Look Up And Learn

Heather Corbally Bryant, lecturer in the writing program

Photo by Richard Howard

Heather Corbally Bryant, lecturer in the writing program, teaches You Are (Not) Here: Writing in the Distracted Age. In the course description, she wrote, “Connecting to this virtual, ceaselessly changing world often means turning away from the physical realm and prioritizing immediate reaction over thoughtful reflection.”

That’s an effect Writing 116–117 aims to undo. The first step: Put down your phone. (This rule is so serious that Bryant marks students who look at their phones during class as absent.)

Through two semesters, students in the first-year seminar read writings by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Maya Angelou, Annie Dillard, and more. And they get outside the classroom, exploring both the College campus and the larger world around Wellesley. Last year, Bryant says, “We went to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. We went to the Concord Museum to see the Thoreau exhibit. We went to Walden Pond.”

This year, the seminar has received support from the Paulson Ecology of Place Initiative, a five-year program funded during the comprehensive campaign by Wendy Judge Paulson ’69 to nurture Wellesley students’ connection with the natural environment on campus—and take that concern out into the world. Bryant’s plans include “creating an interpretive nature trail on campus with a combination of poems and writings about place, installed in situ for all to share.”

Bryant’s class doesn’t reject technology out of hand; rather, it aims to manage it as a tool. Students write blogs, and a major assignment is to create a digital story. Last year, one student “walked the campus looking at her phone, and then walked the campus and looked up,” for the assignment, Bryant says. “She did the same route the two different ways. And she realized that we’re in this place of incredible beauty that we don’t see.”

Putting down phones and getting out in the world changes students’ perspective, says Bryant. And, she adds, “It really changes their experience of place, because they are looking around, they are walking around, they are noticing.”

Bryant, who has published several volumes of poetry as well as scholarly writing, keeps her own writing—her own noticing—alive by writing a poem every day. “I’ve been doing it since August 15, 2003,” she says.

And not a phone in sight.

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