Major updates coming for SmartSite

Information and Educational Technology has hired rSmart, a vendor, to run SmartSite. The change will improve the system, save money, and is one of several significant developments involving SmartSite this fall.

SmartSite, the online course management and collaboration system, will continue to look and feel much the same as it does now. It will still be managed on campus. Calls for help will still go to the IT Express Computing Services Help Desk first, and IET will still offer training.

But bringing in rSmart reduces demand on campus resources, should make SmartSite more usable, and presents "a great opportunity for the campus to leverage what rSmart has accomplished," said SmartSite Program Manager Kirk Alexander. UC Davis will use rSmart's standard version of Sakai, he said, "customized to look like ours."

SmartSite already runs on Sakai, an open-source software for course-management systems. With rSmart, SmartSite will gain new features, including different forums options; a revised modules tool; Site Statistics; Student View; better Safari support; and much better help pages.

Other features might also be added. "They need to be reviewed after we have had some training on the rSmart system," Alexander said.

SmartSite is due to start running on rSmart's Sakai version 2.6 around Dec. 18. Other recent developments:

  • The campus will offer "discovery" training sessions in SmartSite this fall so faculty can pilot-test the rSmart environment, see its new features, and review how their favorite tools behave in the new environment.
  • Gradebook 2 is now the default Gradebook grading tool for SmartSite, and will be the only grading tool offered in SmartSite this fall. (Special requests to use the old version of Gradebo ok will be considered, if needed to respond to a unique or adverse situation.)
  • The adoption of Gradebook 2 starts the clock on the sunset of the MyUCDavis course-management functions. The last quarter when faculty can use MyUCDavis course tools for a new course will be summer session 2 in 2010. "Faculty should therefore begin to work with SmartSite and the new SmartSite Gradebook," Alexander said, "as soon as possible."

SmartSite became the campus's preferred system for managing coursework or sharing projects online starting in 2007. More than 47,000 UC Davis students, staff and faculty used SmartSite to teach, work, study or do research in 2008-09, up 37 percent from the year before.

The campus chose rSmart, a commercial affiliate of Sakai based in Phoenix, Ariz., after UC Davis sent out a request for proposals (RFP) from vendors that could provide server space, program and security maintenance, and advanced tech support for SmartSite.

Discussions with various campus groups identified several areas addressed in the RFP, including cyber-safety, maintenance of local features, safety of copyright and research information, and a collaborative approach to developing new SmartSite tools. The RFP included three tools that are particularly important to campus faculty:

  • Gradebook 2, the new, improved grading tool developed at UC Davis. Campus faculty have used the tool in a pilot phase during both summer sessions this year.
  • Guest Access, available in SmartSite since May.
  • A SCORM player, which can package and present content in sequence.

About 40 Sakai colleges or universities use vendors, including rSmart, to help run their systems. UC Davis will be the largest rSmart Client to date. Bringing in a vendor should save UC Davis hundreds of thousands of dollars. Alexander said rSmart and UC Davis have each contributed heavily to the development of Sakai, and the partnership created by this new collaboration will lead to an even stronger system.

Rsmart will provide upgraded versions of Sakai, starting with Sakai 2.6 in December, and then other versions as they become available.

The SmartSite Oversight Committee--formed in 2008 to oversee the development of SmartSite--will merge with the Educational Technologies Subcommittee of the Campus Council for Information Technology. The result should be a broader, stronger oversight for SmartSite in a forum that will address the larger context of educational technologies on campus.

UC Davis users of SmartSite will continue to call IT Express for help if they have a problem. Calls that IT Express can't resolve will be escalated to rSmart, instead of to campus programmers. "We're not stepping out of the picture," Alexander said, "just out of production maintenance."

Please direct any questions to Alexander at