures into account. Start your work early, save it often, and save backup copies of important documents off-site using services like Dropbox and Google Drive. Technological failure or mishap is not an excuse for late work.

Attendance Policy

I do not distinguish between “excused” and “unexcused” absences. Doing so puts me in a position I don’t want to be in. You may miss four class meetings without penalty. More than four absences will lower your participation grade by at least a letter grade. More than six absences will result in a zero for your course participation grade. There is no way to “make up” absences from class. Use your absences wisely (or not at all). If you already know that you will be absent for more than 4 class periods for some reason, talk to me as soon as possible.

However, simply being present in class is not sufficient to earn an “A” for class participation. What really counts as far as your participation grade is concerned is the extent to which you actively participate in and contribute to our class discussions. To be counted as present for class, you must do the following:

  • Do the assigned reading before class. Prepare yourself to be called on.
  • Bring the assigned reading to class. We will use the reading every day in class. You need to bring it every day.
  • Be attentive to the conversation during class. This means that you are mentally present during class, and not doing other things on your laptop, tablet, or phone.

If you do not do the above 3 things, I reserve the right to count you as absent for that day’s class, even if you’re present. On the other hand, if you do the above 3 things every day but never say a word during class discussion, you will not receive a high participation grade. If you’re reluctant to speak up in class, please talk to me soon. We can work something out.

The reading for this class is challenging, and it will require a significant investment of time and attention from you to complete. You may feel confused, frustrated, or bored as you are completing it. This is normal. I expect that you will complete each day’s reading assignment regardless.


All students are required to check their official Clemson email accounts regularly. I will send course information and announcements through email. I endeavor to respond to all emails within 24 hours – usually less – but please do not send me urgent emails regarding your assignments on the night before they are due and expect an immediate reply.

If you have questions on course material, assignments, or policies, the best thing to do is to come to my office hours and talk to me. I am happy to answer simple questions about the course via email, but more involved questions and conversations should be done in person. I am also happy to read and discuss advance drafts of your assignments with you in person, but I will not read and comment on drafts of assignments via email before they are due.

Inclusive Learning

I am committed to the principle of inclusive learning. This means that our classroom, our online spaces, our practices, and our interactions be as inclusive as possible. Mutual respect and the ability to listen, observe, and disagree with others carefully and respectfully – including me – are crucial to inclusive learning.

Clemson works to provide accommodations for you if you need additional resources in the classroom. These may include extra time on exams, note-taking services, and so on. If you need these resources or wish to consult a counselor about the available services, please contact Student Disability Services at 864-656-6848 or visit office room 239 in the Academic Success Center. SDS, in consultation with you, determines what services you may need under an accommodation plan and provides you with a letter that outlines them, which you will then discuss with me. You are responsible for visiting SDS to arrange for a letter before talking to me about these accommodations. You can find complete information about SDS here:

Classroom Courtesy

This course embraces the digital world, but it also recognizes that digital tools and environments complicate personal interactions. Studies have shown that students who use laptops in class often receive lower grades than those who don’t. Even more worrisome are studies that show laptop users distract students around them. I permit laptops and tablets in class, but only when used for class activities like note-taking or class readings. Any other use is unacceptable, and any student who misuses their laptop or tablet will be responsible for starting the next day’s class discussion (This will be waived for one class period only: Tuesday, February 10. We will talk about why as we get closer to that date). I will occasionally ask students to turn all devices off so that we may devote our attention to other things.

Text messaging or other cell phone use during class is unacceptable. Any student who texts or uses their phone during class will be responsible for starting the next day’s class discussion.

Academic Integrity

The principle of academic integrity is taken very seriously and violations are treated gravely. In terms of this course, academic integrity means that when you are responsible for a task, you will perform that task. When you rely on someone else’s work in performing an aspect of that work, you will give full credit in the proper, accepted form. Clemson’s academic integrity policy is available here: Ignorance of what constitutes academic dishonesty is not an acceptable excuse for academic dishonesty.

Another aspect of academic integrity is the free play of ideas. We all enter this classroom with preexisting political, ethical, philosophical, and intellectual commitments.Vigorous discussion and debate are encouraged in this course, with the firm expectation that all aspects of the class will be conducted with civility and respect for differing ideas, perspectives, and traditions.

Clemson University is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, veteran’s status, genetic information or protected activity (e.g., opposition to prohibited discrimination or participation in any complaint process, etc.) in employment, educational programs and activities, admissions and financial aid. This includes a prohibition against sexual harassment and sexual violence as mandated by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.  If you have questions about equal opportunity or experience sexual harassment or discrimination while at Clemson, please contact Jerry Knighton, who oversees Title IX programs at Clemson (864-656-3181). Please consult university policy for the full details:

Many have influenced this syllabus, including Mark Sample, Rita RaleyBrian Croxall, Paul Benzon, and Gerry Canavan.