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The "L" with it: Last Lectures, Listing Accomplishments, and Life
Sunday, September 23, 2007
After my doctoral student and podcast partner Chris Essex passed away last spring and now Jerry Price at the University of Houston (who used to help me set up my talks at Ed Media and eLearn), this article in the the Chronicle of Higher Ed on Friday struck a chord (see It is about a Carnegie Mellon computer science professor, Dr. Randy Pausch, who makes educational games, video games, virtual worlds, and whatnot who has cancer and gave his "last lecture" this week. And he has 1, 2, and 5 year old kids. He is an amazing person to do this final lecture and have it broadcast to the world. His advice about life and the walls we will run into was highly valuable; especially for those starting our in academia. As someone who teaches a course on creativity, I appreciated his comments to let your kids write mathematical equations on their walls and spur their thinking and creativity like Dr. Pausch's parents let him do.

You see, Dr. Pausch is dying of pancreatic cancer which is what killed my father back in the summer of 1995. Seems like yesterday. After my e-coli like scare a year ago, I have been trying to give each lecture this semester as if it was my last. Not sure if I have succeeded or not. The irony is that last Friday the USA Today also had a feature article in a 1 year memory of those who had many of the same symptoms I had (mine was never diagnosed) and died from e-coli last year. Makes you reflect on your life.

The Wall Street Journal Online had an article on Professor Pausch, on Thursday September 20th, 2007 with a nice short 4 minute inspirational video lecture given Tuesday to folks at CMU (his last lecture) which is worth watching:

Definitely worth watching!

So, what if you had to give your last lecture? What would it be like? Don't your students really deserve such? And what would you do differently today? Would you go to work? If you had a health problem and overcame it, what would you do differently? Would the grantwriting seem different? I think many people in higher education run around like crazy reacting to what others around them expect them to do--like writing grants, going to conferences, writing reviews of papers or recommendation letters, attending another silly meeting, going to socials, etc. But if you just said stop for a day or a week, would the world stop with you?

What is really really important to you? Now is the time for you to determine that and do it. Do not wait. Fortunately, Dr. Pausch seems to have been doing what he loves to do. But have you? Have I? As a former accountant and educational psychologist and now educational technologist, I can say that the answer in the past was too often "no." Lately, I have been trying to make sure that the answer is "yes." My focus now is writing books, doing the research that interests me (right now it is Wikibook and YouTube stuff), doing a few keynotes, and helping my friends. I have others around me who want me to do their things; who want to be my judge if I do not do them; and who will think less of me if I do not what is what a professor is "supposed" to do. But where is academic freedom? My interests are in nontraditional learning; NOT in traditional learning. The dozens of publications I have had and hundreds of speeches I have given the past 2-3 years mean absolutely nothing if they did not make a difference for someone somewhere and also make me feel good (i.e., be interesting to me). Just because something is accomplished, does not mean it was worth accomplishing. Just because someone will pay you money to write up a report, does not make it worth writing up. Just because your boss or dean has an area of interest, does not mean it is worth pursuing. Thanks to Chris, Jerry, and Dr. Pausch for making me realize that. You must pursue YOUR own dreams, not the dreams of others.

We are in a society that loves the annual reports and the listing of accomplishments. Academia is filled with accomplishment junkies. I know, I am one of them. We are like taxi cab drivers going from destination to destination so as to have something to add to our burgeoning resumes--all seeking the next line item on the vita. But if it was your last lecture (i.e., your last accomplishment), what would it be? What would you tell others about life and would those words be worth saving, sharing, and reflecting upon?
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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 7:03 PM  
  • At 11:59 PM, Blogger SWIDE Effects Solution said…

    Thanks for reminding me to "smell the roses" and "live like there is no tomorrow" for one day, that will be your last day.

    I take your words as truly prophetic, not because you say so, but because you inspire the "why I love to lecture" in me chords.

    Keep lecturing!!! [until you no longer enjoy it]

  • At 1:37 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Sure thing Michael. We all need such reminders. Eh? Live for today like there is no tomorrow. Lecture today like never before.

  • At 7:34 AM, Blogger MW (My Wish) said…

    It is so important to put things into perspectives, for our own sake. Life is much shorter than what we think it is.

  • At 8:57 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Yes, Lori, too short--we need personal plans...not plans from someone else. So many places I want to go to visit and people I need to see and say hi to. Priorities, goals, plans, objectives, etc.--we all need them. What will your plans be?

  • At 9:47 PM, Blogger MW (My Wish) said…

    Curt, for me, I am trying to distinguish the "situational" and "personal" reasons that prompt me to want to leave this profession. The situational obstacles can be removed by leaving my current work environment but the personal reasons are more difficult to deal with. They have to do with my hidden motivations that are important to me and should be the driving force of my whole life.

    I think I should have been a dancer, a musician or a performer of some kind.

    Thanks for your nice comment on my blog. I appreciate it very much. Things are a bit hectic right now but I do want to take your YouTube survey. Is there a deadline?

  • At 12:08 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Yes, I am a performer when I speak so I know what you mean. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues do not think one can be a performer and a scholar in the same breath. I think you can.

    Life goals, motivations, volitions, passions, pursuits, etc., all are most important despite of situations one is in.

    Loads of time for YouTube video survey. 2 months yet I think. Thanks ahead of time on that. We really are greatful (perhaps share link with your students as an English language learning activity--smile).

  • At 11:56 PM, Blogger Dan said…

    This might be one of those, "you're meant to be a teacher if..." questions and, if so, I fail.

    I'd ditch my last lecture and spend that time with my family :)


  • At 3:54 PM, Blogger Curt Bonk said…

    Hey Dan. Great to hear from you!

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

Visit the Indiana University Home Page of E-Learning Expert Curtis J. Bonk.

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