New version, new trainers set stage for SmartSite's big expansion this fall

An important software update and new support staff have kept UC Davis' emerging course-management system on track to replace the similar, less extendable tools in MyUCDavis.

SmartSite is scheduled to reach a milestone this September, when it will become the preferred course-management system for the campus. Plans call for the tools in MyUCDavis to be shut down in 2008-09, but run alongside SmartSite until then. SmartSite began as a pilot project last spring.

Meanwhile, programmers continue to upgrade the system.

After midnight on Feb. 23, programmers updated SmartSite from Sakai version 2.1 to 2.3 (Sakai is the open source, university-oriented course management system known as SmartSite to most of UC Davis). The upgrade adds features to existing tools and fixes more than 450 known issues. The changes include increased stability, new features like commenting and RSS notifications to the wiki, as well as an improved text editor that enhances many existing tools.

The work in February also keeps UC Davis on track to update to version 2.4, the edition targeted for general campus use, this summer. Two highlights of the fall rollout version of SmartSite are more flexible course management features and additional tools.

Use of SmartSite keeps growing. As of Feb. 22, it had:
  • 6,028 unique log-ins, up about 100 percent from November.
  • 628 project sites, up 7 percent.
  • 308 course sites, up 35 percent.

Tech and teach; teach and tech

Helping faculty learn how to use SmartSite will be two new faculty training coordinators, who have been hired by IET-Mediaworks to help instructors discover and apply a broad range of educational technology.

Trainers Steve Faith and Leslie Madsen-Brooks have strong connections to the campus. Their backgrounds as a n engineer (Faith) and teacher (Madsen-Brooks) provide complementary skills to support SmartSite, and give them differing perspectives on how to help users.

Their business cards display their different approaches. Faith's card--emphasizing his programming skills, experience with campus IT, and time at Apple Inc.--states "Technology and Pedagogy." Madsen-Brooks' card flips the order, listing "Pedagogy and Technology."

Putting teaching first reflects her background--specifically, her experience as a teacher of science and technology from a cultural perspective. She has taught in the American Studies department, and did research on women in science and technology in Cultural Studies.

Their backgrounds help strengthen SmartSite's training program, and exemplify the project's general sense of collaboration. For training schedules and other information about SmartSite, click here.

Undergraduate chatter

SmartSite, nearly a year old as a pilot project, has been used by hundreds of UC Davis students. Undergraduates seem to like its chat room--a lot. It's useful for evening study sessions and cramming.

"I would say their favorite tool is the virtual discussion section we created using the chat tool," says Kristina De Korsak, a graduate student instructor in Linguistics. "The students actively participate, seem to enjoy the conversations, and appreciate the fact that they do not have to return to campus late in the evening."

"The lower division students are fond of the chat room," agreed physics professor Joe Kiskis, "the night before problem sets are due."