Background & Purpose | Credits and Sponsorship | Contributor Comments

This site was first developed in 1999 as an attempt to provide an alternative final project option for students in eighteenth-century literature courses at the University of Michigan . The site combines an ever-expanding showcase of collaborative student research projects with an extensive set of resources and guidelines designed to help students develop new material for the site. To date, 143 students have been involved in the creation of 58 projects for the ECE site. The project assignment, briefly, asks students to create a multi-media learning resource on some aspect of eighteenth-century cultural history connected with the assigned readings for their class. Students work on the projects in groups of two, three, or four over the second half of a fourteen-week term. No web design instruction is provided in class, but a series of technical workshops and the assistance of a graduate student web-design consultant are made available to interested students outside of class. While those who elect to undertake the project typically find that it requires more work than they initially expected, they tend to appreciate the opportunity it provides to work closely in groups, draw upon the full range of their creative talents, develop marketable web development skills, and reach a potentially unlimited audience with their findings. Please see Contributor Comments for representative student evaluations of the project.

The construction of this site has been an ongoing, collaborative effort. David Porter, an associate professor in the UM English Department, has been chiefly responsible for the design and implementation of the project as a whole. Ellen Chien, a student in the university's Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, created initial prototypes of the introductory pages and the first student project. School of Information graduate Angela Napili designed the tutorial and resource pages as well as the original version of the current ECE home page. James Mitchell, a doctoral student in the Department of English, contributed to the pages on copyright, plagiarism, and principles of web design, programmed the search function, and currently serves as the web project consultant. Tonya Howe, also a doctoral student in English, created the current design template for the site and the eighteenth-century slideshow. The projects themselves are the work of students in Prof. Porter's eighteenth-century literature classes from 1999 to the present. The project has been financially supported by the Department of English and the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan.

Students who have contributed research projects to this site have been asked at the end of the term to evaluate their experience and offer suggestions for improving the assignment. Many suggestions have been incorporated in revisions of the site and the project requirements. What follows are representative excerpts from their comments on the project as a whole.

Winter 2002

  • "This was one of the most creative projects I have had the opportunity to participate in while at the University of Michigan. It was so much more fun to do research for a website than for a research paper because the web medium is much more creative and interactive. After establishing our topic, I became excited and actually wanted to read the books I had checked out of the library. Who knew the eighteenth century could be so interesting?"
  • "After having completed the web project assignment, I can honestly say that it was one of the most enjoyable assignments I have worked on in my undergraduate career. I appreciated the fact that the project required us to do extensive research yet challenged us to organzie it in a new way, within the newer medium of a web-based environment. Rarely in my five years as a music and English major have I had to do such thorough historical and cultural research; this project provided a great opportunity for me to take out my rusty researching skills and do some satisfying digging. I was very interested in our subject matter, and I'm happy to have gained such extensive knowledge on the subject."
  • "I found completing this web project an extremely useful experience. I had only a little experience with web programming and certainly had never contemplated producing something that an infinite number of strangers might use as a resource. The project made me think about how web resources are put together and what makes certain resources more useful than others, both in terms of content and technology, in ways that I had not done before."
  • "I think the most useful and challenging part of the project was the focus on form and content. Since that is not something I usually think about when writing a paper, having to focus on the visual presentation of the information while still having to concentrate on its academic value was something quite useful and new for me."
  • "As a learning experience, I believe that tackling this web project was one of the more challenging projects in my career as an English major. This project forced me to think 'outside the box' of writing papers and analyzing narratives. Rather, this project made me interpret social and historical information and present it in a new, interesting, and accesible format."

Fall 2001

  • "I'm very glad that I chose to do the web project for this class, even though it was quite a bit of work. I had essentially no web experience before undertaking this assignment, and while I'm far from being an expert, I now feel confident that I could build a full, decent-looking webpage with all the basic fixings and information."
  • "I felt that the web project was a very valuable learning experience. To create the site, [my partner] and I had to do an incredible amount of research for each individual page, and the result was an extensive knowledge of not only what actually made it on to the site but also all of the context that went into developing the pages. I did a lot more reading than would be required for, say, a paper of similar magnitude, and I also did a lot more processing of information. It was very enjoyable work, too, not that writing a paper isn't, but the motivation of having your words displayed in a public space for others to view and criticize is an experience I have not had in the past."
  • "I'm actually amazed at how much I've learned from creating the web page.... I entered into this project with absolutely no experience, and I was very worried about my lack of technical finesse. This was certainly a learning-by-doing, trial-and-error process, and I definitely believe that I have significantly expanded my knowledge of the Internet and web design.... On the other hand, it was also a source of great frustration. I felt that, because neither of us had had much (or any) prior web experience, we would be at a serious disadvantage, and those fears were not entirely disproven."
  • "This experience brought back programming I did in high school that I didn't think I remembered. I learned JavaScript stuff. I can search for code on the web. I can make pop-up footnotes. There were so many times during this project when I felt invincible, even when it was 5 in the morning and Pizza House was closed and the coffeehouses weren't open yet, and I felt like I was in my darkest hour, and then I got the buttons to work on Netscape on a PC, and that was amazing. Simply amazing. It was nothing like a paper high, when you rearrange two sentences and suddenly have a thesis. It was a logic rush. I miss it already. When can we modify these pages?"

