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A Crash Course on the History of Science

Hank Green’s enthusiasm shines throughout his History of Science YouTube course and viewing weekly discussions enriched the experience.

Did you know that Crash Course videos have more than 1.5 billion views? I first heard of Crash Course several years ago when my son mentioned their YouTube channel. Since then, I have watched some of their science videos when I needed extra information while taking online courses.

So, I was intrigued when the History of Science study group was announced, based on Hank Green’s Crash Course playlist on YouTube.

History of Science Cohort

I joined the cohort with mixed feelings. On one hand, learning about what developments have happened in scientific knowledge over the years sounded interesting. On the other hand, I prefer courses with assessment items to help track my learning, but YouTube playlists don’t offer assessments. Or a certificate, although I am less bothered by that aspect.

Another aspect was that there would be absolutely no instructor involvement, unlike Mountains 101 or A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment. In lieu of an official instructor, Fabio stepped up to coordinate the study group and did a marvellous job. He kept us all informed with regular emails announcing the schedule and upcoming live sessions. He made the recordings of the live sessions available to us promptly. He posted relevant comments and threads in the forums. He even made some sets of flashcards as a learning aid, before dropping them in favor of creating slideshows of screenshots from the videos to discuss during the live sessions. In other words, he was the backbone of the study group.

Another source of my mixed feelings was that the live sessions are scheduled for Class Central’s largest audiences in America, Europe, and India. Which means midnight for me in Australia. While it’s rather disappointing to miss out on the action as it happens, the recordings and subsequent forum posts allowed me to feel part of the community. I even managed to save a bit of time by watching some of the live streams at 1.25X or 1.5X speed.

Crash Course on YouTube

I watch many online course videos at increased speed. Many instructors speak too slowly to stop my mind from wandering at normal speed, but this was not the case for the History of Science playlist. It didn’t stop me watching some of the videos at increased speed, though! Since there was no assessment, I chose to treat the playlist like a television series, without taking notes or trying to commit the material to memory.

Hank Green’s style doesn’t suit everyone. The 47 Crash Course videos are tightly edited and push along at a fast pace. Plenty of animations are interspersed with text slides of major points, photos, drawings, “thought bubbles”, and Hank speaking to the camera. Apart from a short introductory video, they are between 11 and 14 minutes long. This length suits me better than the 5-to-10 minute videos favored by some course providers. Long enough to get the mind engaged but not so long that it starts to get hard to find chunks of time to watch them.

Hank’s enthusiasm shines throughout the course. He mentions hundreds of famous scientists and explains what discoveries each made. As well as many familiar names from the biology, astronomy, and earth science MOOCs I have taken, I was also transported back to high school physics when I heard of Max Planck and Michael Faraday.

An interesting aspect brought up during the live sessions was that the course, created in USA, is quite Western-world-centric. Other cultures are rarely mentioned after the first few videos that pay lip service to various discoveries from several ancient cultures. The Class Central live sessions generally had a range of participants from various cultures across four continents. And yes, while most research is currently based in Western cultures, Nobel laureates in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine come from 49 countries.

Class Central Classroom

While cat videos and music are popular, a 2018 study found that half of YouTube users were there to learn rather than purely for entertainment. And did you know that more than a billion hours of YouTube videos are watched every day?

Recently, Class Central has been curating video playlists from YouTube and embedding them into Class Central Classroom pages. Views are still counted by YouTube and credited to the creator. Learners have the convenience of watching the videos without leaving Class Central. If you are signed into your Class Central account, your progress is recorded automatically so you will come back to where you left off in your last learning session. And if you want to go to the YouTube playlist, it’s a single click away via the Direct link. It’s easy to find your Classroom courses.


Threads in the discussion forum partially reflected each week’s topics, with other interesting snippets in the mix. We discussed experiments about photosynthesis and respiration, some historical books, and the 2021 Nobel Prize winners who were announced during the cohort. Towards the end, Fabio started a thread asking what to study next year. It attracted plenty of ideas, so look out for announcements of future cohorts!

Pat Bowden Profile Image

Pat Bowden

Online learning specialist, still learning after 200+ online courses completed since 2012. Class Central customer support and help since 2018. I am keen to help others make the most of online learning, so I set up a website:  www.onlinelearningsuccess.org

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