SmartSite training ramps up with two new trainers

By Brianna Van Der Veen
If you aren't SmartSite savvy quite yet, here's help: The organizers of UC Davis' new course management system have hired two new faculty technology training coordinators with strong campus connections, Leslie Madsen-Brooks and Steve Faith.

They joined the SmartSite training team last month to boost awareness and familiarity with the system for faculty, students, researchers, and staff. Begun as a pilot project last spring, SmartSite will start to replace the simpler, less versatile course management tools offered through the MyUCDavis Web portal this fall. By the start of the next school year, 2008-09, the course tools at MyUCDavis will be shut down and replaced by SmartSite.

Faith and Madsen-Brooks have been hired by Information and Educational Technology to assist that change and to get more people on campus thinking about SmartSite. They fill a gap between the Teaching Resources Center and IT Express, Madsen-Brooks says, by helping to familiarize faculty with the new technology and showing them how to use it in their work and teaching.

The system includes much more than the Gradebook and QuizBuilder tools found on MyUCDavis. "SmartSite is not just about gradebooks," she says. "There are tons of other terrific tools to get students collaborating."

Within the two basic types of sites--class sites (for faculty and students) and project sites (for clubs, researchers, and the like)--SmartSite offers tools to host collaborative websites, load media files and Web content inside SmartSite, and more.

The engineer and the teacher

The two new trainers arrived with useful backgrounds. Faith worked at UC Davis in the IT department for 12 years before becoming a systems engineer for Apple Inc. in 1997. After working for App le for four years, he spent a few more working for a technology startup and playing "Mr. Mom" to his young children before returning to campus.

While first and foremost a programmer, he also enjoys teaching and the exciting work done by faculty. When a friend pointed out the job opening, Faith saw an opportunity to make a difference on campus using his engineering and technology skills. His job, he says, is to "help faculty learn how to solve pedagogical problems using appropriate technology."

Madsen-Brooks came to UC Davis in 1997 to work on a master's degree in creative writing, accomplished in 1998. She returned for a doctorate in cultural studies from 2001-06. In the Cultural Studies Program, the topic of women in science and technology piqued her interest. Her interest rose as she incorporated aspects of technology into the American Studies classes she taught.

When the SmartSite training job opened, Madsen-Brooks saw a chance to use both her teaching skills and her knowledge of technology. She began working part-time in December and moved to full-time last month.

Classes every Friday

Every Friday, the trainers offer two SmartSite classes--two-hour workshops ranging from introductory to advanced topics.

Some classes include a "crash course" for new site owners; a workshop on wiki, forum, and chat; a seminar on grading student work, and another on organizing a dissertation in SmartSite. Attendance has ranged from five people to 20. Most have been eager to learn the new technology. The trainers' work will become trickier down the road when they will need to reach out to faculty less interested in technology.

To make their positions more accessible, they renamed their jobs on their business cards. Her card, emphasizing her teaching skills, says simply, "Pedagogy and Technology." His, emphasizing his engineering skills, says, "Technology an d Pedagogy." Their different interests complement each other.

Having two trainers is a change from last year, when SmartSite had just one trainer (who has since moved on). With the system approaching rollout, the need for education has increased.

Both say they're not here to tell UC Davis faculty, "You must use SmartSite and this is how." The point, Madsen-Brooks says, is to say, "here are some exciting new tools that may improve your teaching."