Sunday, August 29, 2010

The First Penguin

 I have spent the past couple of weeks getting through Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture."  I have found it to be real, poignant and inspiring.  If you aren't familiar with the book or the theme; Randy, a computer science professor working in the virtual reality field at Carnegie Mellon University, has found out that he has pancreatic cancer and will soon succumb to the disease.  The book is a collection of his hopes for his wife, family and students.  He delivers these in a "Last Lecture" at Carnegie Mellon for his students.

In most computer science fields, those who are really at the cutting edge of the field have to take risks.  Many times expending time and energy in projects that won't work.  To recognize his students who were attempting to create something new and exciting, but failed to get the desired result, he created the "First Penguin Award." (p.148-149) When in the Antarctic, Penguins travel in groups, but there always must be a "First Penguin" that dives into the water without knowing what is there.  There could be predators that could quickly feast on that first penguin, but the first penguin also gets an opportunity to make a mark in the field and learn so much in the process.   Randy would award the group in his class with the most spectacular failure a stuffed penguin as a recognition of their efforts.

In the Educational Technology field, there are plenty of "First Penguins" out there, who can assist those coming into the field in how to navigate through the issues that arise anytime you try something new as an educator.  Randy starts the section with the quote, "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted."  Some have had some huge successes after some initial failures, and some continue to be that "First Penguin" working to make a difference in a field where the institutional predators are often times the most dangerous.  When I eventually become a principal at a high school, I will be looking for some "First Penguins" to come to my school.  Fortunately, I will be able to give them some assurances that I have cleared the water of some of the typical predators.