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Penn Psychology professor Angela Duckworth

Renowned Psychology professor Angela Duckworth will teach a new undergraduate course next spring focused on achieving long-term goals.

The course, titled, “Grit Lab: Fostering Passion and Perseverance," will be open to 64 students from all four schools, according to the syllabus, which has not been finalized yet. The class will be divided into two halves, focused on “developing a passion” and “developing perseverance.” As part of the course, students will conduct structured "experiments" outside of class, maintain a weekly journal, and work with teams to create instructional videos teaching high school students about grit and perseverance. 

“I hope students, at the end of the course, know themselves better, and are farther down the path of something they love,” Duckworth said. “I want to help students get down their path a little faster than I did.”

Duckworth has gained substantial fame in recent years after writing a New York Times bestselling book on how grit, or the tendency to keep putting effort towards long-term goals, can contribute to success. Duckworth was also awarded the prestigious MacArthur Genius Grant in 2013 and was recently named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.

Duckworth said the goal of the class is to help students find and engage with their passion. The main part of the course will involve students picking a new skill and reflecting as they pursue and develop it further. Students will also hear lectures from Duckworth on subjects like “interest identification,” “goal hierarchies,” and “strategic mindset,” as well as guest presentations from Penn alumni. 

In addition to the unorthodox material, the course features a number of other elements students may find novel: The class will be exclusively pass-fail, will not feature traditional exams, and will be graded on “demonstrated engagement.” Additionally, students will not be allowed to use laptops or other technology in class.

“Scientific evidence shows you generally learn less when you use a laptop than when you don’t,” Duckworth said. “I feel very strongly about that.”

While the course has no prerequisites and is open to applications from students from all four undergraduate schools, getting into the class will be tough. According to the syllabus, admission will be determined by a mixture of application and lottery. All interested students will have to fill out an online application featuring questions such as "Since coming to Penn, how have you changed?" and "What do you enjoy doing outside of class?" However, applicants will be selected from the pool using a lottery system, unlike the deliberate selection of students in Adam Grant’s class.

“I didn’t want to create an experience for Penn undergraduates that had an unintended consequence of being rejected,” Duckworth said of her decision to use a lottery system. “If you don’t get into my class, it’s basically because you were unlucky, not because you weren't good enough.”

Duckworth, however, said she hopes the class includes a diversity of experiences.

“I’m looking to get students from all four years,” Duckworth said. “I’m looking to also to have some representation from all four schools.”

While the class will initially be offered this spring, Duckworth said it may be offered in the future depending on how well the inaugural class goes.

“It’s an experiment in itself,” Duckworth said. “I’ll see what to do after I run the experiment.”

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