Saturday, April 13, 2013

SmartSite: Don't Get Angry, Get Help!

Hey GTCers!

Whether you love it or hate it, SmartSite is the educational platform of choice for UC Davis. For the first workshop in its winter 2013 "Course Design" series, the GTC had the opportunity to chat with Steve Faith from the Internet and Educational Technology (IET) Division of the Academic Technology Services Department. As part of the IET team, Steve’s job is to help faculty, staff and grad students implement technology in the classroom. This includes everything from the smartpanels (aka media cabinets) found in most classrooms, the various tools on SmartSite, and even helping fix smaller issues with powerpoint and web browsing.

While Steve is a big fan of SmartSite, he is quick to point out that it is not the be-all end-all tool for educational tech. The sheer number of tools available make it impractical for a professor or course to utilize all of them. Rather than trying to master them all, Steve suggests identifying appropriate tools for appropriate individuals. This means taking the time to carefully consider your course objectives, intended assignments, and student populations (among other things). Once you discover what you need, identifying the tool that will be best suited for enacting those goals will be much easier to identify.

Among the tools available, some are better than others. With Steve’s insider knowledge, we’ve listed a few tips may prove helpful in your quest for the perfect course design:

            Steep learning curves associated with it
            Need to learn market language
            Only one person can edit at a time
                        A direct contrast to GoogleDocs, where many people can contribute
            Blogs - kind of the reverse paradigm of what most people think of
                        most people think of Blogger, more discussion/contribution oriented
                        SmartSite blogs are designed for students to maintain their own blog
                                    Can’t share with other students, so only the instructor can see

Tests/Quizzes tool
            Very versatile - can make lots of different kinds of tests
            Weird design
                        If you’re an athlete, it gives you a few extra days to finish the assignment
            Very complex
                        Can be very frustrating
                        But it is very handy
Design a pool of 200 possible questions, it can generate a random 20-question quiz
            Good for formative testing (as a learning tool), and low-impact,
low-score tests

Professors using this tool for end-of-quarter evals

EvalSys - wonderful tool (can’t use it) for political reasons
Academic Senate shot it down b/c there was a possibility that someone other than them could see the feedback (gasp!)

Site Editor - the tab that controls everything
            option - “import from site”
                        merge with current site
                        select the site you want to import info from

            Beyond Davis: you can export tests/quizzes
                        exports it in a standard assessment format .qti
text-based xml file that you can upload into any other sakai/blackboard-based system

smaller institutions tend to use Blackboard, because they don’t have the staff to support a system as large as sakai-based programs

Steve also spent some time going over some of the more underused tools on the site, picking out the ones he thinks have the most potential to positively impact your course design:

            lets you ask a single question - only one at a time
                        anonymous, but it still keeps track of who voted
                        can limit the results of the poll in different ways
                                    not showing to anyone
                                    showing results to people after they complete it
                                    showing results after a certain date

            great if you plan 8 weeks of a course, then want to do the last two weeks on what
the students are interested in
            create a poll to ask students what they’d like to learn about

with almost every tool on smartsite, you can set dates for when things go on and offline
this means, for the uber-organized, you can go on vacation in Hong-Kong for 10 weeks, come back, and your done

            can specify a minimum/maximum number of answers
                        no more than two picks, no less than one

            can make the poll public
                        give out a url, people don’t have to be part of the course to take the poll

            You can create a citation list
                        Can search Google Scholar and built a citation list right into SmartSite
            Can link to a google doc
                        Create docs in your google drive and bring them right into SmartSite
                        Takes you to a Google window where you have to authenticate (this links
your Google account to SmartSite)
                                    presents you with a list of all your docs
                                    pic a doc, pick your file type
because it’s a resource, you can give parameters (release date/retract date, copyright alert)
                        when students click it, it brings up the doc
it exists in the google cloud, so you can make changes in smartsite OR in google docs and it will constantly update
                        requires students to log into their google account
need to go to “my workspace” and “linked accounts” to see the google account info
has the advantage over wikis, in that it’s a lot easier to edit/manipulate, don’t need to know wiki market language

The tools described above are just a small sample of what SmartSite, and IET, can do to improve your SmartSite experience. Steve and Fernando Secora are resources for grad students - they love to talk about technology and teaching! If you have ideas about how to present to your students, or a goal you’d like to reach, get in touch with them. They teach regular classes and offer drop-in sessions in an effort to accommodate schedules of all types. To get started, send an email to the SmartSite team to set up a meeting and chat about how IET and SmartSite can best help you.

(Posted by Sarah Messbauer)

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