What Can We Learn about Learning and Teaching from Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture?
Mark Twain once said, “A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time”. To me, Randy Pausch is that man. It speaks volumes that I can watch his Last Lecture multiple times—to the point where I know every punch line and every pause—yet still tear up with his closing lines. Here is a man who not only defies fear of death—but defies fear of life. There are so many things that we can learn from him to honor him and carry on his legacy.
What Can We Learn about Learning
My favorite piece of Mr. Pausch’s advice, though it was difficult to choose, is decidedly: “Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.” We are surrounded by all manner of brick walls. The literal ones shelter us and keep us comfortable. The metaphorical ones do quite the opposite. These challenge us and require that we prove our dedication—our determination—to the world, if not only to ourselves. If you ask me, these are more valuable. The learning process is often difficult. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth anything. What would be the point? The brick walls enable us to determine the value of our exploits—which ones are worth hacking at for the rest of our lives.
Mr. Pausch also suggests that we learn best by “head fakes” or indirect learning. This in itself is a head fake because he also is suggesting a method of pedagogy. As learners, we should be mindful of the other lessons we may gather by focusing on a main point. As teachers, we should incorporate this clever method into our lesson plans.
As learners, we should also keep in mind that our best teachers are our critics. According to Randy Pausch, “your critics are the ones telling you they still love you and care.” While some may be hard on us, it is always important to remember that it is only because they care.
Easily another one of my favorite sayings Randy Pausch includes in his lecture is: “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” As learners, we all have end goals in mind and we usually have some plan to get there. However, often these plans go awry, and the important thing to learn from Mr. Pausch is that failure teaches us more than success. When we do fail to gain our goals, at least we gain experience.
What Can We Learn about
In this lecture, Randy Pausch gives an anecdote which I hope to relate to someday. He was teaching a new class on the newest technology (Virtual Reality) and was shocked by the exceptional results of his first two-week project. His students completely exceeded his expectations. In a state of disbelief, Mr. Pausch consulted his mentor for advice on how to properly handle the situation. The next day Mr. Pausch said to his students: “Guys, that was pretty good but I know you can do better.” This reaction was based off the advice his mentor had provided: “you obviously don’t know where the bar should be, and you’re doing them a great disservice by putting it anywhere.” As an educator, I believe it is important to keep this in mind. Without a standard, it is difficult to assess your students. But if Randy Pausch had gone into that classroom the next day and revealed his disbelief at the magnificence of their work, he would not have benefited his students in the least. They would not have pushed themselves and raised the bar to achieve even more than their professor imagined.
“That is the best gift an educator can give, is to get somebody to be self-reflective.” These words are fairly self-explanatory. Randy Pausch obviously knows what he’s talking about. Higher-level pedagogy nowadays is almost exclusively focused on enforcing self-reflection in the students.
The final piece of advice I have commentary on from Mr. Pausch is: “You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff doesn’t work.” I think this quotation fits quite nicely his “head fake” idea. Most educators strive towards emphasizing the big points that encourage critical thinking and assume that students will pick up the smaller skills and ideas along the way.
Here is the video (I’d strongly encourage everyone who reads this to give it a watch, if you haven’t already):