The Future of SmartSite

Levin, David_005E-textbooks. Hybrid and online courses. Using learner analytics to assess experiments that involve academic technology. The future of SmartSite.

These are a few of the areas that David Levin intends to discuss, and address, as director of Academic Technology Services for Information and Educational Technology. Below, you’ll find an excerpt from an interview with Levin. You can also read the full text.

SmartSite has been on campus for several years. What’s ahead for that?

This year, we want to begin a discussion of where we’re going with SmartSite.

The current version that we use is based on an open-source software product, Sakai. It’s based on version 2 of Sakai, or CLE, for Collaborative Learning Environment. We’re on version 8 of that, so we’re on version 2.8 of Sakai—the “2” is for Sakai, and “8” is for the 8th sub-version of CLE.

The Sakai community is committed to continuing the CLE line through version 10, but the Sakai community is thinking this architecture is getting a little long in the tooth. Another version of Sakai has been under development—Sakai 3, called OAE, for Open Academic Environment. The whole community is figuring out the future of OAE. [Editor’s note: Subsequent to this interview, important developments occurred within the Sakai community related to OAE. The Wheel will continue to follow these developments, including their impact on the SmartSite roadmap.]

We’ve got time before we have to decide—but over the next two years, at UC Davis we need to think about more than where we’re going with SmartSite.

And you want to look at more than SmartSite?

If the question is what application are we going to use, or when are we going to move to OAE, I’d like to broaden the discussion to ask ourselves, what do we want out of a learning management system or, more broadly, a virtual learning environment?

Others have developed many great tools for collaboration, and for creating content. To what extent do we want our systems to integrate with those systems?

For example, Google and others have developed wonderful tools for collaboration, and for content creation. Should our learning environment take advantage of some of those? When we want students to work on projects together, should we take advantage of the fact that our students already have a Google presence within their DavisMail environment? Can we leverage that, and do things there?

Other tools also allow faculty and students to post content, and then interact, discuss and critique that content. A number of faculty use a tool called VoiceThread. With VoiceThread, a faculty member, or students, can post content—an image, a document, a video, an audio file—and then students can critique it, using audio and other documents. It has collaboration and peer critiquing built into it.
Many faculty want to build peer review into their courses. Can we build on something like that existing tool, to build our peer-learning environment?

This will be a broad discussion.

For the first part of the year at least—rather than get into the weeds of ‘should we use this tool or that tool,’ or ‘what should the screen look like’—I would rather sit down with a group, with our mission being ‘let’s imagine together.’

Let’s imagine what we want, which is really a functional question, and then we can begin to back up from that. That can help inform, maybe, a requirements list, or a desires list, that we can then use to start thinking about where we should go.

We’re currently committed to using the version of Sakai that we have for the next couple of years, and it’s fine, it’s being developed. But can we use this time to carefully think out what we want?

Part of that will be informed, I hope, by other discussions and initiatives. Our discussion of where we’re going with online and hybrid courses should inform our decision of what this learning environment ought to look like.

We mentioned lecture-capture earlier in the interview. We’re going to be creating and using content within the classroom, and I would hate to see us build two different universities, a virtual university and a physical university. We should build a learning environment that incorporates both, so that what we do in the classroom, and the technology that we imbed in the classroom, should fit nicely with our online learning environment.

I hope we can move away from looking at it as e-learning and physical learning. It’s just learning. I would hope that in our early discussion, we’re talking about learning, not about technology.

I imagine you welcome faculty who want to talk with you about all this?


What’s the best way for them to contact you?

Send me an email ( or call me (530-752-2133). Even better, as much as I live in the virtual world, I want to get together and talk with you. So, set up an appointment. Drop by.

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