SmartSite helps health-care students learn up and down the state

For the past year, students from the Family Nurse Practitioner/Physician Assistant Program have been using SmartSite to participate in primary care medicine classes and work with peers from Redding to San Diego. The tactic saves them a lot of car trips to Sacramento, and helps extend the School of Medicine's reach into "medically underserved" corners of the state.

The FNP/PA program teaches experienced health-care workers to become family nurse practitioners or physician assistants. The program usually takes two full-time years to complete, but it also offers continuing education classes to certified nurse practitioners.

Most of the students don't live or work in Sacramento. Using SmartSite helps them learn and stay connected, even though they come to the city only a few days each month.

The students generally "stay in their own communities, learn clinical skills from the preceptors, and spend a lot of time on SmartSite" for presentations, discussions and similar tasks, said Wen Sullivan, a computer resource specialist who helps run SmartSite sites for the program.

SmartSite helps the FNP/PA balance two aspects of its mission: to increase the availability of culturally relevant primary health care in parts of California where it's scarce, and to emphasize a team approach to delivering health care. Helping the students learn where they live increases the odds that they will stay in those areas after they graduate, Sullivan added.

The program was one of the first departments at UC Davis to use SmartSite as its primary course management system. An initial pilot with the first generation version in fall 2005 didn't work well for students or faculty, mostly due to the program's instability.

"The students and faculty were so frustrated by the bugs in the system that we moved back to WebCT [an alternative, commercial system]," Sullivan said. But a second attempt succeeded last summer because SmartSite had grown much more stable through several programming revisions, and because the project team at IET-Mediaworks was so helpful.

"SmartSite has improved tremendously since we first used it," Sullivan said.

"Like all other course management systems, there will be a learning curve for everybody involved in the process," she said. She recommends formal training from Information and Educational Technology and other information technology resources on campus for at least one support staff person and faculty member--doing that will provide local and accessible "bridge" support to other staff and faculty, and reduce the learning curve as questions arise.

"Those who have used other online course management systems will be surprised how well SmartSite works," Sullivan said, "and as a faculty or staff member, how easy it is to construct a functional course site."

Departments and staff interested in using multiple SmartSite sites to manage classes and collaborative projects of all types can arrange a demonstration for their group by emailing