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ENGL 204 A: Popular Fiction and Media

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 2:50pm
SMI 304
Professor Harkins in front of bookshelf
Gillian Harkins

Syllabus Description:

Instructor: Professor Gillian Harkins      

English 204A: Introduction to Popular Fiction and Media

Class Meeting: M/W 1:30-2:50 in SMI 304 / Friday Sections                                                    

Office Hours: Mon/Wed 12:00-1:00 PM or by appointment

In-Person: 504-A Padelford Hall / Virtual Appointments



Course Format:  The Course is planned as an in-person course to be held on UW Seattle Campus, circumstances permitting.  If we need to move the course on-line,  I will adapt our course for delivery through the UW Canvas course platform.  

To increase course accessibility, I will post powerpoint slides for the upcoming in-class lecture 24 hours in advance.   These slides do not replace lecture attendance any more than reading titles would replace the full story, but they will give you a chance to pre-read quotations or bullet point lists or any other magical stuff I drop in there from sources beyond our course reading.  For anyone who prefers longer reading times or likes to look up unfamiliar terminology or wants some tips about what parts of the readings I thought were especially interesting, check out the powerpoint slides in advance.   


Course Readings:  Most readings and videos for this course will be accessible through the Canvas website.   There are two books required for the class available for purchase at the University Bookstore: Colson Whitehead, Zone One (2011) and Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun (2022).  You may also purchase or borrow these books in any edition from other sources.  If you experience any obstacles accessing course materials, please let me know.


Course Objectives

  • Explore popular culture
  • Practice cultural analysis 
  • Engage critical methods
  • Practice critical reflection
  • Produce a short critical project
  • Produce a short creative project
  • Assess your learning experience


Course Requirements:  This is an introductory VLPA course that does not have a W credit attached to it.  There is no formal graded essay assignment or final exam for this class.  Instead the requirements focus on your active, reflective and retrospective learning over the course of the quarter.  This replaces a "banked knowledge" approach to course content -- where you memorize or instrumentalize information toward an exam or formal essay -- with one focused on integrated learning as a process, or a practice that happens over time.  I'll explain this more in lecture on our first day.

Here is how your learning will be assessed in this course:

  • Active Learning (25 points): This is a record of how you engage in the course materials during our class sessions.  To satisfy this requirement, you must complete the course reading/watching/listening before the start of class time and come to class prepared to engage the materials with your peers.  During the larger lectures Monday and Wednesday and the smaller sections on Friday, you will be asked to discuss the readings/recordings with your peers and/or complete short reading/recording-related activities.  In-class activities will be uploaded to an on-line discussion board to create a record for shared learning and assessment.  The on-line board will also give people who miss a class the chance to contribute. 
  • Reflective Learning (35 points): This is a record of how you engage in the course materials after our class sessions.  To satisfy this requirement, you must write a short weekly reflection on the ideas raised in the reading/recording and in class.  There may be specific prompts to help focus your reflections, but the general goal is to let you take the ideas wherever you want to go!   This post-class activity will be uploaded to an on-line Portfolio assignment by the end of each week in the first half of the course (intro entry worth 3 points; 4 entries worth 8 points each).   
  • Critical and Creative Projects (30 points): This is a record of how you develop a more sustained critical and creative engagement with specific course materials.  To satisfy this requirement, you must create a short critical project and a short creative project responding to two works from the second half of the class.  In place of a weekly reflection portfolio, you will have two weeks to develop each project. Instructions for each project are included in the Portfolio Link for those weeks (2 entries worth 15 points each). 
  • Retrospective Learning (10 points): This is a record of how you look back and assess your course learning as a whole. To satisfy this requirement, you must review all of your Portfolio entries and write a final retrospective reflection in Week Ten.  This entry will allow you to assess your own work and how well you met specific learning goals.  



Course Policies

Academic Conduct:  We all share responsibility for creating a positive shared learning community.  Everyone is invited to raise questions and offer additional perspectives about any materials discussed in class. Everyone is also expected to contribute their ideas in a manner that is thoughtful and respectful of the ideas expressed by others.  Here are some useful guidelines for class discussions. Here are some additional guidelines for online discussions

Academic Integrity: The University takes academic integrity very seriously. Behaving with integrity is part of our responsibility to our shared learning community.  Please review this University of Washington website for a definition and explanation of academic misconduct. For this class, any use of ChatGPT or other AI-assisted writing technology will be considered academic misconduct. Any use of non-class sources must be noted in your submitted writing or it will be considered academic misconduct.  Why?  This class is about learning through writing, which is not possible if you are not writing through your thinking as it unfolds.  If you are confused or have any questions about a specific instance, please feel free to see me in advance of the due date.

Academic Accommodations: It is the policy and practice of the University of Washington to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law. If you have already established accommodations with Disability Resources for Students (DRS), please activate your accommodations via myDRS so we can discuss how they will be implemented in this course. If you have not yet established services through DRS, but have a temporary health condition or permanent disability that requires accommodations (conditions include but not limited to; mental health, attention-related, learning, vision, hearing, physical or health impacts), contact DRS directly to set up an Access Plan. DRS facilitates the interactive process that establishes reasonable accommodations. Contact DRS at

Religious Accommodations: Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy, Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.


Additional Resources

University of Washington general resource information can be found at this link:

Additional support for technology access, writing and research support, financial and health needs, food, parenting, and legal resources and have been gathered at this link:

Advising appointments with the new Humanities Advising Center can be scheduled here: 

Writing resources can be found online at Ask Betty! and Purdue Online Writing Lab and on UW Seattle campus at Odegaard Writing and Research Center.



Catalog Description: 
Introduces students to the study of popular culture, possibly including print or visual media, understood as sites of critical reflection. Particular attention to dynamics of production and reception, aesthetics and technique, and cultural politics. Topics may foreground genres (science fiction; romance) or forms (comics; graffiti). Offered: S.
GE Requirements: 
Arts and Humanities (A&H)
Last updated: 
September 12, 2023 - 6:54am