October 22, 2012 | By Bill Gates
The Big History Project: Teachers – Come Take a Look at the Online Course
After Big History’s two-year pilot program, now any educator can request credentials to explore the Big History Project online courseware, as well as use and share any of the content they like.
After two years of development, we are ready to share our progress on The Big History Project. As you’ll remember, the Big History Project looks at 13.7 billion years of history – from the Big Bang to modernity – with a goal of revealing common themes and patterns that help students better understand people, civilizations and our place in the universe.
The Big History Project is in the second year of a pilot program designed to create and refine a world-class curriculum and online experience that will ultimately be freely available to schools worldwide. More than 80 partner schools are enrolled in our current pilot program.
So, now that we’re into our second year, any educator can request credentials to our online courseware and take a look, as well as use and share any of the content you like. You can also apply to join our 2013/14 pilot program, which is the last year of the pilot before the course opens up to the public.
As you might remember, two years ago I met with David Christian on a trip down to San Diego. I had just finished taking his online course on big history and really enjoyed it. In fact, it was – and still is – my favorite course of all time. It resonated with me because it seeks to do something audacious, but important: lay out a “complete” view of history spanning all the way back to the Big Bang.
The meeting with David was very productive, and after a discussion we decided to figure out a way to make big history available to high school students. Traditionally, the course had been taught at the university level, so we knew we were in for a lot of work making the curriculum and content work for younger students. But by working with some amazing teachers and pilot schools, I think we’ve put together something really special, and now we’re ready to make it available to others.
We are still in a pilot phase. Our goal is to support both teachers and students participating in the course. We also want feedback on how it needs to be improved. But the online experience and content is far enough along that many different teachers can benefit.
The content is really exciting. It mixes traditional video lectures with animations, texts and infographics. Our hope is the variety of formats helps to keep the course exciting and engaging while also helping students to absorb the material. A lot of it is visually beautiful, but more importantly, the content is built to bring the concepts to life and nurture both critical thinking and literacy skills. Big history helps develop the kind of literacy skills that are highlighted in the Common Core Standards now making their way into most every U.S. state curriculum.
You can get a sense of some of the content here. One of my favorite pieces is one on horses. “The Little Big History of Horses” looks at the evolution of the horse, and how, once domesticated, it helped advance human communication and transportation, accelerating global change. It’s a great example of the way big history treats subjects differently by going back much further in time.
Students in our pilot program generally report a much higher level of confidence relative to work in more specific science and history courses, and our evaluation of student work suggests strong growth in some key areas – like literacy skills. These outcomes are core to the course. Ultimately we want big history to provide a strong foundation for students, equipping them with the skills and knowledge needed to excel in more advanced courses.
We also want more partners and test sites. Any teacher or administrator who explores the site and thinks that the course could work well for them can apply for our 2013/14 pilot program. We have lots of ideas about how the course can grow and get better – ranging from new content to more advanced class management functionality on the website – and it will be up to the schools and teachers in our last pilot program to really help us think through these ideas to get it right. It will be the last year of the pilot before we make the course broadly available to anyone for free.
Later next year, we will be making the course content available to the general public online. But for now, we’re focusing only on teachers and administrators.
I loved this course. I hope you will too.