The Promised Land
Enabling students to fulfill their dreams can be done on the smallest scale (one-on-one) to the grandest scale, as Pausch does by helping create a software teaching tool named Alice. This program allows virtually anyone to create animations for a variety of purposes, such as storytelling, interactive games, or videos. It is a free program offered as a public service by Carnegie Mellon, and Pausch believes it is something tens of millions of kids will use to help achieve their dreams.
Pausch loves Alice because it is a “head-fake”: users think they are using Alice just to make video games or movies, but they are actually learning how to become computer programmers. Just as Walt Disney never wanted Disney World to be finished, Pausch knows that as future generations of Alice are created, they will offer even more to those who use it. The person in charge of the project is one of Pausch’s former students, so he knows its future is in capable hands.
Another of Pausch’s students, Caitlin Kelleher, also became a colleague. She sees how the program makes programming easy, but she asks Pausch what makes it fun as well. He tells her he is a “compulsive male” and likes to make little tin soldiers move around at his command. For her PhD dissertation, Kelleher wonders how to engage girls as well as the boys, and she builds a system called “Storytelling Alice.” She is now a computer professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and she has been able to demonstrate that girls are perfectly willing to learn how to write computer software if it is presented as a storytelling activity.
Boys also like the storytelling format. That kind of “head-fake” to teach students more than they think they are learning makes Kelleher a hero to Pausch. In his last lecture, Pausch says he understands how Moses must have felt when he led his people to the Promised Land but never got to enter it himself; that is how he feels about what lies ahead for Alice. He wants his lecture to be an affirmation of the colleagues and students working on the program: he has confidence in them and knows they will accomplish great things.
Kids who use Alice will learn something incredibly difficult while doing something incredibly fun. They will develop skills which will help them achieve their dreams. As he nears his death, Pausch is comforted by leaving Alice as his professional legacy. Though he will not enter it, the Promised Land is a beautiful sight.