Teaching with ECCO


As posted yesterday, Gale Cengage is providing SUNY colleges with trial access to ECCO (Eighteenth Century Collections Online) and NCCO (Nineteenth Century Collections Online) this fall. Gale Cengage is also sponsoring
essay contests for SUNY students using these tools. This is a great opportunity to test these products, to think about how best to teach with them, and to evaluate students’ responses to them. So how best to introduce these resources?

Thinking about my undergraduate Gothic Novel class this fall, I decided that short videos would be the most effective way to introduce students unfamiliar with eighteenth-century texts to ECCO. I prepared three brief videos (below). I would love to hear how others introduce students to these tools.

There are a number of other videos on using ECCO. Below are a few from Virginia Tech:

The following essays from The Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer are also helpful. See especially the appendices Eleanor included in her illuminating essay. You may have to scroll through the pdf document to find each individual essay.

For those relatively new to using ECCO in the classroom, the following resources may provide useful background. I will use Gale’s guide as a handout after students have watched the videos.

For those using Burney (which is included in the free trial), our “Preliminary Guide for Using Burney ” may be helpful.

Finally, Laura Rosenthal opened a valuable discussion on this topic in 2009 on Long Eighteenth that may interest readers. I’d love to hear updates to that discussion, particularly ideas for effective teaching assignments. What works? What doesn’t?


36 Responses to “Teaching with ECCO”

  1. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Many thanks, Anna, for these three stellar video guides on using ECCO. Extremely clear, concise, and substantive, they afford a valuable introduction to using ECCO for both undergraduates and graduate students. While some of the supplementary links and readings you have provided have appeared on EMOB over the years, it is extremely helpful to have this information in a centralized location. Moreover, your videos contextualize, illustrate, and expand the advice provided elsewhere and demonstrate the ways in which the video’s dynamic format transforms printed advice into visible action.

    I’m also glad that you used Jing to create these video guides; this tool is ideal for such a purpose as your videos illustrate. That Jing videos are limited to five minutes is a plus in many ways because it ensures precision and compels one to present information in manageable segments. Jing can also be used for commenting on papers, reviewing an assignment, conducting a close reading live—and much more.


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      Thanks, Eleanor. And thanks also for telling me about Jing, which was easy to use for screen captures. I’d love to hear how it can be used to comment on papers or conduct close readings!


      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        Using Jing for paper comments is fairly simple. You can show screenshots of a student’s paper, navigating the various pages as you comment and stopping to focus on particular sections. You can use a paper in which you have already used Word tracking or you might decide to use your own system of highlighted-coding. Of course, you may prefer to refrain from using any mark-up system.


  2. Jonathan Sadow, SUNY Oneonta Says:

    Yes, thanks for the very useful teaching guides, and thanks for your work trying to convince SUNY to purchase ECCO. Hopefully, the trial will be a step toward that goal! I’ll try to get as many of my colleagues involved as possible.


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      Thanks, Jonathan. As you know, I would love to have a stronger digital resource presence for the humanities, including EEBO, ECCO, NCCO and the ODNB, for starters. How else can we prepare writers for a digital future?

      But I also understand the need to verify the classroom utility of these resources. And I have some questions about how students will respond to these tools, which are both rewarding and challenging to use. I hope we can have a valuable and candid discussion about teaching with ECCO and NCCO here. That seems the way forward.


  3. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hi Jonathan, if your institution is like ours, there are probably initiatives going on to promote more independent research or inquiry among undergraduates. Incorporating resources like this into a class, and giving them opportunities to do put things together for themselves gives you opportunities to assess these classes as research intensive and therefore useful for teaching advanced levels of critical thinking, information literacy, disciplinary writing, etc. Students tend to be much more engaged with this kind of teaching, too, and that engagement translates on student surveys. So if you assess for this kind of impact, you should be able to show some kinds of results from incorporating this into the class.


    • Anna Battigelli Says:

      David: When you think of it, I’d like to hear your suggestions for good assessment questions.


