Setting the Bar

24 09 2007

In this inspirational lecture, one of the greatest minds in the world, Carnegie-Mellon University Professor Randy Pausch, (diagnosed last year with incurable pancreatic cancer) shares his thoughts on life and learning. With only weeks, or months, to live now, he’s packaged his incredible insights into a moving and entertaining address.

At 40m30s, he talks about one of his classes, entitled “Building Virtual Worlds” which had 50 university students from various disciplines in random, 4-member teams rotating every 2 weeks to come up with (and implement) a virtual world concept. Students were given an open book as to what they could create, with two rules: no shooting/violence, and no pornography. Pausch – who among his achievements had worked with Disney’s Imagineers – was blown away by the first cycle of concepts.

“The work was so beyond my imagination… I’d copied the process from Disney’s Imagineering lab, but I had no idea what they could or couldn’t do with it as undergraduates, and when their tools were weaker… Ten years as a professor and I had no idea what to do next… I just gave them a two-week assignment, and if I’d given them a whole semester, I would have given them all A’s.”

His mentor, Andries (Andy) van Dam, of Brown University, gave him some great advice:

“You go back into class tomorrow, and you look ’em in the eye and you say ‘Guys, that was pretty good, but I know you can do better'”.

Terrific advice in a new era of learning. The entire lecture is worth watching if you’re an educator, particularly one involved with teaching technology or teaching with technology. You can download (or view) the whole video here:


Pausch’s professional legacy as a computer scientist and educator is Alice: a free and open-source 3D development environment which provides “the best possible first exposure to programming for students ranging from middle schoolers to college students”. It particularly supports story-telling, and is designed to make programming both socially and technically accessible to young women.


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One response

29 03 2013
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Fantastic article. The information isn’t all that appropriate to me personally, but my sister will enjoy it, so I am going to send em the hyperlink.

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