Big history course models
There are at least two different course models for teaching big history:
1. Courses taught by interdisciplinary
2. Courses taught by a single teacher.
In both course models an electronic learning environment such as Blackboard can be
used for providing materials, online tests, studentsí assignments, and grading.
1. Team-taught courses
The best example
of a team-taught big history course available on the Internet today is our University of Amsterdam course at www.bighistory.nl. This
has evolved over the past twenty years and changes every year, because we keep adapting it to the changing circumstances. If sufficient
local resources are available, the team-taught course can be supplemented by tutorials.
This course model has some major advantages,
most notably the wide range of experts lecturing on their own specific subjects, which offers in-depth expert knowledge to both students
and teachers. These experts may also provide valuable support for your big history initiative within your own university.
textbook offers coherence to the course by providing a solid backbone, while it may also provide a useful frame of reference to the
guest lecturers. These were major motivations for writing it. Because the book provides the courseís central focus, the divergence
offered by the wide range of guest lecturers actually turns into a strength rather than a weakness.
2. Individually-taught courses
example of an individually-taught big history course can be downloaded here
as a MS Word file. Also this course model has been
evolving over many years while adapting to the changing circumstances. Another example of such a course outline, developed by Lowell
Gustafson at Villanova University, PA, can be downloaded here
as a pdf.
Although guest lectures can be added to these course
outlines, they offer less variety because they are mostly taught by one single teacher. But this type of course offers more coherence
and flexibility, including the option to discuss topics when needed. More variety can be provided by short online videos of experts
as well as by a wide range of in-class activities.
Especially small-scale courses of this kind (about 25 students) offer great
opportunities for using a great many teaching tools such as studentsí presentations, discussions, observations and experiments, short
elaborations, and other in-class assignments, as well as writing essays. The potential variety of such activities is far greater than
what can actually be used within one single course setting.
Because the story of big history begins with low complexity and then
advances to ever greater complexity, the range and variety of teaching activities similarly increases. Which aspects of big history
will be emphasized in class will therefore very much depend on the teacherís choices.
Because no studentsí group is ever the
same, it is important to be flexible within the general course outline. This can, for instance, be achieved by picking activities
from a wide range of possibilities, judged by what may work best in that particular situation, including during a class session.
flexibility requires experience. While starting to teach big history, it may be a good idea to first opt for a limited set of teaching
tools, and expand this range over the years while gaining more experience. More information about these in-class activities can be
found on the Teaching Tools page.