Last month, we told you Dr. Gregory Dixon—Professor of International Relations and Cengage Faculty Partner—planned to share his tips for facilitating personal connections between students and their world. It can feel like a challenge getting students to grasp how global and political events impact their lives, or how common items like iPhones represent globalization—but there are ways to get through.

Dr. Dixon’s two-part webinar series explored best practices and strategies for engaging students in world politics and globalization through pop culture, world events and everyday objects. Here are just some of the ways you can illustrate these concepts in your own International Relations course:

Make Current Events Meaningful

When trying to help students “see the big picture,” start small. Incorporating local, topical issues into classroom conversation informs student connections between their own lives and the issues in their community—while also creating a logical segue to global matters. Bringing current events into the classroom does more than just make content relevant and fresh, it creates links to esoteric concepts for students and helps bridge the gap between the theoretical and the practical. By integrating current events into our instruction and discussion, we promote application of larger IR concepts.

Consider the Objects of Your Instruction

Globalization is a complex topic, especially when students have limited context and critical-thinking skills. Fortunately, there are ways to illustrate the fundamentals of globalization to students that go beyond traditional textbooks and articles from The Wall Street Journal. Cars, clothing and other common objects can be used to support conversations about globalization, economic development, governance capacity and global standards. Learning how global organizations like Sony and FIFA impact students’ lives through their products—then following the products’ journey—can make a grand topic more relatable and approachable.

Integrate Activities that Drive It Home

Building connections and making concepts relatable leads to greater understanding, it’s true. But students also need opportunities to apply of what they’ve learned, and instructors need ways to benchmark their progress. Guided class discussions forge connections, build critical-thinking skills and offer students an opportunity to share their perspectives while hearing a range of diverse viewpoints from peers. Posing powerful questions to students—such as Did the manufacturing of your cell phone lead to bad things for other nations?—can cultivate awareness and empathy and foster deep thinking. Short writing assignments within MindTap enable educators to track student learning and measure engagement. Dr. Dixon also recommends several other resources, including The Economist (magazine), Travels of a T-shirt (Book), Life and Debt (video) and Chimerica (episode of the Ascent of Money).


Explore some other ideas for teaching students about globalization—and keeping them engaged throughout the process.


To hear more of Dr. Dixon’s tips on building real-world connections for learners, watch his webcasts: Teaching in Interesting Times and The World is in Your Pocket. Because, while you are teaching in interesting times, the world is in your pocket.


How are you illustrating these concepts in your own International Relations course? What strategies do you use to build personal connections to world events and people, especially when teaching students from diverse backgrounds? Tell us in the comments below!

About Dr. Dixon

Dr. Dixon’s research focuses on international conflict management and international institutions.  His current research projects include dispute settlement at the World Trade Organization, the impact of economic interdependence on international rivalry and the role of domestic politics in determining foreign policy outcomes.