Winter 2001

  • "I think the website choice is a great part of this class. I think all classes should have such a choice."
  • "While I don't feel that I have now turned from fairly computer-illiterate to computer genius, the making of our site was definitely an educational experience. The three most important things I learned were time management, design principles, and and the distinction between presenting something appealingly on paper and on the web."
  • "It was more fun than just putting pen to paper: knowing that my project had the potential to be seen by someone other than myself and my professor made me feel as if my research somehow had more purpose."
  • "The web project was the perfect combination of research, literary analysis, and web-building exercises. Not only did I gain an increased understanding of British women and the role literature played in forming their relationships and alliances, but I now can confidently use Dreamweaver software and navigate my way through web design problems."
  • "I chose this project because, as an English major, I write ten-page papers in nearly every class and I wanted something different. I also thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about using the web. Having done the project, I am extremely glad I chose it. Although I spent much more time on this project than I would have on a paper (and I wrote approximately as much text), I had fun working with my group and I learned enough about the web to feel confident in future endeavors."
  • "The most educationally valuable aspect of this project for me was the fact that I was forced to face my demon: the computer.... My whole family has been on the ECE site gushing over my web page. They cannot believe I actually sat at a computer long enough to make it, and I can hardly believe it myself."
  • "I have to admit that there were times when I thought that I made the worst decision possible by choosing to do the web project. Losing files, finding times to meet, figuring out how to use Dreamweaver effectively, and playing in Photoshop almost sent me through the roof. None of this seemed worth it until the day that the project was done. Now, I feel like I would do it all again if I had the choice."
Fall 2000
  • "This was one of the most educational and fun assignments I have done at the university."
  • "Unlike research papers which allow very little room for creativity, I enjoyed the fact that on our website we were able to come up with original and creative ways to present our information on the masquerade."
  • "I was very nervous about doing this project, because before I started working on it, I knew nothing about creating a web site. But since I am going into teaching, I thought that knowing how to create a site would be a useful skill to have as a teacher. I have to say that I never worked so hard on a project in my life, but now I feel like all the hard work was worthwhile.... Not only was this project useful in increasing my confidence with technology, but I felt that it helped me to better understand some of the novels we read, as well as the historical context in which these novels were written."
  • "From an academic standpoint, this project really allowed me to work with the researched topic in a creative manner. When writing a paper, one has to think about the text in a certain way, but I think the web project was much more engaging and allowed more room for freedom of expression."
  • "Although I had some previous experience, this assignment really helped me to experiment with new devices and fine-tune the old. I feel, even in terms of the subject matter, I learned a lot more than I would have from a paper."
  • "Unlike a paper, where I usually focus on a small aspect of one literary work, the web project allowed me to delve into the history of the Eighteenth Century in an interactive and fun way, thus providing me with a wide backround for much of the literature I have read and will continue to read."
  • "I found this particular project to be much more useful and interesting than a simple research paper. Before taking this class, I had a small amount of web development experience, but this project helped me to expand my skills and learn new ways to apply them.... Creating a web site requires a difference approach from writing a research paper, but the modes of thinking that I learned from this project will still enable me to think differently about every paper that I write."
  • "The web project was honestly one of the most interesting and effective projects that I have ever completed.... The knowledge I amassed while doing this project will stay with me as I graduate college and move out into the corporate world."
  • "Pursuing an English degree at the University over the past four years has meant that course after course I completed essay after essay. Often times it felt as if it was the same assignment over and over again--just a different polot and cast of characters. This website assignment challenged me to break that routine... The best part of this project was that I felt as if it had a higher purpose. I was part of creating something that would be enjoyed by my classmates and countless potential Internet surfers."
  • "I can describe this experience of designing and creating our own web site using merely one adjective: amazing.... What I did not expect, besides the time commitment, was how much I enjoyed researching the topic, creating an innovative and unique web design, and constructing the web site from the beginning stages.... To be honest, I spent more time on this "project" than any other class assignment in my four years at the University of Michigan, including studying for finals, writing term papers, and working on semester-long projects. However, here's the difference between these other class projects and our web site: I enjoyed the work."
Winter 1999
  • "One of the most useful and productive projects I've ever done."
  • "I'm glad I had the chance to learn how to make a web page. I thought it was an excellent idea."
  • "The web-based project was very cool--gave me the opportunity to learn a new medium along with a new subject."
  • "The option of a web page project was awesome! I hate exams, and this allowed me to demonstrate my knowledge of the course in a way that was much less nerve-wracking."
  • "The web project was a lot of fun--I think people needed a little more help on learning and getting help with problems, but it was certainly an innovative and very interesting experience. Keep it in the course!"
  • "The web-based stuff was great. I learned important skills and really benefitted from the experience."
  • "The one thing I enjoyed most about this course was the chance to create a website. It was fun, I learned a lot about the subject I chose, and about web pages and I think it was a good opportunity for me. I wish more teachers would do this." 
  • "I loved the web project - that was the highlight of the class for me. I would highly recommend offering it as an option again in the future. It was a great way to really study and research on a topic I wanted to learn about, and it was refreshing to put it in a different 'medium' than a paper." 

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