Course Syllabus

English 107: Life Stories and Film, Spring 2016

Dr. Julia Voss

Contact Info:

Class Meeting Times:
T/Th, 12:10-1:50 pm

O'Connor 105

Office Hours: 
M/W, 9:00-10:30 am

St. Joseph Hall 203

Studying and Documenting Literacy

Focusing on the intersection of film and narrative, the course is grounded in telling stories about literacy, broadly understood. For the purposes of this class, literacy is a process that involves creating, conveying, and comprehending meaning. This creation, conveyance, and comprehension often involves a notational system (such as an alphabet) although not always. The profusion of distinct literacies--from science literacy, health literacy, and visual literacy to civic, information, environmental, and global literacies--raises all sorts of questions about the ways in which one literacy differs from the next. Literacies are complex, and the complexities are largely context specific. 

We will read theoretical texts about memory, film, and narrative, and examine documentary films based on life stories relating to literacy. The final project is short documentary film on the literacies of a specific population, using both original and found media. This course includes both class meetings devoted to discussion/analysis of readings and sample texts and class meetings devoted to media production.

This course fulfills the core Advanced Writing requirement--see below for the goals and objectives. It is also part of the Cinema Studies Pathway. You can find information about pathways on the Core Curriculum website including specific pathways, all courses associated with them, and the reflection essay prompt and rubric used to evaluate the final essay you will submit. If you declare the Cinema Studies pathway, you may use a representative piece of work from this course as one of your pathway materials (click here for details). Therefore, we recommend that you keep electronic copies of your work. This may ensure you will have a range of choices for retrieving your saved files when you analyze and assemble your pathway materials in preparation to write the pathway reflection essay.

Course Texts, Devices, and Communication

Course Texts

Devices & Materials for Class

  • We'll use an online, collaborative video composing platform WeVideo for this class. Some days, you'll need to bring your own laptop to class. Otherwise, devices are optional, but must be used for class-related purposes
  • Bring to class the books, articles, and/or pieces of writing indicated on the course schedule for that day.


  • I will communicate with you outside of class via your Santa Clara email address, which means you need to check your email between classes. 

Assignments/Grade Breakdown

Assignments will be graded using rubrics to calculate percentages (rounded to the nearest whole number), which will be converted into letter grades, following SCU standard grade conversions:

  Grade Breakdown.png    grade scale-1.jpg


Participation in- and outside class are vital to the critical thinking and writing learning goals for this class. We will spend class time discussing homework readings, practicing analytical and research methods, writing, and revising in written and multimedia. Most days, you'll post reading questions on a discussion board--DUE BY MIDNIGHT ON MONDAY/WEDNESDAY--to document your engagement with the reading and help direct in-class discussion. Other days there will be specific writing prompts.

These and other in-class activities are designed to help you meet the critical thinking and writing expectations of this course and require your full participation. The course’s variety of in-class activities are designed to draw on a variety of learning styles and strengths, encouraging you to participate in ways that showcase your strengths and push your boundaries.

Literacy Experience and Narrative Essay

To synthesize our early readings about what literacy is and how people experience/talk about it, you'll write an essay comparing the different approaches to literacy outlined in 3+ readings. The essay will also consider possible topics for your documentary, using the readings you analyze to choose a group/topic to study and begin considering how you'll approach them/it.

Scope: 4-5 pages

Documentary Project

Proposal (group)

With your partner, you'll identify the group/topic you want to study, describe your approach to studying it, and sketch out the content your documentary will include. In addition to the 300-500 words, proposal will include a timeline for media collection and editing of documentary.

Scope: 300-500 words (1.5-2 pages)

Annotated Bibliography

To provide accurate background information for your documentary, you'll identify 3+ research-based sources and will annotate them to explain what relevant information these sources contain and how you'll use them in your documentary.

Scope: 2-3 pages

Treatment & Storyboard (group)

To plan your documentary, you'll write a treatment (detailed written description) and create a storyboard (sequence of representative graphics) that explains the content/narrative arc of your documentary and illustrates how you'll use media to convey that content.

Scope: 4-5 pages + storyboard content

ROUGH CUT & FINAL Documentary (group)

Your main assignment for this class is a 5-minute documentary about literacy experience, that is, narratives about literacy. This will be informed by our early readings about literacy and literacy narratives, but will choose a unique group/site to investigate and represent. The documentary will also include both original media and archival, stock, or other found media. You'll produce (at least) 2 versions of your documentary: a rough cut that you'll show to the class during week 9 to get feedback and a final version that you'll present publicly at our Symposium on Wednesday, June 8, 6:30-9:30 pm.

Scope: 5 minutes 


Learning Goals & Objectives

Learning Goals: Critical Thinking, Complexity, Communication

Meta-Learning Goal: Intentional Learning

Learning Objectives: You will

  • Read and write with a critical point of view that displays depth of thought and is mindful of the rhetorical situation of a specific discipline. (Learning Goal: Critical Thinking, Complexity, Communication; Linked to Literacy Experience & Narrative Essay, Treatment, Annotated Bibliography, Documentary)
  • Write essays that contain well-supported, arguable theses and that demonstrate personal engagement and clear purpose. (Learning Goal: Critical Thinking, Complexity, Communication; Linked to Literacy Experience & Narrative Essay, Treatment, Documentary)

  • Independently and deliberately locate, select, and appropriately use and cite evidence that is ample, credible, and smoothly integrated into an intellectually honest argument appropriate for a specific discipline. (Learning Goal: Critical Thinking, Communication; Meta-Learning Goal: Intentional Learning; Linked to Literacy Experience & Narrative Essay, Treatment, Annotated Bibliography, Documentary)

  • Consciously understand their writing processes as modes of learning, and Intentionally manipulate those processes in response to diverse learning tasks. (Learning Goal: Critical Thinking, Complexity; Meta-Learning Goal: Intentional Learning; Linked to Participation, Literacy Experience & Narrative Essay, Proposal, Treatment, Annotated Bibliography, Documentary)

Course Policies & Resources:

HUB Writing Center: In addition to writing exercises and peer review workshops, the HUB Writing Center offers additional support for writing assignments like the ones you’ll complete for this course. I encourage you to use their services, which follow the model of peer review and feedback we will use for in-class writing workshops.

