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Saturday, July 2, 2022

SmartSite: How it helps, how it hurts

Replacing MyUCDavis in 2005, SmartSite is the current course management system here at UC Davis. Sakai is the underlying, open source software for Smartsite hosted through the outsourced vendor Asahi Net International.

Andy Jones, academic associate director of Academic Technology Services, said in an email that Sakai is “the community source collaborative learning environment that provides the code and ‘engine’ for our SmartSite.” This means that software developers at other schools from around the country can contribute tools and applications that we can use on SmartSite. UC Davis’ software developers are responsible for the Gradebook2 application.

SmartSite is one of the most heavily relied upon tools that instructors and students use to keep track of their courses.

“SmartSite is used in the vast majority of all UC Davis classes, and in almost all large-enrollment classes,” Jones said.

As such an important tool in students’ everyday lives, there is a lot of dependency placed on it, and this dependency is a real issue when SmartSite’s routine maintenance goes wrong.

The most recent example of this problem is the incident that occurred during SmartSite’s maintenance on Oct. 18 that caused access issues through most of the weekend.

“There was something that went wrong with that maintenance that wasn’t detected until Saturday. So it was down from about seven in the morning Saturday until mid-afternoon Saturday; and then, although it seemed to be corrected, it occurred again Sunday,” said Steve Faith, the instructional technology coordinator of Academic Technology Services.

Asahi Net International hosts and performs maintenance on Smartsite when something goes wrong.

“They can’t always tell us when it’s going to be fixed because they don’t always know what’s wrong,” Faith said.

UC Davis used to host SmartSite personally, but it was cheaper to outsource this duty.

The general consensus about the occasional downtime with SmartSite is frustration.

“It’s just a hassle for the student to have to deal with all these problems with SmartSite,” said Dung Nguyen, a fourth-year English major. “The teacher had to push back the deadline (for my homework). It was a hassle for her too … my homework was almost late and I had to talk to my teacher about the problems I was having.”

Though SmartSite may seem unevolved, it receives regular updates to enhance it.

“The SmartSite team updates the system regularly to maintain security and provide patches,” said project manager and developer Constance Fuller in an email interview.

According to Fuller, they are working on the deployment of a new, streamlined user interface that may be available to enhance tablet and phone usage.

“As time has gone on, it has not evolved as well as other products that are in the same category that SmartSite is,” Faith said.

According to Jones, the SmartSite team is “considering future learning management system alternatives to Sakai that might better adapt to the needs of its users.”

“[We’re also] looking at a new partial GUI (graphical user interface) change to SmartSite,” Faith said. “It’s going to be called NeoPortal.”

Faith said the new GUI would make it easier to get to your courses than it is now. Though it might not be called SmartSite, it can be expected in the next couple of years.

SmartSite is a great resource for classes but it can also be useful for clubs as anyone can make their own page. It is also customizable to the needs of the instructor, the class and anyone else who uses it.

Fuller said Faith and his colleague, Fernando Socorro, lead training sessions every week for those who need assistance with Smartsite.

So as Aggies look ahead to see what new course management system awaits, we can still use SmartSite to our best abilities and hope we don’t experience anymore downtime.

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