Synthesising Knowledge through BIG HISTORY

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Macquarie University pioneered the Big History project to support the teachers and students in acquiring critical skills and to meet the challenges of today. In an interview with Elets News Network (ENN), Professor Andrew McKenna, Director, Big History Institute at Macquarie University, Australia, shares about the initiative, its benefits for students & teachers, expansion plans in India and much more

Please share the concept and vision behind Big History initiative. Macquarie University is the birthplace of Big History.
Professor David Christian coined the term ‘Big History’ and taught the first Big History course at Macquarie University in 1989. Big History is the attempt to understand, in a unified and interdisciplinary way, the history of the Cosmos, Earth, Life and Humanity. Big History is a universal history for the modern era, a science-based origin story for humanity that links human history to the history of the earth and the universe. It synthesises knowledge across the two main cultures, and many disciplines of the sciences and humanities providing a framework to think in fundamentally new ways. In a time of increasing innovation and change, Big History provides perspective on our current and future trajectory.

What was the focus of your recent visit to India?
The recent visit to India was focused on informing Indian teachers and schools about two separate initiatives, pioneered by Macquarie University to provide Indian students with the opportunity to experience the benefits of engaging with Big History. These initiatives are:

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International Student Scholarship: Macquarie University has announced the Big History International Student Undergraduate Scholarship, which is available to all international students who apply for any undergraduate course at Macquarie University and have verified completion of the Big History: Connecting Knowledge MOOC available through the COURSERA® platform.
The scholarships, depending on the programme of study, will cover all tuition fees up to AUD 50,000 per year for an undergraduate degree of 3-4 years duration. This represents a value of `2.5 million (`25 lakhs) per year, potentially over 4 years, for a total value of `10 million (`1 crore). The first ever Big History International Student Scholarship will be awarded in mid-2016. Indian students who enrol in the MOOC and finish the six-week course will be eligible for selection.

SynthesisingProject Indian Pilot Schools Programme: In 2012, Macquarie University partnered with Bill Gates private company bgC3 to develop an online school-based course in Big History for high school students. Based on the work of Professor David Christian, this collaboration produced the Big History Project website Five schools in Mumbai have been piloting the Big History Project website materials in their classrooms (mostly in Grade VIII), in the 2015-16 school year. Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback from these schools, Macquarie University is now working to expand the Big History Project Indian Schools Programme across Mumbai.

What is unique about Big History Project? How is it beneficial for students as well as educators?
The unique thing about Big History Project website is the specific skills set it provides students to successfully meet the challenges of today. The website provides a wealth of resources that support teachers and students in acquiring these skills.
The website is designed to develop student’s critical thinking, critical literacy and problem solving skills, enabling them to be innovative global citizens. It provides teachers and students access to resources anytime, anywhere for use in the classroom, including detailed instructional guides, lesson plans, studentbased activities and supporting resources for teachers.

What methodology do you follow to make the students future-ready as well as industry-ready, through the project?
Students today live in a world of increasing innovation and change. To be industry-ready and equipped for future, students are required to be innovative, problem-solvers and flexible thinkers. Big History gives students a framework to think and solve problems in fundamentally new ways. This is hugely relevant to the many challenges faced by CEOs, scientific researchers, politicians, and entrepreneurs. Real-world problems are complex, complicated and connected. Big History provides students with multi-domain knowledge, crossdisciplinary critical thinking, and innovative synthesis and problem-solving skills required to meet the complex challenges of today’s world.

What are your expansion plans and the steps you are taking to promote Big History in India? Macquarie University is committed to bringing Big History to every student, school and country. As India is a global hub for innovation, empowering Indian students with the knowledge and skills that come from studying Big History is one of our key priorities.
At the ‘in-school’ grade VIII level, Macquarie University is running a pilot programme with Indian teachers and schools in implementing Big History Project website materials. The pilot programme will be expanding from an initial group of five pioneering Indian schools in 2015-16 to a group of 30 Indian schools in 2016-17. Feedback from our work with this core group of Indian schools will ensure the optimisation of Big History Project website and course materials for Indian students and teachers to facilitate implementation in classrooms across India. A key factor in this process will be ensuring the Big History Project website and resources align with the different curriculums implemented in schools across India.

Real-world problems are complex, complicated and connected. Big History provides students with multidomain knowledge, cross-disciplinary critical thinking, and innovative synthesis and problem solving skills required to meet the complex challenges of today’s world

Finally, what are your achievements of the project and what priorities you set for the future?
The Big History Project website is currently used in over 3000 classrooms across the world. Macquarie University is committed to bringing Big History to students across India as a global priority. Empowering innovative minds of the future, many of whom will come from India, is our main objective. Ensuring that the talented minds that come from India are equipped with Big History skills to innovatively approach complex problems will make a profound contribution to meeting the challenges of the 21st century for humanity as a whole.n

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