When I started as AVPAA, I was handed a course scheduling process that was work- and communications-heavy. With some thought and effort, I developed a new process that remains in evolution. In this post, I would like to share this process.
Inherited Scheduling Process
When I was initially tasked with making the schedules, I realized that I had not been involved with the creation of previous schedules! Consequently, I reached out to department chairs who had been involved with making the schedules and I received a helpful flurry of emails.
I learned that the previous AVPAA had handled the scenario largely through email and via attachments to each department chair. The attachments were straightforward: there was one MS Excel spreadsheet that department chairs put finished schedules into and a document that contained the actual meeting times of all classes, across campus.
There were very positive aspects of this process.
- Familiarity. Everyone was familiar with this process (except me!) and knew how exactly what to do.
- Low technological barrier. With just attachments and email, almost no one was excluded from effectively using the tools set forth.
- Simplicity. Because people listed courses by time block (in the attached spreadsheet), all chairs/coordinators had to do was insert the name of the course, the instructor, and the desired meeting space (or specify online).
- Low risk of errors in schedules. Because chairs were only inserting the course, room, and instructor at the correct times (which were hard-coded on the sheet), no one was scheduling classes at times that conflicted with other courses.
There were also some challenging aspects of this process.
- Contact. Because the process was email-based, all of the responses with completed schedules were also email-based. This implied that every time someone made a change/correction to their schedule, I would receive a new email from the same individual with another version of their schedule. However, there would be no versioning/name of the file (i.e., they were almost all named something like “Spring 20xx schedule.xlsx”).
- Security. Not all of my colleagues operated with virus-/malware-free computers. This meant that every one of these attachments created a greater risk of infection on my computer and/or the computer of the registrar who would ultimately compile these schedules.
- Familiarity. The same familiarity with the process before also worked against us. Deadlines were soft and so I was regularly receiving corrections (if I ever received the schedule) late.
Permitting the department chairs the access to our SIS to input their own courses was not an option.
Although the pros were greater in number, the cons (to me) still outweighed the pros. I took some time and thought through to a different process.
New Scheduling Process
I wanted to remove attachments (see contact/security, above). Also, everyone across campus was familiar with MS Office and so I wanted to maintain use of the knowledge. Ultimately, I went with a process that utilized both of these.
I implemented the use of MS Excel Spreadsheets as part of Office365 and the MS OneDrive in an effort to try something new. Here’s why.
- I wanted to maintain separate spreadsheets by department. (Department A has no need to examine the proposed schedule of Department B.)
- Chairs and Program Coordinators could edit the document simultaneously. I hoped that this might reduce some duplication efforts within the department when compiling from multiple sheets AND that it might resolve some conflicts of programs and courses that complement each other.
- Access. Most of the faculty body works on the Office365 platforms for email (with Outlook) and already have access. This is not the case for Google Drive.
- Permissions. Office 365 provides a series of access constraints and hyperlinks to the document. I can email the links to the correct chairs, directly.
I began by creating a series of spreadsheets, one for each department, and setting them up in a directory by term. I could then embed appropriate links into a mail merge template (perhaps another discussion) and then email them to appropriate chairs.
I began by training the chairs in scenarios that were appropriate and where I knew they would attend. I also spent lots of time on the phone with several individuals and it seems that the process seems to have been adopted.
By the end of the second round of this new schedule, I was reminded of two hard truths: people make mistakes and people use tools in unintended ways.
First, in departments with multiple programs, some of my colleagues would make errors which resulted in loss of scheduling data. (Another pro of Office 365: version recovery!) But those errors impacted other coordinators and the schedules they had already input into the spreadsheet!
Second, I eventually learned that the sheets were being shared to everyone in a department and not just coordinators and chairs. At first glance, the transparency of doing exactly this seems exciting and I was willing to adopt it! Upon further inspection, I learned that everyone owning the process sometimes means that no one owns the process: I received schedules that was not always checked for errors.
The correction to both of these scenarios was to use the built-in permissions interface to stipulate that only chairs had only editorial privileges. I also send out an attachment that is intended to be sent to coordinators and that the chair can input into the schedule directly; the layouts are the same (the attached sheet and the online sheet) so it’s simply a matter of copy/paste.
Now, when the deadline for schedule submission has concluded, I simply navigate in the browser to the OneDrive folder containing those sheets and download the whole folder as a .zip file. This directory gets sent directly to our registrar for input to the SIS.
Is the process perfect? By no means! In the end, I feel like I’ve reduced security concerns, somewhat controlled the introduction of errors, and made the process less work-intense! On the other hand, I recognize that this process increased the technological bar for many of my colleagues.
I chose to write because I’m open to suggestions!