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Harnessing Knowledge, Multiplying Information

April 1, 2014

Dear KU Community:

The KU Course Redesign Task Force, ably led by psychology chair Ruth Ann Atchley, has spent the last six months investigating priorities and best practices to improve the learning environment at KU, especially within large gateway courses taken by first-year students. I am looking forward to sharing the full report with campus later this spring.

However, I am writing today with an added sense of urgency about a few of the identified changes that we need to begin acting upon immediately:

  • The task force has been impressed by the growing trend across campus in which standard office desks and chairs are being replaced by “standing” desks. Faculty and staff who use these standing desks find that their productivity has soared. Therefore, beginning this summer, all classrooms in Fraser Hall will be transformed into “innovative standing desk classrooms,” because why should the instructors be the only ones benefitting from the increased productivity that comes from standing during class?
  • Leon Greene, associate professor of health, sport, and exercise science, has collaborated with Joseph Donnelly, professor and director of the Center for Physical Activity and Weight Management, on research showing that elementary school children who have physical activity incorporated into their curriculum outperform their peers academically. As an example, a second-grade teacher can use physical activity to teach students to count by twos by asking the students to stand and jump in double time every time they count. I’m asking professors Green and Donnelly to implement a similar pilot project in all introductory chemistry labs. I expect the results could be explosive.
  • Psychology professors Paul Atchley and Ruth Ann Atchley along with a colleague at University of Utah have garnered national attention for their research demonstrating the cognitive benefits for individuals who immerse themselves in nature, and earlier this spring the team received a $65,000 grant from the Sunflower Foundation to explore whether such benefits could translate into the workplace. Through the Research Investment Council, KU is committing additional seed funding to transform lecture auditoria in Budig and Wescoe halls to resemble the southern Utah backcountry where the Atchleys performed their original study. Chairs and carpet will be replaced by sand and boulders, with the walls rebuilt to resemble the sides of canyons. GPS devices will be available at entrances for students dropping off exams.
  • Course delivery methods like MOOCs are fine for some schools, but at KU we’re developing a more personal way to gain instant access to our world-class faculty. Physics professor and former astronaut Steven Hawley will be our first Intercontinental Ballistic Professor (ICBP). A student anywhere in the world can enroll in one of Hawley’s courses online, and upon payment of tuition and fees the ICBP program will deliver a payload to the student consisting of a KU faculty member, books, coursework, and exams within 35 minutes (return postage not included). Our first launch site is already under construction next to the Park and Ride lot.

An unfortunate snow storm several weeks ago caused the cancellation of the much-anticipated Large Data Management Genomic Biodiversity Summit on March 3, and we are actively working to reschedule the “big data” event with our Microsoft sponsors. In the meantime, several other intriguing initiatives involving big data are rapidly gaining momentum across campus:

  • Last week’s panel discussion on social media at The Commons, entitled “What is Free Speech in the Age of Social Media,” was such a great success that we are now embarking upon a complete Bill of Rights series. Next up is the Second Amendment. Details will be released soon for an event later this semester featuring a panel of national experts to be held in the KU Natural History Museum. For one night only, Lewis Lindsay Dyche’s famous 1893 Panorama will be transformed by Tuckerbrook Conservation LLC of Lincolnville, Maine into a penny arcade shooting gallery. Come see the animals jump to life when you hit the targets!  KU landmarks such as the steam whistle and Campanile will also be added. Hit the life-sized version of Vice Chancellor Tim Caboni and see his bow tie spin. Each hit of an automated Prof. Burdett Loomis will generate a new opinion on Kansas politics. Don’t miss it!
  • Matt Burke, professor of visual arts, and Mark Jakubauskas, research associate professor with the Kansas Biological Survey, are working with the Little Free Library Movement and over 30 members of the Lawrence community to build birdhouse-sized “pocket libraries” in front lawns all across Kansas. To realize the project’s full potential, I’ve asked Matt and Mark to collaborate with Dean Lorraine Haricombe to also construct “pocket research libraries” powered by KU ScholarWorks so that Kansans gain ready access to a wealth of KU discoveries and innovations. These beautiful all-wood cases for your iPhone or Android smartphone will come in a variety of colors and varnishes.

Making connections

On page 55 of our strategic plan Bold Aspirations, we preface our strategic initiative theme of Harnessing Information, Multiplying Knowledge in this way:

A connected human network thrives on technology that accelerates the creation and sharing of knowledge. Harnessing the potential of information in a positive way promises to revolutionize how we live and enhance our civilization.

The great philosopher Yakov Smirnov, though, identified a simpler connection for the human network:

Everybody laughs the same in every language because laughter is a universal connection.

As we continue to connect with one another, with everyone across Kansas, and globally with our world partners in pursuing our bold aspirations, I hope this April Fools message is able to reinforce that universal connection.

Provost's Message Signature: 

Rock Chalk!
  -- Jeff

Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor

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RT @KUServes : Join us on January 27 for the 1st Annual KU Summit on Community-Engaged Learning and Scholarship! The goal of the Summit is…


"Rock Chalk, indeed!"

"Thank you for taking the time and effort to create this enjoyable April Fool’s Day message. It was very entertaining!"

"Once again I enjoy your sense of humor in this special set of announcements."

"LOL!  Thanks for the chuckle."

"It does me good, along with the fabulous first section of the UDK, to see our university DOES have a sense of humor.  You can laugh or go crazy with situations in our world and right here on campus, and I believe laughter is the better solution.  I am surprised, however, that you didn’t mention our parking permit prices are going to go up next year, and the four years after, in an effort to raise funds for the SHOOP project.  You know, the Steve Hawley Opportunity for Off-Campus Parking, located on the moon.  It works similar to the ICBP program, which is my favorite out of your list."

"Very funny!  :)"

"Briliant.  Love it!"

"This sounds v. good. Frederick the Great of Prussia used to write standing. I do hope, however, that exceptions will be possible for those who need to sit."

"To hell with just standing around.  Make students and instructors use pogo sticks during all class sessions.  This will cut down on questions from students because they will have their hands wrapped around the sticks and won't be able to raise them.   It will also eliminate the need for all visual technology because no one can see straight while bouncing up and down. Over the next five years we can generate really big data regarding the time and money saved by eliminating questions and visual technologies.  Ah, what to do with the windfall?"

"Meant to write sooner to say how much I enjoy your April 1 message.  Humor helps us live better and longer."

"You really had me going for a minute!  Thanks for a great belly laugh, this made my day."

"I’m glad I read this eNews to the very end! I thought someone was going looney tunes up in Strong Hall! LOL"

"I love this annual message. It helps us all remember that though we are a serious academic and research institution, we can also have fun."

"Can faculty members request standing desks for their offices?"

"While I applaud the new initiatives announced today, I am concerned that, much as last year, more is being promised than will ever be delivered. For example, my elation at last year's promised ban on "texting while walking on campus" has turned to disillusionment; my anticipation of the promised "fish oil stations in all campus buildings" is nothing but a rancid memory. Why then should we expect fulfillment this year? Please understand that although I am very supportive of what Dolph Simons calls "bold, visionary leadership", I am concerned that overly-grandiose visions may be no better than none at all."


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