Chapter 24 Summary

A Recovering Jerk

It may be the primary goal of every teacher to teach students how to learn, but Pausch wants his students to learn how to judge themselves realistically. The only way for people to improve is to develop the ability to assess themselves. He sees college as paying for a personal trainer at an athletic club. Equipment is provided and trainers (teachers) should be helping students exert themselves, offering praise when it is deserved and telling them honestly when they need to work harder. Just as people who work out see the physical results, students should be able to recognize their minds are growing just as their muscles grow.

Getting students to accept and even welcome feedback is one of the most difficult tasks Pausch had as an educator. In one of his virtual reality classes, students work collaboratively in rotating groups of four and give peer feedback every two weeks. They need one another to accomplish their tasks, and at the end of the semester, each student receives specific points of feedback from multiple sources. Pausch constructs charts showing each student’s ranking relative to others in the class. If, for example, a person thought he was easy to work with, the data would either verify that or demonstrate to him that he was not assessing himself accurately.

Students also give specific suggestions about how others in the group can improve. The feedback is pretty difficult to ignore, yet some students do. In another course, Pausch takes the feedback and divides it into quartiles, so each student is aware specifically of where he ranks in the class. One particularly egotistical but very intelligent student is oblivious to the impression he is giving others, figuring if he was in the bottom twenty-five percent of the class he is probably at least at twenty-four or twenty-five percent rather than in the bottom five percent. And, since that is close to the next quartile up, he basically sees himself as near fifty percent, which means he has no reason to change.

When Pausch has a chance to talk directly to this young man, he tells him that out of fifty students in the class he is ranked last in working well in a group. That means he does not listen and is difficult to get along with, a serious problem for any collaborative work. The young man is shocked, and Pausch tells him about himself as a young man. He had a professor who cared about him enough to hit him hard with the truth. What made him special was one simple fact: he listened. Pausch admits he is a “recovering jerk,” which gives him the moral authority to tell the boy he can recover from being a jerk as well.

The rest of the semester goes much better for the young man. Pausch made a difference with him, just as Andy van Dam had done for him many years before.