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World Regions

My life mission is motivating, educating, and inspiring students to be fully engaged in the rapidly globalizing 21st century. In our increasingly connected and complex world, personal (and even our country's) success depends upon a global awareness and global engagement to meet the challenges of our time...and the vehicle I use to forward this goal is a course called World Regions...

download my spring 2013 syllabus (PDF)

Page contents:


The Importance of Thinking Global

Why is this World Regions class so important? In a globalizing, interconnected world we simply must  have engaged and globally literate citizens who are prepared to be working and living in a global society. We need to have a public aware and empathetic (not sympathetic) of different peoples and diversities of cultures around the world. And a basic understanding of current events and global issues is now an imperative for anyone seeking real solutions to the great challenges of our day.

Unfortunately, the average American is woefully inept in world events and even US foreign policies. International education, specifically of the modern world, is not really broached at any point in the general education curriculum of public schools—creating an isolated and isolationist attitude in the US population which can no longer afford to perpetuate itself. The world is changing, and Americans must change too.

As the world continues to be more and more interconnected (the catch-word being globalization) and as America’s role as the sole world superpower fades into the sunset of the multi-polar world, students and the general public alike are simply going to have to be more globally literate. Regardless of major, discipline, or future occupation, all of our students need greater understanding of global and international issues to develop a realistic perspective of where we fit in the global scheme. Student success in career, citizenship, and even their personal lives will increasingly hinge upon a deeper understanding of, and integration into, this wider world.

Thus: World Regions: a single course that covers a broad understanding of, incites curiosity about, and encourages lifelong engagement with the entire world at large. I am passionate about motivating, educating, and inspiring students to be engaged in the 21st century world and providing the highest quality learning experiences possible in multiple mediums that will produce global citizens and leaders as change agents for shaping the future of our planet.

Global literacy is not just a course or topic; it is a way of understanding the world that de-emphasizes disciplines in favor of systemic understandings. Human knowledge and human understanding do not fit neatly into prepackaged units labeled "science" or "history." This way of dividing up knowledge is a culturally bound human construct that simply doesn't value a holistic view of real life. Of course, I am not suggesting we minimize specialization, but I feel we need to develop a lot more introductory content in order to expand and augment students' academic palate, while simultaneously better preparing students for that specialized content in upper-level courses...and even increasingly providing general knowledge for anyone interested in continuing their lifelong education beyond the hallowed halls of higher learning.

If we want our students to be successful they need to be internationally literate, as today's graduates are likely to change jobs/careers several times and spend a considerable part of their lives living or working outside of the US. Some estimates indicate that more than 10 percent of new jobs will be dependent on international trade, and having a rolodex of international contacts, associates and friends is already the norm.  If for no other reason, our students need greater understanding of global and international issues to develop a realistic perspective of where we fit in the global scheme. In a functioning democracy, it's also probably not a bad idea to have a globally literate population that is equipped to understand and shape the actions that their elected officials enact in their name.

To get our students to this phase of holistic global-thinking, I am passionate about creating courses and majors which are more generalized, approachable and relevant than the standard academic content-specialized fare currently dominating our classrooms. I want to help our students see the global systems that are interconnected and that require mastery of a variety of interconnected disciplines to understand. I also want to provide a forum for increased exploration of a variety of planetary topics in order to expose students to the great diversity of content which they may focus their future studies.


World Regions, the course

At the core of of the World Regions course is a desire to have students gain a working knowledge the entire modern world; in essence, it is a simple introduction to the entire planet. But we can't deal with the entire earth, with all its differences and diversity, as a single topic. We need structure, and we need order, to make sense of the planet in more manageable units. Thus, the regional approach. I first start with global topics that are best handled as single world systems, and then switch scales to study smaller parts of our world in more detail.

In general descriptive terms, the overall objective of the GEOG 1014: World Regions course is to broaden and strengthen the individual's interest in the world at large; to consider the how/where/why of physical and cultural forces that shape and define the earth we live on. The course is designed to acquaint undergraduate students with a variety of geographic, historic, environmental, demographic, religious and economic characteristics of various areas of the world. An additional goal of note involves of enlightenment about modern events as they are unfolding in today's world, and instilling a sense of lifelong engagement in staying globally literate about current events.

Readings, live lectures, slideshows, news assessment, social networking assignments, guest speakers, cultural shows/exhibits, and international films are employed to promote interest and highlight geographic themes, but are not intended as exhaustive regional surveys. The course introduces basic global information on major themes like climates and vegetation, resources, demographics, religions, political systems, economic systems, levels of development, international organizations, nuclear proliferation, and global conflicts. In turn, we use a regional approach to explore brief backgrounds and modern issues of select homogeneous parts of the planet, such as the Middle East, South America, Southeast Asia  or Russia. Below is a map of the world regional construct I employ in my classes.

