It's transition time: SmartSite debuts as full-fledged system this fall

SmartSite goes mainstream in three months, supercharging the possibilities for using online tech to teach and work together on campus. So if you ignored this new course-management and staff-collaboration system during its now-ending pilot phase, figuring you'?d check back later--well, that moment has arrived:

--Thousands of your colleagues are using it, or at least trying it. SmartSite has attracted 8,584 unique users, mostly students and faculty so far. A year ago, at the end of SmartSite's first full quarter as a pilot, the number of users totaled just 351.

--GradeBook and the other course-management tools in MyUCDavis, used by about one-fifth of campus faculty, are going away. They have not been updated in years, and are difficult to expand. They will be replaced by the better range of tools in SmartSite starting in fall 2008.

--SmartSite continues to develop. This month SmartSite (known as CERE in the School of Veterinary Medicine) moves up to version 2.4, which will revamp the basic foundation of the system and add more features and tools, including a course-management module for handling courses with multiple sections.

--It's becoming easier to deploy. Beginning this summer, instructors, staff and students won't need approval from the program's managers to create a site. They will be able to create a site themselves by following the instructions at

--The support services have expanded. The campus now offers more than a dozen short classes per quarter on various aspects of SmartSite, and the IT Express help desk has added two SmartSite specialists. Two faculty trainers who joined the SmartSite group last winter continue to add course s on different ways to teach with and use the system.

--Every year, more students arrive on campus fluent in advanced online technology. Using SmartSite can help faculty both meet students' expectations and take advantage of their skills.

All in all, SmartSite has emerged from the ground like a plant in the spring. There's more growth to come, but a year of feedback and development has earned SmartSite a serious look from all faculty and staff--not just the technologically adventuresome--as a resource that can help them work.

Engaged by the wiki

SmartSite runs on Sakai, an open-source software developed by a group of about 100 universities and similar institutions. They create products specifically useful for colleges.

SmartSite offers users two basic types of sites--for classes or for projects--plus technological tools that help faculty, staff and students share, discuss, access and organize their work. Staffers have used it to coordinate committee work, track projects, post announcements, and do similar tasks.

The most popular features so far include the chat, resources and class wiki tools. The chat tool supports online group discussions; the resource features are used for storing, collecting or distributing messages and documents; and the wiki is a shared online document that anyone with permission can edit.

Several instructors have told their students to use the wiki to write shared reports or journals. "The wiki is an engaging tool in a whole range of disciplines," said SmartSite program manager Kirk Alexander. "Faculty are finding they can do a lot with it."

Version 2.4 brings two major sets of improvements to the campus. It adds more choices to the menu of tools and it overhauls the u nderpinnings of SmartSite, improving the way it interacts with the Banner student registration system. The Tests and Quizzes feature will gain more upgrades later this year, including a better display for students.

GradeBook, the grading tool, is also getting better, particularly in "categories and weighting." That's the ability to group graded items into categories, and then automatically calculate a final score based on a weighted combination of the scores from different items and categories, for each student in a class--regardless of how many tests, exams and other kinds of graded projects an instructor might require. GradeBook cannot do all of this yet, but Alexander expects it to gain this capability by winter quarter 2008.

Sakai will evolve, adding tools and refining the system to keep pace with the changing needs of instructors. (New tools the campus can consider include Gallery, which lets users select a collection of images and view them in a specific order; and ImageQuiz, which an instructor uses to quiz students on their knowledge related to a position within an image, such as, "Where on this map would you find Mrak Hall?")

Committees are using SmartSite to share working documents, Alexander said, and departmental tech support teams are using it to help each other support their clients. The campus SmartSite group, he added, will keep exploring ways to reach faculty, and to make SmartSite pedagogically interesting.

SmartSite is useful for everyday tasks, said Andy Jones, a key faculty adviser to Mediaworks and a lecturer in the University Writing Program. But SmartSite's virtual locations and organizing structures, he said, also "encourage faculty to consider their teaching and research tasks more thoughtfully, deeply and purposefully."

"A new phase is about to begin for UC Davis," IET Vice Provost Pete Siegel wrote in a campus letter about SmartSite in May, "a phase that encourages new forms of communication, learning, collaboration and community building."

"Join us," he wrote, "and experience it for yourself."

For more information, including brief stories about how several people on campus already use SmartSite, click here.