Extra History, Crash Course, and the Importance of Online Education Initiatives

Disclaimer: While I do not have any financial stake in either of these projects, I do support them both on Patreon. As I hope to argue, I feel that both of these projects are critical to the future of education, and therefore worthy of a few dollars a month.

In my first piece, The Merits of New Media in Academia, I talked about how social media can be beneficial to the academic experience. However, one aspect that I did not get a chance to discuss was the effect of YouTube and how educational initiatives based from the platform have the potential to benefit the overall field of education.

To this end, I want to focus on two different projects – Extra History and Crash Course. Both of these projects, while not perfect, show the direction in which people, especially younger students, will start accessing information on the internet., and both are likely to have a lasting impact on the future of education.

Extra History (a spin-off of the video game series. Extra Credits) began in 2013 as three sponsored videos about the Punic Wars, coinciding with the release of Total War: Rome II. The series returned in 2014 as a bi-weekly series, eventually receiving enough funding on Patreon to achieve weekly releases. The episodes are presented in a narrative format, typically following either a person, country, or conflict for a set period of time and attempting to tell an interesting story. On their Patreon page, they describe their stated goal is that, “Each series will be enough to whet your appetite and put human perspective into a subject that might once have seemed dry.” (Overview, Extra Credits Patreon) This is indicative of the series’ ultimate goal – to present a more palatable form of history to appeal to a wider audience. With over 35 million total views, the series seems to have done just that. However, this does come at the expense of having to make changes or simplify history for the sake of creating a compelling narrative. Extra Credits acknowledges this, however, and since their second series they have put up a “Lies” video, where series writer James Portnow takes time address any mistakes that are made, as well as provide information that couldn’t fit into the series proper (for example, in their series on Early Christian Schisms, Portnow uses the lies episode to go into greater detail on the faith of the Roman Emperor, Constantine, which would have halted the narrative they were trying to tell in the episodes themselves).  Its this self-correcting nature that makes up for the narrative over accuracy mindset of the series. However, Extra History is dwarfed both in scope and ambition by the true titan of online education – Crash Course.

With over 4.7 million subscribers and over 445 million total video views, Crash Course is one of the most influential voices in online education. With a total viewership greater than the population of the United States also a comes with a further reaching ambition – Crash Course has created numerous educational series, from U.S. and World history, to Chemistry and biology, Literature and Philosophy, and even a series called ‘Big History’, which chronicles the existence of life all the way to the eventual heat death of the universe. The videos themselves differ from Extra History in the sense that they are more traditional academic material as opposed to being based off of narrative, however unlike Extra History the videos do lack that corrective element; the videos have a far higher production cost and are made further in advance than Extra History, making it harder to correct any errors made (though annotations have been used to make quick corrections, their ability to be viewed varies depending on how the video itself is being viewed). However, because Crash Course focuses on greater ideas and themes over narrative delivery, it has become far more influential within traditional academia, and has served as a teaching aid in primary education. And as recently as September 6th, co-founder John Green announced an expansion to Crash Course, stating that. “All the Crash Course Patreon money raised for the remainder of 2016 will go to fund an expansion of Crash Course in 2017…including our first forays into higher ed topics like advanced physics and anthropology.” (Green, John. How We’re Spending your Money: The Bank of Nerdfighteria’s Quarterly Report. 1:38-1:54) In the video John Green also announced the launch of a free world history curriculum based off of Crash Course’s two world history series, Green states that the reason for this is that, “…if high quality curriculum materials were available for free online, it would allow schools to save money on textbooks and invest that money into their most important resource: Which is teachers.” (Green, 2:34-2:44) With this announcement, Crash Course broke through the boundaries between online education and the physical classroom. And while I have briefly looked over the curriculum, I am by no means an expert and would love to see any feedback from any teachers that may be reading this.

But why are these important? Because both of these initiatives are designed towards making learning more accessible to more people, either through the the use of narrative entertainment with Extra History, or through creating high-quality educational material available for free as Crash Course is doing. Crash Course’s newly released curriculum could be a game changer for underfunded schools, and help to provide students with a better quality education while saving schools money on overly-expensive textbooks (which, as a university student, I can sympathise with). Not only that, but both of these series have an incredibly wide reach – with over 480 Million views between them and through that reach these series can help to inspire independent learning, as well as help people discover an interest in subjects that they had never been previously exposed to. This exposure also has the potential to be beneficial to higher education, as it may provide increased enrollment in underfunded classes and departments from students discovering new interests through these series.

Crash Course and Extra History both show great success and great promise to the field of education. In a world where more and more people are getting their information through the internet, having initiatives that are both high-quality and easily accessible will become increasingly important over the coming years. This, combined with the positive influences that these series can have on education itself means that we should embrace these initiatives and initiatives like them.


Works Cited

Green, John. How We’re Spending your Money: The Bank of Nerdfighteria’s Quarterly Report. Uploaded September 6, 2016. 1:38-1:54, 2:34-2:44. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kogxHSPXKzk

“Overview” Extra Credits Patreon Page. Accessed September 12, 2016. https://www.patreon.com/ExtraCredits

Image Source: http://www.pbs.org/about/blogs/news/pbs-digital-studios-and-hank-and-john-green-announce-new-partnership-to-expand-popular-crash-course-youtube-series/

About modernaugustan

Classics major at Carleton University - fan of liquor, travel, and of people and empires long dead.
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