If Randy Pausch’s final lecture is representative of intellectual and emotional passion to be found on campus, Carnegie Mellon University must be an incredible place to learn. I watched Dr. Pausch’s final lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” via YouTube on our living room television this evening with my wife thanks to a tweet by Valerie Byrd Fort earlier this evening. The video runs 76 minutes, but is WELL worth watching, thinking about and discussing.
I think I’ve read about The Alice Project (“an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web”) previously, but I did not know much about the background, focus and goals of the initiative before watching this lecture. I certainly had not heard of Caitlin Kelleher and her related project, “Storytelling Alice.” (@klmontgomery you should look up Dr. Kelleher, she’s a professor at Washington University in St. Louis!) I’m very interested in tangibly advancing student interest and PASSION related to computer programming, scientific inquiry, and love of mathematics, and The Alice Project (similar but more advanced than Scratch) shares those goals.
Dr. Pausch shared some very practical advice along with insightful and often humorous experiences from his life in this lecture. Here are a few of his thoughts which I jotted down during the video, along with a few of my own responses and reflections.
Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want.
Wow is that ever true. Reminds me of my own experiences in and following pilot training. I know the Center for Digital Storytelling asks workshop participants to tell stories from major turning points or “crossroads” in their lives, because those moments often provide a rich context for meaningful stories about “lessons learned.” That has certainly been part of my own life experiences.
Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you.
Dr. Pausch attributed this quotation to John Snoddy (sp?) who he worked with at Walt Disney Imagineering. Patience can be SO hard, particularly when you passionately want something to happen or change. Encouraging patience and faith in the positive potential of everyone is good advice.
In the context of the Carnegie Mellon Course “Building Virtual Worlds” and Randy’s amazement at the quality of the students’ first effort projects when the course began, Randy quoted Andy Van Dam as saying:
Obviously you don’t know where the bar should be and you are going to do everyone a disservice by trying to set it.
This quotation invites me to think of our federal government, state legislatures, and NCLB, as each defines the bar of minimum standards in terms of competencies which might have been “good enough” in the 19th century.
Just as I had not heard of the “Building Virtual Worlds” course at CMU, I had also not heard of Carnegie Mellon’s innovative Entertainment Technology Center. Wow. A “Masters of Entertainment Technology” degree? A curriculum which is entirely project-based? According to Randy:
All your time [as a student in this program] is spent working in small teams and building projects.
The focus is on DOING things, CREATING things, working intensively with others. What a concept for an academic institution. Actually supporting a learning culture which closely mirrors the work environments of highly creative, successful non-academic organizations. Revolutionary.
According to Randy, some of the most important keys to life success and realizing your dreams is to:
Focus on people and learn to work well in groups.
Again, what a concept for schools. Too often, even today in 2008, “collaboration” in our K-12 public schools (and often universities) is regarded as “cheating.” Many educators fail to recognize and appropriately respond to the fact that most of life is open note, open phone, and open colleague.
Randy designed the Virtual Worlds course to be “infinitely scalable.” Wow. Now that is an academic course goal you don’t hear everyday.
The Alice Project does not merely offer a novel way to teach computer programming– according to Randy, it is a “head fake” which encourages kids to have fun telling stories– having fun while learning something hard. Again, what a great concept. According to Randy, 10% of U.S. universities are currently using Alice software. The 3.0 release is coming in 2008. Alice 2.0 is designed for high school and college students, and available for Windows, Macintosh, and Linux platforms. Storytelling Alice is designed for Middle School students. According to the “About Alice” website:
Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a freely available teaching tool designed to be a student’s first exposure to object-oriented programming. It allows students to learn fundamental programming concepts in the context of creating animated movies and simple video games. In Alice, 3-D objects (e.g., people, animals, and vehicles) populate a virtual world and students create a program to animate the objects.
In addition to the introductory videos available on the CMU website, a preview video of Alice 3.0 is available on YouTube from a December 2007 Google Tech Talk.
Randy encouraged the audience in his final lecture to make a decision and make the right one: Do you choose to be a Tigger or an Eeyore? His encouragement to “never lose your childlike wonder” reminded me of the group connected to the MIT Media Lab, “Lifelong Kindergarten.” Their goal?
Sowing the seeds for a more creative society.
Now that’s a group I’d like to garden with. 🙂
A few other quotations worth remembering from the lecture:
Walt Disney himself (per MK Haley from Walt Disney Imagineering)– I initially had incorrectly attributed this to MK:
It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.
Advice from Randy for getting others to help you:
- Tell the truth.
- Be earnest.
- Apologize when you screw up.
- Focus on others, not yourself.
Several times Randy shared a version of the following statement on “brick walls:”
Brick walls let us show our dedication, they are there to separate us from others who really don’t want to be there.
The following piece of advice reminded me of my own blog:
Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Listening is the hard part.
Again, a great nugget of wisdom.
No one is completely evil.
Last of all:
Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.
Amen. Godspeed Randy Pausch, as you continue your battle with cancer. You have given a great deal to many, and our world is clearly a richer place because of your passion and willingness to share it.
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