      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        I’d like to hear from Dave, too, about possible assessment questions. In the meantime, I might suggest creating a few multiple choice questions on searching for a direct measurement of information literacy. Ideally, the questions would be devised to require the application rather than mere identification of various search practices.


      • Anna Battigelli Says:

        Do you mean asking about proximity searches as a possible example?


      • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

        That’s certainly one possibility. What I had in mind is the creation of questions, each based on a specific scenario about the type of information being sought/research aim (perhaps including what is already known), followed by possible search approaches. Each assessment question would ask students to identify which choice of search would probably be the most effective given the aim.


  4. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    As Dave notes, many universities are heavily promoting undergraduate research in part because such research has proven to be an effective pedagogical practice in accomplishing multiple desired outcomes. EEEBO, ECCO, Burney, NCO are all ideal for encouraging independent research. But the inspiration for independent projects often emerges from practice using these tools within a course setting.

    I have created assignments using ECCO and Burney early in the semester, and students often return to the work they have done for these papers and the ideas that writing them generated in devising a topic for longer final research projects. The short, initial assignment enables students to become more familiar and comfortable using the tool – and also often awakens curiosity. In some cases, students did not use their short ECCO/Burney paper topic. Yet, they did turn to ECCO and Burney without my prompting to find information for their final projects. For example, when interested in finding out how prevalent an attitude expressed in an assigned text was, students would think to check ECCO as a start.


  5. Dave Mazella Says:

    Julie Grob, the UH special collections librarian and my collaborator on our research-intensive course, developed a pre- and post-test for info literacy that we used; this was based on the ACRL Research Competencies for Literatures in English. Since we were using both special collections and digital resources side by side, the questions were designed to highlight the differences between primary and secondary sources and their most appropriate use within the research process. (Example: “If you search one of the Library’s electronic databases using a keyword and get back 500 hits, how might you most effectively change your search to get back a more manageable number of results?”) We also had questions about the best database/library resource to learn more about the biographies of the writers found in special collections, and so forth.

    I agree with Eleanor that if you’re trying to assess the impact of a specific resource, try to develop specific, graded assignments where students take something learned in one context and then create something using what was learned: part one has them selecting and researching a keyword using period dictionaries, and part two would have them producing a presentation outlining the keyword’s role in a variety of contemporary works. Sample Question: “Did I learn how to use the results from my searches in one database to refine the search process in another database?” (Y/N or some scale). I tend to focus my question less on specific strategies of information-gathering etc., and more on principles like, “try to identify the most authoritative source of information available.”

    I think it’s also a good idea to have at least one open-ended question, so that student can talk about what worked/didn’t work for them. These are really helpful for redesigning the course, or for reporting your results to others.



    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Thanks, Dave. And I agree with you fully about focusing on principles more than specifics. My suggestion of the scenarios stems from wanting to have direct rather than (or at least as well as) indirect measures. That said, gauging students’ perceptions of their skills is useful, too. Ditto for the open-ended questions, too.


  6. Dave Mazella Says:

    Sure, Eleanor. I agree about developing direct and indirect measures. It would be interesting to hear from you and the group which aspects of the ECCO search process seemed to be central to their learning the best ways to use it. What aspect of activities via ECCO seems to transform students’ understandings of the subject matter?


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      What helps student learn the best ways of searching ECCO and Burney, in my mind, seems to be practice and experience—IF they have had a sound introduction to possible ways of searching. Anna’s videos, coupled with an in-class workshop, provide a solid foundation on which students could build. Handouts can be quite helpful, too, but the videos allow students to observe various searches in action and to replay the videos as many times as they may find a need.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “what aspect” of activities via ECCO, Dave—the search process? engaging with unfamiliar texts? attending to the material features suggested by the digital facsimile? If so, I would say all of these facets can be transformative. I have used these resources in various classes from focused seminars to surveys and book-history courses and surveys. No matter what the focus/subject of the course, however, using these databases drives home the point that the texts on the syllabus represent just a fraction of what was circulating in the marketplace.


