Many eighteenth-century scholars I know have been talking online and offline for several years about how to use ECCO to enhance undergraduate classes. UMD finally acquired this tool, so I am ready to join the conversation. What I have picked up from various people over the years has been that the classroom benefits of ECCO are not obvious. In particular, attempts to have undergraduates base research papers on primary sources from ECCO have often produced mixed results. Students become overwhelmed with the flood of information and don’t necessarily have good ways of sorting through it.
I thought I would share, then, one small ECCO assignment that I thought was effective and that benefited from hearing about these other experiences. This summer I taught a course on Restoration and eighteenth-century drama, and instead of assigning a research paper based on information gathered from ECCO, I gave them a separate research assignment: Choose one play and find some kind of response to it in three sources found through ECCO. Post those responses on our Blackboard site in PDFs and write a brief paper (2-3 pages) about what they suggested to you about the play’s reception. I encouraged them to use The London Stage, which would refer them to specific sources. For Restoration plays, they could of course use EEBO. I had imagined that this assignment would generally raise their grades, but it turned out to be surprisingly challenging. I walked them through it in class twice, and even then a few were still emailing me at the last minute.
One lesson here was that although we tend to think of our students as way more media-savvy than we are (and in some sense this is probably true), using research tools is still something that has to be taught. I had them present their findings in class, and in the end I thought the assignment was highly productive. They seemed to enjoy sharing their findings with their classmates, and some came up with some interesting sources. Looking back, I think it would have been much harder if this assignment was tied to a full-length paper, but as a small, discrete project it worked fairly well for most of them. I am planning a version of this for my honors seminar this fall. I am interested in whether or not others have done something like this, how it turned out, and if you have any refinements you would recommend.