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.
Thanks for passing along this ECCO assignment. I’ve been participating in EMOB’s trial of the Burney, and so I’m having my grad students in my new Austen course use the Burney collection’s newspapers in a similar way. This week their first assignment is to try to use the Burney to contextualize either Haywood’s Fantomina or Davys’ Reformed Coquet.
I first started experimenting with these kinds of primary source experiments in my 1771 course, and what I’ve learned is that students need to be taught research skills at the point of need, while they’re preparing to do a graded assignment. Another good idea is to repeat a relatively brief assignment with increasingly complicated iterations, so that they can use what they learned the first time and master the skill. (that’s why introducing ECCO for the final research paper is a really bad idea). Finally, they probably need a lot of help to learn how to do keyword searching, but this is something that can build on earlier information literacy training if they’re taught to do similar procedures with JSTOR or MUSE. So if you’re not doing a full-on info lit instruction session now, it would be a good idea to use it as a way to reinforce the message with ECCO.
If you or others are interested, I’ll share my Haywood/Davys assignment.
I do think that
Thanks, Laura and Dave.
As preparation for a short paper using ECCO, I had students undertake a similar assignment to the one Laura designed for her class on Restoration and eighteenth-century drama this summer.
My seminar this past fall was on the eighteenth-century novel and print and material culture studies, and I asked students to search ECCO for responses to Richardson’s Pamela. The initial searching activity was undertaken in class followed by discussion of the findings. Students then were asked to review ad reflect upon their findings and post responses on Blackboard.
Like Laura and Dave, I have also found that despite this generation’s reputation for being so technologically savvy, they need quite a bit of help with navigating online research tools (as they do with print sources, too).
The seminar had only fourteen participants, so we actually did not have that much repetition (and students had just finished reading Shamela; they also were familiar with Haywood, having read Fantomina at the semester’s start). The assignment proved to be effective and also successfully prepared students for a short paper based on ECCO due two weeks later.
Sayre Greenfield and Linda Troost have edited papers from an EC/ASECS panel on teaching with ECCO that Nancy Mace organized for last fall’s meeting at Georgetown. These papers will appear in forthcoming issue(s) of The Intelligencer.
Dave, please do share your assignment.
One problem that I have encountered using EEBO, ECCO, and Burney is that students are bewildered by the appearance of the printed page. It took longer than I anticipated to acclimate them to the uneven typeface and layout of newspapers, for example.
Similarly, they felt uncomfortable with the absence of scholarly notes glossing allusions. So I agree with Dave on the need to introduce information at the point of need.
What I really liked about these brief exercises with digital text-bases was that students began to think of texts as being in dialogue with other texts. This helped them read the original text more closely.
Like Anna, I felt that one advantage of using EEBO and ECCO is that students quickly grasp the idea of the ongoing dialogues occurring among texts. The Pamela assignment was great for illustrating these dialogues–and I imagine that Laura’s assignment also conveyed that.
I take pains to show actual 18th-century books before having students work with these databases. Doing so has helped the pages seem less foreign to students.
Thanks all. I agree that point of need is key for this and most other teaching moments. Nothing like the caress of the hands of consequence to focus the mind. I find that Dave’s idea of sequencing and progressive recursion is right on the money.
As far as I can see, the information literacy of my students extends to turning off Safe Search, typing ‘big boobs’ into the Google image search bar, and surfing the links until something comes up that does the trick (or so I’m told…). They no more know how to use electronic resources for serious research than we knew how to interpret novels academically from reading under the covers with a flashlight when we were kids.
Maybe the myth of media literacy is equal parts fear and hope: fear that the students know something we don’t, and hope that we can be lazy about teaching them critical skills.
Hey Carl, my experience at Houston is probably similar to yours: I get a wide range of students whose experience with electronic resources ranges from extensive to nil. The one generalization I’d offer is that they do seem less “bookish,” or book-centered, than I was as an undergrad, and much more open to visual and other media. But even that may vary widely.
But I absolutely agree that they have no critical vocabulary to use about these kinds of research until we teach them. Now if I could only find a good exercise to teach them better keyword searching . . . .
As an undergrad I remember being relatively isolated among a notably unbookish majority….
I tell my students about my ex-wife, a corporate attorney who made up to a quarter million dollars a year by being an absolutely ruthless researcher. She would feed keyword permutations into Lexis/Nexus one after another until it gave her what she wanted.
One of the things that liberal arts majors are trained to do, at least in good programs, is independent research. It’s interesting how little that get stressed in all our corporatized discussions of the usefulness of a college education, because it comes from the humanities. Research skills, like writing skills, are one of those things employers (and grad programs) like, though anecdotally what I hear is that HR people look much more narrowly than business owners when they recruit college grads by major. They certainly don’t like having to train students how to do it themselves. But my impression is that those who can really do this stuff stand out from students formed by a basic skills curriculum.
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