The Best Class I Ever Took

The best undergraduate class I ever took… had nothing to do with my major, but taught me more than any other class.

When reading Jean Lacoste’s Teaching Innovation Statement, I swear I was reading work from my previous professor, John Boyer, who taught World Regions in the Department of Geography. His infamous course, taken by ~2,000 others at the time, was designed in such a way that even given the massive class size, still felt very individualized. While I am not aiming for a career in academia, if I were to ever become a professor, I would consider adopting many of Boyer’s teaching methods– and they align with Jean Lacoste’s as well.

World Regions implemented a point system, so that you could pick and choose how you wanted to earn an A. This ranged from attending lectures to virtual lectures, and everything in between– news assessments, international films, readings, attending cultural shows/exhibits, and much more. Although there was a lot of work required to get an A, you had the opportunity to customize the course to best fit your needs, interests, and schedule. There were ample opportunities to receive credit, so the only excuse to not do well was simply laziness. Having the ability to customize the content of the course gave students, including myself, a sense of self-efficacy that I had never experienced in another college course. It forced me to be proactive about my assignments, which in turned inspired me to really be involved and engaged in the content I was learning. In fact, this course inspired me to actually pay attention and care about politics while thinking globally. Boyer was also very transparent about the way he assigned grades, and his courtesy for our schedules was very respectful.

Here’s the link to Boyer’s page about his course— it is a really interesting piece to read for those who want to learn more. It discusses specific content of his course, but also explains his reasonings for teaching in the way that he does.

Here are some highlights from this page that I find inspiring:

“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…”

“We need to have a public aware and empathetic (not sympathetic) of different peoples and diversities of cultures around the world.”

“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.”

“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.”

“All that, in a single course? Well, I do all I can, and I refuse to shy away from this formidable  challenge.”

“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?”

If you need further proof of his awesome and inspiring teaching methods, check out one of his many lectures online.  I mean, how could you not be excited about this course with his enthusiasm?

 

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10 thoughts on “The Best Class I Ever Took

  1. I was spoiled by taking Boyer’s class my freshman year. I thought I’d experience more courses like it during my time at Tech, but unfortunately did not. I loved the self accountability of the points system and felt that it catered to each individual in a different way. I signed up for the course online but he allowed anyone who wanted to come to the lectures to join him in Burruss Hall. I went every week. I have friends from other colleges who ask me about things like “what’s the biggest class you’ve taken at Tech?” and they are all shocked when I say a 2,000 person lecture. They’re even more shocked when I say it was one of the best courses I ever took.

    I can’t confirm or deny that the textbook from this course may be the only textbook I still have from undergrad.

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    1. I also loved this class and it was also not related to my major. I can confirm that this is one of two textbooks that I kept from undergrad. I intend to purchase the newest version as well!
      I wrote about this class in the CP blog a couple weeks ago actually. It was probably one of the top three classes that I ever had.

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  2. I’m very intrigued by the way this course is set up, and I wish I had taken the opportunity to take this class during my time as an undergraduate here. I’m glad you shared these resources. I am excited to pursue them further to see what strategies I may be able to try out in my own class.

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  3. I have always wondered why this course is so popular. Thank you for making it easy for me to find out more about it (and enticing me to read your blog with your great title). It looks like Boyer is completely open about what he want you to learn (knowledge and skills and attitudes) and as well as how you can go about accomplishing this. AND he creates multiple paths to success. Personalized learning, engagement, honesty–it looks amazing!

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  4. I typed out such a long comment and the internet ate it. I’m sad because I’ll never remember all of it! Alas.

    I did mention that I liked Boyer’s mission as he defined it, in no small part because it seems so politically relevant right now: “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…”

    Beyond that, wow. I just can’t imagine being able to engage everyone in a class of over 1000+ students. After looking at his resume, though, he seems to have it down to a science. (Thank you for posted on this because despite the number of times I’ve heard his name, I hadn’t ever looked into his work… or his amazing syllabus. I really like the way he sets it up “choose your own adventure” style.)

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  5. Great job, Maria! I really enjoyed reading this blog because I was so exciting to see a real example actually carrying out Jean Lacoste’s Teaching Innovation Statement. I learnt more about individualized class from your description. I checked out the link you put in your blog for the course, it looks very interesting. And it has a page for “New Educational Approaches”, that is amazing. I think I will spend more time to explore this course website. Again, nice topic and great content!

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  6. “His infamous course, taken by ~2,000 others at the time, was designed in such a way that even given the massive class size, still felt very individualized. ” It looks like I missed out on that party. If that professor is still teaching at VT, I highly encourage you to nominate him for an award.

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  7. Once time I took a class of 200, it was really hard for the teacher. 2000+ was out of my imagination. I really the idea of customizing the class content to the students’ need and give them the flexibility to control their own process.
    I have a very positive feeling when visiting your teacher’s website. Words like “phenomenal”, “awesome”, “best teacher”, “best course”, “fabulous”, “loved him”, “love the class” cover everywhere. I am so glad to see a real example of effective teaching method for a massive class.

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  8. I also had the opportunity to take this course during my undergraduate studies. I definitely agree with you that it was one of the best classes that I have taken. I really like the grading systems where he allows you to choose how you earn your “A”. That “A” is more of a measurement how much you learned than how much you memorize something. I remember that the assignments were hard, but you were giving multiple opportunities to retake it until you get the grade that you want. The assessment always asked different questions, which makes you learn even more material. If you had the dedication, you can earn that A in the class.

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  9. I took this class as an undergrad as well and I have to say as an engineer this was the only non math/science course that I truly enjoyed. Not only did he come up with a great outline for the course that really allowed students to take control of the way they learned but he also was just so enthusiastic about what he was talking about it made me want to learn more!

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