Vodpod videos no longer available.

Last week I spent a few days visiting a very wonderful, creative, and lovely school, Seacrest Country Day in Naples, Florida.  While there, in conversation with a pair of terrific high school Science teachers, I was turned on to The Big History Project, a Gates foundation funded initiative to bring this interdisciplinary curriculum to high schools, based in large part on the vision and wisdom of historian David Christian, whose TED talk, which we showed today at St. Gregory, is above.

The TED talk is terrific: Christian uses terrific visuals, short videos, and a well-designed timeline to articulate the “threshold” moments in the universe’s history, and identifies what makes possible the development of greater complexity in a universe governed by the 2nd law of thermodynamics.    Most interesting, of course, is the role of collective learning: that only by learning with and from each other, and sharing that to pass it forward, can we sustain and advance our greater complexity.   As Christian concludes, however, with greater complexity comes greater fragility: we have an awesome responsibility as humans, we who alone have crossed the most recent threshold, to sustain our accomplishments and our creativity.

At the very end of the TED talk, the Big History project is mentioned, and it is explained more thoroughly in the video after the jump (more).

Vodpod videos no longer available.Like with so many things, it is not entirely clear  how especially new or original the concept is, as "History from the Big Bang forward" courses have long existed in the world.  But nonetheless, Christian and his vision are inspiring, and I do think there is value in better organizing historical understanding into broader thematic concepts, as this project seeks to do.  The explain there themes this way:
  • A Modern Scientific Origin Story
  • The Unity of Knowledge and Interdisciplinary Thinking
  • Thresholds of Increasing Complexity
  • Differing Scales in Time and Space
  • Evidence and Justifications for Stories About the Past
  • Collective Learning
  • Seeing Interconnections

Some of these themes certainly seem stronger than others (is “Seeing interconnections” really a historical theme or a learning activity? Isn’t there a difference?) but I am certainly drawn to the theme of “collective learning,” something so essential to the new networked world in which we live and learn today.

Collective learning means sharing what you have learned with others so that the knowledge available to everyone increases over time. Collective learning is unique to our own species, Homo sapiens. Collective learning explains why human technologies have become more and more powerful, and why only human beings seem to have a ‘history’. The idea of collective learning helps us understand the unique place of human beings in big history. Big history itself is a product of collective learning over many thousands of years.

The Big History project initaitive and website is still developing; there are some neat things there such as its timelines, but I am not yet completely sold on the quality of this program or the liklihood I would want to move towards adoption.  I’d love to hear from people who are exploring it; there is an opportunity currently available to pilot the program, with applications available here.   Share your thoughts about the program by using the comment box.