  7. Dave Mazella Says:

    Hi Eleanor, I’m asking that question because my experience has been that the transformative dimension of ECCO has been more hit or miss for my students. It seems to me that the insight you’ve just articulated (e,g, “assigned texts only represent a fraction of what was circulating”) is something I’d love for students to pick up from the assignments, but it doesn’t always happen, maybe because my students need more practice and more assignments with ECCO to get there.


  8. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    It also might simply be a matter of drawing attention to this insight after students have worked with ECCO once or twice and discussing the print marketplace explicitly. Depending on the course focus, I might also incorporate a discussion of craft, audience, and purpose alongside discussion that the texts we are reading account for just a sliver of textual output at the time. One result I’ve noticed is that students tend to be more cautious about making broad generalizations—that is, being more prudent about using the content of a single text as if it were the final word on a set of attitudes.


  9. Dave Mazella Says:

    This is very helpful, and I particularly like the way that awareness of a larger, more capacious market leads to greater skepticism about generalizations. That’s a good example of how the specific activities with ECCO foster a specific mode of “critical thinking.” If we were to put it into the language of learning outcomes, would it be something like, “students will learn how their assigned texts relate to the broader literary marketplace of their era”?

    One of the things that I like to do in my final research assignments is requiring students to research one assigned work in conjunction with an independently chosen, non-canonical work via ECCO, in order to argue their connection. When these are done in grad courses, students are much more likely to have seminar papers that can be revised for conferences or ultimately journal submission.


  10. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    I like the pairing assignment, Dave. I can see many advantages, including the decided plus of producing papers ideal for conferences or the like. Do you do this in courses focused exclusively on the novel? (I ask because of the reading workload). I’ve had undergrads work with various Lady’s Dressing room poems as well as The Rape of the Smock in conjunction with Pope’s Rape of the Lock.


  11. Dave Mazella Says:

    I’ve done the assignment for both the undergrad and grad courses I do, and the grad novel course is small enough to make it workable; the undergrads are happy doing much briefer works. One reason why I like it is that they need to stretch a bit and incorporate whatever biographical info they learn into their readings, and it’s also a good way to reinforce your point about the broader marketplace by thinking about genre (e.g., “how does x relate to y?”). I started doing this because I felt that after all our research people were still doing rather safe topics, and this pushes them a bit harder, though I try to support them as they develop topics. My realization about the conference paper/journal article came afterwards, as I saw students moving that research forward in subsequent work.


  12. Eleanor Shevlin Says:

    Thanks. Just as these databases can help students become more judicious about broad claims and use of evidence, they also very much encourage more innovative work. I’ve had great success with Burney in this vein, and ECCO has helped raise awareness about material features and an interest in examining actual 18th-century copies of works.


  13. Anna Battigelli Says:

    I’m learning a lot from your comments, Eleanor and Dave. They have made me consider a first-day handout of elementary questions (which may also serve as a final assessment toward the semester’s end).

    Here are some drafted questions, based on your comments, including Julie’s question, which Dave shared above (I’d be interested in seeing that list, Dave). I’d love to hear any revisions or additional questions you would add:

    Answer each of the following questions to the best of your ability. It is fine to answer “don’t know.” This is not a test and will not be graded, but it will be used to understand general understanding of research skills.

    1. To the best of your knowledge, describe the value for literary studies of digital facsimile databases [should I use a different phrase here?]

    2. What is the difference between primary and secondary sources?

    3. How can secondary sources contribute to our understanding of a text?

    4. How can primary sources contribute to our understanding of a text?

    5. What kinds of primary sources might be useful in understanding material from the eighteenth century?

    6. List some research questions we might ask in order to better understand an eighteenth-century novel.

    7. When reading an eighteenth-century novel, what kinds of other eighteenth-century texts might be interesting to read in order to understand that novel? Briefly explain how these other works might shed light on a given text.

    8. If you search one of the library’s electronic databases using a keyword and get back 500 hits, how might you most effectively change your search to get back a more manageable number of results?

