Globalizing the History Class: Strategies for Globalizing the Classroom and the Curriculum in History

Published in:

A National Symposium

November 21–22, 2014

University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras
San Juan, Puerto Rico

This presentation examines strategies we have employed at Farmingdale State College (FSC) for introducing global issues in the classroom and the curriculum in history. Our goal, in addition to introducing the discipline, is to help shape our students as “global citizens.” This is a common objective in most history curricula. However, Farmingdale, because of the unconventional character of its students, faces several challenges in this regard. Our research suggests that in order to reach students unable to travel on their own we implement a combined strategy of in-class lessons, heavily reliant on technology, and short study-abroad excursions.

Farmingdale State College is a college of applied science and technology located approximately 30 miles from New York City on Long Island. How important are global affairs at such an institution? Very important, if our goal as educators is to shape our students into global citizens. Since our students work so many hours, few of them are able to examine international issues outside of the classroom. Even fewer of them are able to travel abroad. They simply do not have the time to devote to reading newspapers or even to view television news with any regularity. The majority of our students are commuter students who also work full-time. Furthermore, Farmingdale State College caters to non-traditional, often first-time college students. Most of our students live locally and rarely, if at all, travel outside of the New York Metropolitan area.

The numbers demonstrate that many of our students work more than they study. Most of our students (over 80%) work full- or part-time jobs. Indeed, many of our students must work to further their college careers. Roughly 51% of our students work full-time and 35% part-time. Only around 13% do not work and—presumably—have more time to devote to their studies. This is why our students have little if any time to devote to examining global issues or reading the news in any detail. Therefore, exposing our students to global affairs and current events in the history classroom, where we have them as a “captive audience,” is crucial to our goal of shaping them as global citizens.

When our students do seek out news of current events, they rely overwhelmingly on technology to get their information about the wider world. They rarely consult printed books or other literature unless specifically instructed to do so. For example, when asked by an instructor to investigate a global event, over 85% of students found their information on the Internet. Tablets, laptop computers, and even smart phones are the technologies of choice. All students indicated that they also learned a little about global affairs from TV and radio news, but not from books, printed newspapers, or libraries unless required to do so.

Since our students need to be compelled to examine global affairs, we can only do that when we have them: in the classroom. Therefore, Farmingdale State College has encouraged the use of technology in the classroom that helps us show our students the places they are studying. Over the past several years, Farmingdale has added some thirty-five “TEC” rooms equipped with the technology instructors need to expose students to the wider world (video and DVD players, Internet access, etc.). Publishers can often provide software to aid instructors in developing a “global component” for their classes. Use of these technologies is especially effective since all of our students are familiar with them.

Another classroom-based strategy we have employed is the introduction of a geography component to the department curriculum. Farmingdale is in the process of developing a four-year Bachelor of Science program in global information systems for the history and political science department. The college seeks to incorporate GIS, geopolitics, and global issues across the curriculum, first in the history and political science department, then in all schools across campus. Students will learn how to use ArcGIS software while learning about the geography and politics of specific countries and regions of the globe. The school of business is already employing GIS technology in the classroom, as is the criminal justice program.

However, technology and classroom study alone cannot substitute for visiting a foreign country and experiencing its culture and people firsthand. Farmingdale has become very active in urging some of our students to participate in the Fulbright study-abroad program. In the overall count of Fulbright grants received by students at the 31 SUNY four-year and graduate institutions during the period 2010-2012, Farmingdale tied with SUNY Albany for fourth place; only SUNY Stony Brook, SUNY Buffalo, and SUNY Binghamton had more Fulbright winners. Note also that there are two categories of awards: research awards and English Teaching Assistant (ETA) awards. Research awards are more competitive and prestigious. From 2010 to 2012, FSC received 3 research awards; that is more research Fulbright awards than all other SUNYs except two PhD institutions: SUNY Binghamton, which also had three research Fulbright students during that period, and SUNY Buffalo, which had five. Farmingdale State College received its fourth and fifth Fulbright winners in 2013: an ETA award winner who will work at the university level in Argentina, and another who will work at the K-12 level in Thailand.

Farmingdale State College has also established a study abroad program in Florence, Italy, in affiliation with the Florence University of Arts (FUA). Students can earn 6 credits during a 3-week summer session. Students register for one course taught by a Farmingdale professor and a second course selected from a wide range of courses in almost all majors offered by the FUA. All courses are taught in English. Student reactions to both the Fulbright experience and the Florence program are overwhelmingly positive. Farmingdale has also sponsored or participated in study abroad programs in Rome, Mexico, and Spain.

But again, many of our students cannot afford to study abroad for a semester or leave their jobs for a long period. Since many of them have to work and possess limited funds, most of our students cannot avail themselves of even the summer-abroad option common on most campuses. Therefore, in 2014 Farmingdale faculty developed a one-week study-abroad option. Organized as a hybrid class, this option requires students to meet a few times on campus for formal instruction. With their instructors, they then spend a week of intensive study (usually during spring break) in a country visiting important historical and cultural sites. This year one group of students will study science and technology in Munich, Germany, while another will study international business in Dublin, Ireland. These short, travel-abroad opportunities may attract some of these students to more advanced study-abroad options offered on campus.

Our research indicates that short-term (one- or two-week) travel classes can entice more students to participate in study-abroad programs. Non-traditional students and economically disadvantaged students seem to respond more to the short-term study-abroad experience than the more traditional programs available on college campuses. Therefore, at Farmingdale State College we have developed a two-pronged approach to transforming our students into global citizens: a “Classroom Strategy” and a “Study Abroad Imperative.” A strategy of using technology in the classroom along with traditional research assignments is still the easiest way to expose the majority of our students to global issues. However, our research also demonstrates that an even better, more memorable, and perhaps more enduring (and therefore more educationally effective) way to expose our students to the larger world is to provide all students with some form of travel and study-abroad opportunity. Short, less expensive study-abroad courses can help our students get a broader perspective on the world around them, and better prepare them for their future as global citizens.


Brewer, Elizabeth, and Kiran Cunningham. 2010. Integrating Study Abroad Into the Curriculum: Theory and Practice Across the Disciplines. Virginia: Stylus.

Ferguson, Mark. 2013. Study Abroad Europe: A Workbook of Need-to-Know Topics about the EU and the USA. Seattle.

La Vallie, Connor; and Sean O’Bryan. 2012. The Study Abroad Truth: You Might Just Discover Yourself, What You Need to Know Before, During, and After Your Journey! Chicago.

Lewin, Ross. 2009. The Handbook of Practice and Research in Study Abroad: Higher Education and the Quest for Global Citizenship. New York.

Williamson, Wendy. 2008. Study Abroad 101. Southbend.

Go to the table of contents for:
Spring 2015: The Global Imperative for Higher Education