Accessibility: Everyone is entitled to equal access to learning resources in this class. I am happy to work with you to make this course accessible, according to arrangements made with the Office of Disabilities Resources. If you have already arranged accommodations through Disabilities Resources, please initiate a conversation with me about your accommodations face-to-face or via email within the first two weeks of class so that I can arrange accommodations. Students who are pregnant and parenting are also be eligible for accommodations. 

Academic Integrity: From the SCU Undergraduate Bulletin: “The University is committed to academic excellence and integrity. Students are expected to do their own work and to cite any sources they use. A student who is guilty of a dishonest act in an examination, paper, or other work required for a course, or who assists others in such an act, may, at the discretion of the instructor, receive a grade of “F” for the course.” In this course, the bottom line is that the work you turn in must be your own. In addition to the fact that passing off someone else's ideas or writing as your own is illegal (constituting fraud and possibly theft), if you don't do the work yourself you won't learn the necessary skills to do well in this class. 

Assignment Submission: Unless otherwise specified, you will turn in assignments as digital files to Camino, and I will return them to you there. Some assignments will have particular submission instructions—i.e. to submit your work to a Camino dropbox AND a Google Drive folder—that you must follow to receive credit for the assignment. Some assignments may also have particular file format submission instructions, which you must also follow to receive full credit. I will provide specific directions about this.

Pay attention to file format accessibility: Camino cannot read some file formats, most notably .pages. I recommend submitting your work in .doc, .docx, or .pdf format.

Late Work: Assignments must be turned in on time. I will only accept late assignments if you have made prior arrangements with me, at which time we will discuss grading penalties (if appropriate--see Attendance policy below). Absences and technological mishaps do not excuse missed deadlines. Save early and save often, and make sure to back up your work. Contact me in advance to discuss any deadline issues. 

Attendance: Attendance is essential to the success of this class and to your development as a thinker and writer. Therefore, each unexcused absence after 2 will lower your final grade by 1/3 of a letter (i.e. from A- to B+). Excused absences—such as those for documented illness, family tragedy, religious observance, or SCU athletics travel—will not affect your grade. Extreme lateness--arriving more than 20 minutes late to class--will count as an absence.

To arrange an excused absence, you must

  • notify me BEFORE you miss class,
  • make up any missed in-class work by its original deadline (unless otherwise specified)
  • submit your excuse documentation no later than the day you return to class.

Tardiness: Missing part of class also affects your learning and therefore your grade. Three tardies will be equal 1 absence (i.e. every 3 tardies will lower your grade by 1/3 of a letter grade). You are tardy if you

    • arrive late to class
    • sleep, text, do non-class-related Internet tasks, etc. during class interfering with your participation, or
    • come to class unprepared to discuss the day’s assigned readings. I may give in-class quizzes to check for preparedness.

Technology Use: You will bring in their own laptop, tablet, etc. for use in class each day. In addition to technology-mediated activities I assign, I invite you to use your devices productively during class for other purposes, for example, finding relevant online material during class discussions or pulling up notes during in-class writing activities. Technology use that interferes with your participation will count as tardiness. If digital distraction is a persistent problem I will ask you to leave class, which will count as an absence.

Conduct: This class is an intellectual community created by the contributions of each member of the class. This entails both active participation (described above) and refraining from negative participation. Disagreement is a valuable part of vigorous discussion, but verbal and non-verbal slurs or mockery are not. Intellectual exploration and spirited debate are welcome; personal attacks are not. You will treat yourself and your classmates as serious thinkers and writers, keeping in mind that we spend 20 weeks together.

Mandatory Reporting Disclosure: 

While I want you to feel comfortable coming to me with issues you may be struggling with or concerns you may be having, please be aware that there are some reporting requirements that are part of my job at Santa Clara University.  

For example, if you inform me of an issue of harassment, sexual violence, or discrimination, I will keep the information as private as I can, but I am required to bring it to the attention of the institution’s EEO and Title IX Coordinator. If you inform me that you are struggling with an issue that may be resulting in, or caused by, traumatic or unusual stress, I will likely inform the campus Student Care Team (SCU CARE).

If you would like to reach out directly to the Student Care Team for assistance, you can contact them at If you would like to talk to the Office of EEO and Title IX directly, they can be reached at 408-554-3043 or by email at Reports may be submitted online through or anonymously through Ethicspoint: Additionally, you can report incidents or complaints to the Office of Student Life (OSL), Campus Safety Services, and local law enforcement. For confidential support, contact the Counseling and Psychological Services office (CAPS), the YWCA, or a member of the clergy (for example, an imam, rabbi, or minister).

Finally, please be aware that if, for some reason, our interaction involves a disruptive behavior, a concern about your safety or the safety of others, or potential violation of University policy, I will inform the Office of Student Life. The purpose of this is to keep OSL apprised of incidents of concern, and to ensure that students can receive or stay connected to the academic support and student wellness services they need. 

Course Schedule: see Home page for Course Schedule

Course Summary:

Date Details