William Major of West Hartford, a professor of English in the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College, was honored with an Innovation in Teaching and Learning Award at the University’s annual Faculty/Staff Kickoff on Wednesday, Aug 29. The award honors faculty members who have shown exceptional dedication, innovation, and effectiveness in their teaching, as well as extensive interaction with students.
In the frenzied world of the 21st century, it can be hard to imagine how anyone used to get by without cell phones. Current students have practically grown up with them, building their lives around constant connection. Major notes that the literary significance of the written word seems distant compared to ubiquitous tweeting and texting. Thus, he has innovated a way to apply the concepts of solitude and self-reflection explored in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. While he does not ask his student to move to the woods, he does ask them to give up their cell phones for five days and write about the experience as an extra-credit assignment.
Major has stirred controversy with an article he wrote about the experiment for The Chronicle of Higher Education, which in turn inspired further conversation on The New Yorker’s book blog. Despite some concerns expressed by parents and students about the experiment, most students who completed the assignment thought it to be a positive experience. Major encourages his students to leave their comfort zones and consider the world with fresh eyes.