Here you will find information on required readings, import university policies, and course-specific policies like attendance and cell phone use.

Required Texts

Gray, Jonathan, Liliana Bounegru, and Lucy Chambers.The Data Journalism Handbook. Cambridge: O'Reilly Media, 2012. Version 1. Available for Free Online.
(Plan on spending about $30 for print-outs of online materials)
Purchase books at university bookstore or match the ISBN number online. Last time I checked, all books were on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.
NOTE: Make sure you allow sufficient time for an online item to ship. Missing a reading because an item has not arrived in the mail is not acceptable.

Grade Breakdown

Attendance and Participation15See Attendance section below
Quizzes15See Quizzes section below
Timeline Assignment 15See Assignments
Research Assignment Initial Question and Annotated Bibliography5 See Assignments
Individual Student Meeting5Pass/Fail. See office hours below.
Research Assignment Introduction and Outline10 See Assignments
Research Assignment First Draft15See Assignments
Research Assignment Final Draft20 See Assignments

Grading Scale

Letter GradePercentileDescription
A+97-100Superior achievement in all aspects
A94-96Superior achievement in most areas
A-90-93Superior achievement in at least one area
B+87-89Exceeds expectations in all aspects
B84-86Exceeds expectations in most areas
B-80-83Exceeds expectations in at least one area
C+77-79Meets expectations in all aspects
C74-76Meets expectations in most areas
C-70-73Meets expectations in at least one area
D65-69Does the assigned task but does not meet expectations or work is not appropriate for college level
F0-64Unexcused late work, does not do the assigned task, not complete, or quality is significantly below expectations

Major Assignment Grading Rubric

I will use a descriptive, non-numerical rubric for major writing assignments. The rubric includes the following criteria:

Assignment Process: Evaluates whether students have followed directions properly. All materials are turned in on time and in the right place. Assignment directions are followed. Required components are all present and submitted on time.
Attention to Detail in Writing and/or Code: Language shows thought, precision, and control in word choice. Uses forms of grammar, punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and syntax that are appropriate for published work. Demonstrates careful attention to proofreading. For websites, links work properly, images display, all html tags terminate properly. Page design renders as intended.
Interface Functionality and Design: Interface is easy to navigate and aesthetically balanced. Appears to be designed with an overall vision or sense of purpose. Data visualizations or interactives are clearly contextualized and show evidence of attention to design. Features that may seem out of place are well contextualized in written materials.
Synthesis of Form and Content: Digital functionality extends research in some way. Clear connections between design and subject matter. Approach conveys care and creativity. Work successfully imagines its audience and choices seem consistent with that audience. Elements that may seem out of balance are discussed in written materials.
Evidence of Effort: Supplementary statements and process assignments clarify and contextualize choices. Work shows no signs of last-minute, unresolved complications. Student has shown the professor or TA work in progress in and out of class.

E-mail Communication Policy

Each student is issued a University e-mail address (username@pitt.edu) upon admittance. This e-mail address may be used by the University for official communication with students. Students are expected to read e-mail sent to this account on a regular basis. Failure to read and react to University communications in a timely manner does not absolve the student from knowing and complying with the content of the communications. The University provides an e-mail forwarding service that allows students to read their e-mail via other service providers (e.g., Hotmail, AOL, Yahoo). Students that choose to forward their e-mail from their pitt.edu address to another address do so at their own risk. If e-mail is lost as a result of forwarding, it does not absolve the student from responding to official communications sent to their University e-mail address. To forward e-mail sent to your University account, go to http://accounts.pitt.edu, log into your account, click on Edit Forwarding Addresses, and follow the instructions on the page. Be sure to log out of your account when you have finished. (For the full E-mail Communication Policy, go to www.bc.pitt.edu/policies/policy/09/09-10-01.html.)

A Note on E-mail Etiquette

When you send me an email, please follow some basic conventions of formality and politeness. There's no need to construct the equivalent of a business letter, but please don't begin your message with "hey," and please take an extra moment to make sure you spelled my name correctly. I promise to show you the same courtesy.

No Late Work Accepted

Assignment due dates and times are outlined in the Weekly Calendar section of the course website. These dates and times are not flexible. No late submissions are accepted. Please review the calendar to verify that you are able to fulfill all course requirements. Adherence to course requirements and deadlines must be enforced, if the course is to be effective and beneficial to all participants. For this reason, I will not make accommodations for those students unable or unwilling to fulfill these requirements, except in the case of extreme circumstances out of your control, such as a family or medical emergency. If you speak to me at least a week ahead of time and I approve an extension, I will consider assigning a new due date, and I will hold you to it with no second opportunity for an extension. The trade-off is that work turned in this way is probably not going end up in my hand when I grade everything else, so it’s going to receive less feedback.