A more technical description of course objectives include my genuine desire that students gain:

The skills and abilities: 1)to evaluate the causes of major historical events and their impact on the contemporary world; 2)to critically analyze the media coverage of a foreign country or event from a variety of different news sources and ideological perspectives; 3)to understand and interpret global current events and international issues from an interdisciplinary perspective; and 4)to describe current major regional/global issues and make predictions of how these issues will impact the future.

The knowledge: 1)to understand fundamental issues in international relations including world interdependence and of the global nature of contemporary issues; 2)to comprehend and analyze relations between nations, international government and non-governmental organizations, and major global actors in historic and contemporary debate; and 3)to describe the historical, economic, cultural, social and physical characteristics of the major world regions the various state that comprise these regions; both in terms of their uniqueness and their similarities, as well as how they interact with each other in the modern world.

And perhaps most importantly, the beliefs and attitudes: 1)to possess a broad individual interest in the world at large; 2)to maintain a sense of on-going engagement toward current national and international affairs; 3)to empathize with diverse perspectives on global issues and events; that is, to be able and willing to see things from a different perspective while maintaining one’s own; 4)to develop an appreciation for the great variety of cultural forms and ways of thinking throughout the world, and to formulate a world view that uses this appreciation to become responsible global citizens; and 5)to possess confidence to converse with others on global topics and pressing issues of our day.

All that, in a single course? Well, I do all I can, and I refuse to shy away from this formidable  challenge. Global literacy must rise in our country, and the world, if we are to move forward as a species. In an age where globalization of all things has accelerated, why are we waiting to truly immerse the next generations of students into the world that they must be a part of? We all need greater understanding of the world around us, and we as educators must embrace our mission and calling to teach as many as we can about our now fully interconnected world.  If not us, who? If not now, when?


A Decade of World Regions Evolution

Having taught World Regions for over a decade, I have overseen a lot of change in the course, in structure and ideology as well as class size. Back in 1998 when I started teaching the course, I followed a fairly standard textbook approach (as outlined by the typical boring textbook on the subject), which consisted of a routine encyclopedia-style tour of the major world regions, with much emphasis on the Western World. Throw in your standard atlas quizzes, writing assignments, and mid-term and final exams, and you had a pretty average core curriculum course taught to 50 uninspired students. But that was not to last long.

In an effort to make global literacy more accessible, relevant, and meaningful to students, I chucked out the boring texts and old standard operating procedures immediately. Since that very first class, I have experimented with new approaches to incorporate more interactive and engaging assignments using the internet, thematic atlases, current events, news sources, international speakers, international music, and international film...all in an effort to make the material come alive, and instill an interest in the wider world through any and all relevant academic and/or pop cultural materials.

Not satisfied to simply adopt other outdated methods and models and means of transmitting meaningful information about the world, I started creating my own. In 2005, I wrote a rather revolutionary textbook for this topic entitled The Plaid Avenger's World, now in its 6th edition and increasing in adoptions across the country as every year passes. I also have experimented with using graphic novels for educational purposes and have created a fictional ‘super hero’ as a vehicle to detail and explain very real world current events...as they are unfolding right now in today’s world.

Of even greater consequence is the development of an accompanying textbook website that includes blog/podcast website in order to bring the real world into the interest and focus of today’ student. The site now has regularly updated content of regional news updates via podcasts, current events assessments, international interviews from students sharing their unique cultural insights, world leaders bios, interactive forums,  and other learning activities such as the Know Your World Leaders visual quiz, and an ever-expanding library of video lectures from the course itself that are being accessed and used by other educators and the general public alike...oh, and they are also available on iTunes as well!

As communications and educational technologies have continued to evolve in revolutionary ways, I have tried to incorporate them as much as possible into the World Regions classroom experience as well. We manage student interactions through live, interactive, on-line office hours, incorporate Twitter and Facebook as promotion and information devices, live text messaging polling during lecture, live twitter feeds, live classroom video streaming, and even brought international figures into the classroom via live Skype sessions. [read more details about incorporated technologies here]

Is it the course content? Is it the textbook? Is it the antics of the crackpot professor? I have no idea, but in the last decade, enrollments of World Regions have grown from average class size of 50-60 to average class size of 550-600...with the course now being taught every Fall semester to a record-breaking 2800 students in a single live lecture class. At this point, the annual enrollment of World Regions at Virginia Tech exceeds 3500 students, and innumerable numbers that tap into the free on-line materials on an increasing basis.

The current World Regional Geography course has been re-structured to accommodate demand, integrate technology, and increase accessibility: it is now a hybrid of on-line and face-to-face delivery styles which serves over 3000 students a year. It will continue to reinvent itself, incorporate a high degree of interactive pedagogies, and I continue to expand course materials and additional on-line video creation and distribution.
Regardless of my personal input, I believe this course should be taught to ever student, in every college and high school, across the country. The time has come for Americans to think more global...and World Regions is just the kind of class that gets people in that mindset. Expand their horizons. Expand their knowledge. Expand their international insight. Go global. That is the World Regions way.

World Regions Photo Gallery