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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Smartsite changes may allow for more customization

The recent availability of more advanced technology has prompted UC Davis’ Information Educational Technology services (IET) to update Smartsite, the campuswide online course website.

The pending changes, if approved, will be facilitated Dec. 17.

“Smartsite is built on open-source, making it easier to update,” according to an IET press release. “With a dedicated group of institutions contributing to the project, the tools and features have the opportunity to evolve alongside our rapidly changing technological environment.”

Significant changes include an upgrade of the base software, Sakai, from version 2.5 to 2.6. Though this difference may not be visually obvious for users, the change will introduce new tools that enhance the capabilities of Smartsite as an educational resource.

“Each time the Sakai Foundation issues a new major release, we look at our programmer availability and determine when we can do the upgrade locally at UC Davis,” said Kirk Alexander, Smartsite Program Manager. “As of right now, these changes are being thoroughly tested.”

If these recent changes are proven beneficial, students can expect to see changes that make Smartsite more efficient for learning. Template based sites for faculty members seeking to create course websites will be available, preloaded with the essential tools and functions.

The recent changes additionally make it possible to customize the class tabs viewed along the top, which has been a primary student complaint in the past. In addition, students can subscribe to the Smartsite announcements on their web enabled phones, allowing access to these announcements without needing to login to Smartsite.

“The new system is not dramatically different but it has an amazing number of bug fixes, so students should see a lot more reliability in tools like Assignments and Tests & Quizzes,” Alexander said. “The changes and additional tools will make it easier for faculty to provide feedback for the students and to configure their sites so students can navigate their sites more efficiently.”

Smartsite was introduced and implemented as the open source course management system in 2007 in response to concerns over the previously used MyUCDavis. Current features available through Smartsite not available through MyUCDavis are online chatrooms for student collaboration, personalized course websites and organizational tabs to place course information. Since its establishment in 2007, Smartsite has routinely undergone improvements to advance its features and ease the transition from MyUCDavis usage to Smartsite usage.

“MyUCDavis was developed in the 1990s solely by UC Davis programmers,” said Steve Faith, IET’s training coordinator. “As these programmers left the university, there was a demand for more features that MyUCDavis didn’t have. A committee was formed, and it was decided that Smartsite, or Sakai, should be implemented at the University to meet these demands.”

However, UC Davis is not the founder of these collaborative online course tools. Sakai, the software that powers Smartsite, has its origins at the University of Indiana and the University of Michigan, where both universities independently began open source efforts to enhance their course management systems. Currently, Sakai is in international use at over 200 universities, including UC Davis.

“Smartsite is our local branded burning of Sakai, which is a world wide software project,” Faith said. “One of the big differences we discovered is that Smartsite is free and open for undergrad use, whereas previously faculty could not include other members on their course website pages. What we see now is a whole new world of sharing information through this open source concept.”

Students and faculty are encouraged to try the new system at smartsite.rsmart.com to test out the new changes and offer input. Decisions to implement the changes will be finalized Dec. 11.

REBECCA SHRAGGE can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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