A Note on Office Hours

I use a digital tool for office hours appointment management. If you go to the website https://lavin-office-hours.youcanbook.me/, you will see a real-time account of when I am available. My standard appointment slots are Mondays and Wednesdays, but a slot will appear in gray if I'm already booked. You are welcome to drop by if I appear to be free, but it's generally a better idea to make an appointment well in advance if you have something important to discuss with me. If I ever need to cancel office hours on a given day, I will update the calendar and email anyone with an appointment.


Cell phones should be off and put away. Laptops are okay for notes and such, but you should not be messaging, using Facebook, etc. I’ll check screens regularly give you a verbal warning on your first offense. After that, I reserve the right to ask you to leave class and mark you absent if you are creating a distraction.

Being Prepared for Class

Coming to class prepared means that you have done the assigned reading, you have the day's reading in hand (printed or digital) and you have come to class with a way to take notes (printed or digital). If you are not prepared for class, I reserve the right to mark you absent for that day and send you home.


I will take attendance at the start of every class. All unexcused absences will reduce your participation grade, as will all instances on unexcused tardiness. This is a class where you have to come to do well. Every semester I am forced to give out 2-3 Ds and Fs, and it's almost always students who didn't show up regularly. In the event of an excused absence, you should get class notes from a classmate and speak to me about a makeup assignment. Your best bet here is to seldom or never miss class. Anything more than four absences, even if they’re excused, and I’ll probably recommend that you withdraw. If you know you are going to miss class for a sport commitment (or other sanctioned reason) you must let me know ahead of time so I can assign work to keep you on track.

Disability Resource Services

If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, you are encouraged to contact both your instructor and the Office of Disability Resources and Services, 140 William Pitt Union, 412-648-7890, as early as possible in the term. Disability Resources and Services will verify your disability and determine reasonable accommodations for this course.

Academic Integrity Policy

Cheating/plagiarism will not be tolerated. Students suspected of violating the University of Pittsburgh Policy on Academic Integrity, noted below, will be required to participate in the outlined procedural process as initiated by the instructor. A minimum sanction of a zero score for the quiz, exam or paper will be imposed. (For the full Academic Integrity policy, go to www.provost.pitt.edu/info/ai1.html.)

Sexual Harassment

The University of Pittsburgh will not tolerate sexual assault/sexual harassment. Complete details of the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy may be found and read in its entirety at http://www.provost.pitt.edu/information-on/antiharassment_statement.html. This policy provides a variety of individuals on each University of Pittsburgh campus who should be contacted with questions or concerns.

The Pitt Promise: A Commitment to Civility (from Pitt's Code of Conduct)

The University of Pittsburgh is committed to the advancement of learning and service to society. This is best accomplished in an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility, self-restraint, concern for others, and academic integrity. By choosing to join this community, I accept the obligation to live by these common values and commit myself to the following principles:

As a Pitt Student:

  • I will embrace the concept of a civil community which abhors violence, theft, and exploitation of others;
  • I will commit myself to the pursuit of knowledge with personal integrity and academic honesty;
  • I will respect the sanctity of the learning environment and avoid disruptive and deceitful behavior
  • toward other members of the campus community;
  • I will support a culture of diversity by respecting the rights of those who differ from myself;
  • I will contribute to the development of a caring community where compassion for others and freedom of thought and expression are valued; and
  • I will honor, challenge and contribute to the scholarly heritage left by those who preceded me and work to leave this a better place for those who follow.

By endorsing these common principles, I accept a moral obligation to behave in ways that contribute to a civil campus environment and resolve to support this behavior in others. This commitment to civility is my promise to the University of Pittsburgh and its community of scholars.

Digital Media Lab Open Hours

This classroom (Cathedral 435) holds open hours for students to come in and do homework or work on projects. These hours are listed online at https://dmap.pitt.edu/hours. A day's hours may be canceled from time to time if a professor books the classroom, so please look at the calendar before counting on the space to be open, and plan accordingly. When the lab is open, there will always be an undergraduate lab assistant on hand to assist with any issues that may arise, or to notify CSSD if necessary.

Alexa: Our Teaching Assistant

Alexa has established hours for you to discuss your questions, problems, and ideas pertaining to classwork, homework, and assignments. Her drop-in hours will be Mondays and Wednesdays after class (4:15-5:15) in Cathedral 435, which is where we have class. She is also available by appointment, but you should give her lots of notice when requesting an appointment, as she will have her own due dates and travel plans to consider. If you would like to request an appointment with her, please email her directly at ALM323 [at] pitt.edu. In general, I encourage you to run a question past Alexa before making an appointment with me. She will be a good judge of whether I'm the better person to handle your request.