Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, died July 25, 2008 of complications from his pancreatic cancer. He was 47. In addition to being recognized as a pioneer in virtual reality research, he became widely known because of his "Last Lecture" on YouTube which has been reviewed more than 6 millions times in its many forms, and as a bestselling book.

In September, Randy Pausch, gave his last lecture and told his audience that he was dying of pancreatic cancer.

He is a Professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon, where he is the co-director of CMU's Entertainment Technology Center (ETC). He was a National Science Foundation Presidential Young Investigator and a Lilly Foundation Teaching Fellow. He has done Sabbaticals at Walt Disney Imagineering (WDI) and Electronic Arts (EA), and has consulted with Disney on user interfaces for interactive theme park attractions and with Google on user interface design. Probably more importantly in his CV now are things like having had a chance to be in zero gravity.

About a week after he lecture, a friend sent me a link to a piece online from the Wall Street Journal about it which included a short video with clips from the lecture. Since that article, the lecture and Randy have gone beyond viral. The video was linked & emailed all around. It was translated into German, Mandarin and probably other languages. Pausch appeared on TV (Oprah, Good Morning America etc.) and bloggers started writing and linking to all of this.

If I summarize or excerpt things from the lecture, you might not watch it. He talks about some "brick walls" he hit along the way, but he believes that brick walls are there to stop those who don't want something bad enough. He believes that people ultimately will impress you if you wait long enough. He talks about writing math equations on his bedroom walls and how important it was that his parents let him do that.

Randy PauschDr. Pausch is involved with many projects. One that I knew about earlier that I didn't connect with him until September was Alice. Alice is a very cool 3D programming environment that allows users to create an animation without knowing programming. It's a visual interface and good teaching tool for introductory computing. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to allow for a positive first programming experience.

After his last lecture, Randy was supposed to just spend his remaining tme with his family. But he public and the media want more. There are reports that a bidding war is on for a book based on the last lecture (co-authored by Jeff Zaslow the author of the original WSJ piece) and the bidding has reached nearly $7 million. I don't know whether to feel bad that his time might be partially used in all this, or feel good that his family will be taken care of financially and his life will be remembered.

It would be a good "lecture prompt" for any of us who teach to consider what our own last lecture might contain. It's a good story to share with other educators and with students.

It's hard enough for me to approach all the other aspects of dying that I'm not sure I could write or deliver that last lecture for real.

Places to go:
the original Wall Street Journal article with a video clip
follow-up story by Zaslow
the hour-long lecture in its entirety is available in a number of places. Randy says, "The first 8 minutes consists of embarrassing introductions I don't deserve. The lecture is about an hour, followed by tributes by much more accomplished folks than myself."
Randy Pausch's own home page


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