Every week, 3,000 people fill the largest room on campus to share nights with ninjas, government agents and the occasional Spartan — all to have a three-hour discussion about the bizarre world.
This might sound surprising to some, but not to students who have taken world regions, the popular geography course taught by instructor John Boyer.
The world regions syllabus states that the overall objective of the class is to “broaden and strengthen the individual’s interest in the world at large.” Subjects covered during the semester range from world states to global economies to international organizations.
Boyer often provides another objective to his students: “Don’t just hear the news, understand the news.” Students are encouraged to follow news, not only on a domestic scale, but on an international level, and through multiple sources.
“People like understanding what’s going on in the world,” Boyer said. “They like being subjected to international events in a very real way.”
Boyer first taught world regions in 1998 with a class of 50 students, which developed over time into a 580-student course in McBryde 100. However, Boyer said the expanding student interest for the course quickly outgrew the lecture hall.
“The McBryde 100 course kept getting maxed out instantaneously on Hokie Spa when people would sign up for classes, and we would end up with 3,000 people on the wait list,” he said. “We needed a bigger venue — there really is no bigger venue until you bump up to Burruss.”
In 2008, an experimental world regions course moved into Burruss auditorium, amid skepticism about the effectiveness of teaching to such a large class. With one professor teaching a class with students that fill every seat in the auditorium, Boyer said he understood the questioning.
“The accepted knowledge is that small classes are better — period,” he said. “With large classes, people say you get no individual attention, and you don’t get to know the professor, and it’s a terrible way to learn. I think my class has simply defied that convention.”
During a typical Monday evening class, students are laughing, yelling and engaging — despite the almost three-hour length of the class.
Seungjae Cho, a sophomore majoring in aerospace and ocean engineering, recommends every student experience Boyer’s class.
“You have to take this class before you graduate,” Cho said, “whether you have the area credit or not.”
In most classes, Boyer uses skits to demonstrate topics, using students who dress up as figures ranging from United Nations representatives to illegal immigrants to ancient warriors.
“He made the class really enjoyable,” said Jack Colston, a sophomore math education major. “He had ninjas attack some guy, and Spartans came dressed in masks. He loved anybody that came dressed up.”
Even the “The Plaid Avenger’s World,” the textbook Boyer writes each year, has students talking.
“It’s made for people to enjoy reading while learning at the same time,” Cho said. “It has a textbook format with a comic book cover.”
But amid caricatures of world leaders and recipes for foreign cocktails is a wealth of information on the global community.
To connect with and hold the attention of such a large class, Boyer relies on more than just his engaging teaching methods and plaid attire. Technology is widely utilized as a teaching tool to grip students. Boyer attributes much success to technical assistant Katie Pritchard, who literally connects 3,000 students to one professor.
Boyer conducts online office hours via video streaming. Anyone can watch him answer questions and comment on world events in real time. Additionally, he has recorded hours of video lectures on the class website.
Extra credit is available to students who create a fake Twitter account for a world leader and post tweets based on global events and those happening in the leader’s nation.