    9. What reference work would you consult in order to find out more about a writer’s biography?

    10. What reference work would you consult to check the meaning of a given word in the eighteenth century?

    11. How can a digital facsimile of a text increase our understanding of that text?


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Overall, an excellent set of questions, Anna. Because you have several questions involving primary and secondary sources, it might be better if you deleted the question asking for the differences between the two and instead define the two terms in your opening directions. You might then also gloss “digital facsimile” in this prefatory section (I do think it needs explaining). In lieu of asking about the differences between the two types of sources, you might ask students if they have worked with primary sources in the past—either electronic or physical ones—and, if so, to offer examples.


      • Dave Mazella Says:

        Agreed. These questions should get some interesting answers. The best thing would be to ask the questions, discuss answers at length on the spot, then return to these during ECCO work and finally at end of course to see if anything’s changed.

        I agree with Eleanor about her suggestions; you’ll probably need to provide some definitions up front, and getting them to give examples should jog their brains. Getting them to discuss any prior knowledge they had about digital databases or special collections primary sources would be useful as a baseline.

        I think for this kind of research, it’s important for them to know _why_, for example, access to a primary source might provide a more authoritative basis for discussion than someone random person’s generalization. So discussions of the variables of peer review, specialization, and the historicity and timeliness of scholarship become useful as they think about how to add to their existing knowledge with a resource like ECCO. Modeling it for them, and explaining your rationale as you move through your example, makes a big difference in their comprehension.

        I’ll see if Julie wants to join in the conversation, or is willing to share the pre/post IL test.


  14. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Excellent suggestions. I like the idea of a list of questions that introduces research methods, including those pertaining to digital tools. And I like the idea of a list that can be returned to at the semester’s close to assess effectiveness of the digital tools.

    I’d love to hear about specific assignments using ECCO that both introduce the archive and help students engage in research.


  15. zugenia Says:

    Reblogged this on angels in machines.


  16. Jessica C. Murphy Says:

    Reblogged this on Everything Early Modern Women.


  17. An Information Literacy Pre- and Post-Assessment for a Research-Intensive Undergraduate Class Using Primary Sources | Early Modern Online Bibliography Says:

    […] EEBO, ECCO, and Burney Collection Online « Teaching with ECCO […]


  18. Allison Muri Says:

    I’m arriving to this conversation rather late, but thought I’d mention, for what it’s worth, that I’ve written an article on this topic in Digital Defoe. “Digital Natives or Digital Strangers?
    Teaching the Eighteenth Century Online, from Ctrl-F to Digital Editions”: http://http://english.illinoisstate.edu/digitaldefoe/teaching/muri.html. I spend a lot of time teaching undergraduates how to search online in general, and some find it very easy to learn. The majority, I think, are frustrated and find it challenging but work hard at figuring out complex searches. A small number finds it very difficult to understand Boolean operators, or even how to do effective keyword searches in particular fields.

    A great topic, and a great conversation! Thanks for a fascinating read.


  19. Anna Battigelli Says:

    Thanks, Allison. The link to your illuminating article is here.

    I encourage others to read it!


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Thanks so much, Allison–your piece is well worth reading. If others have written a piece or know of another we should add, please let us know.


  20. shgregg Says:

    I really love this post and the really informative discussion. I’d just like to add my own small posts on using ECCO for 18c undergraduate English Lit. courses. Both of these focus on using mark lists and both relate assessments. One here: http://digitalhumanistbeginner.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/using-ecco-in-teaching-8-2/

    And another here: http://digitalhumanistbeginner.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/ecco-in-teaching-2012-36/


    • Eleanor Shevlin Says:

      Thanks fo sharing this material, Steve. Making the material more manageable via your use of marked list is an excellent strategy for introducing students to this resource without overwhelming them. And as you conclude in your first post, these resources prove helpful in exposing students to the mindset of scholarly research.


  21. shgregg Says:

    Reblogged this on digitalhumanistbeginner and commented:
    A fantastically informed and informative post on using ECCO in eighteenth-century teaching, with a really useful set of follow-up comments.


  22. Eighteenth Century Collections Online (ECCO) | Beyond Citation Says:

    […] Teaching with ECCO, Anna Battigelli. Early Modern Online Bibliography. 17 August 2013. […]


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