How to Run a Class Schedule Optimizer

How to Run a Class Schedule Optimizer

While schedule optimizers date back nearly 30 years, many institutions still struggle to optimize course offerings and room assignments. A modern scheduling solution can help institutions offer the right mix of courses, enforce scheduling policies, and track vital data.

Optimizing the schedule is a hot buzzword in higher ed. The idea of clicking a button, building the perfect schedule and sitting back and relaxing is quite compelling. But in practice, few schools have truly gotten an optimization to work well for them, and in a lot of cases it can be more work to set up than the benefit of running it. Especially with legacy vendors, we estimate greater than 50% of clients never run a good optimization at all.  Why is it that folks rarely actually save time and improve resource utilization with these solutions? Often, it feels like they are just a hard-to-use system to prevent room double-bookings. But can you do better?

The History of Legacy Room Optimizer Solutions

Why are room optimization solutions so prevalent… and bad? Dating back to the late 1990s when some of the earliest tools hit the market, scheduling was extremely decentralized. Faculty & departments could request whatever times and in some cases rooms that they wanted, and they would usually get them.  So, room optimizer solutions were built to take in unstructured preferences and then optimize them the best that they could. And the funny thing is, they actually do that pretty well. Bad data in, bad data out. 

Recently, though, schools have begun to re-conceptualize scheduling as much more than optimization of a cesspool of diverse preferences. Universities started to 1) Think more about student success and recognize research that suggests booking all classes in prime times, and or having a lack of understanding of course demand can decelerate completion velocity; 2) face even more of a space crunch, and in some cases become incentivized by state legislatures to improve space utilization and 3) Quite simply… administrators had less time.

Woman working on a computer to create the class schedule.

Modern Scheduling Solutions Benefits

So what does a modern scheduling solution include that perhaps a legacy room scheduling system might not have? 

  • Section scheduling to ensure you offer the right courses, seats and sections in tandem with space bookings
  • Policy enforcement, such as time blocks and primetime rules, to improve course access and save time
  • Smart instructor forms help institutions to be more student-centric while still being cognizant of faculty needs, and to automate the tedious, manual process of gathering preferences
  • Faculty workload tracking
  • Enrollment heat maps and balanced section reporting (ROI dashboard) that demonstrate the ROI of the tool.
  • Automatically surface best fit rooms based on preference fit for departmental room scheduling
  • Room optimizer that actually works; surfacing potential issues before optimization to prevent post-facto manual clean-up (read more below)
  • Ability to customize preference weighting in optimization to take school's unique needs into consideration
  • A modern user experience so that end users can build schedules more efficiently
  • Rapid improvement and iteration as a company and product, rather than fixing one bug release per year…

Tips For Schedule Optimization 

Here’s some tips to consider whether an optimization is helpful for your campus: 

  • Bad data in bad data out. If you don’t have scheduling policies that help you to distribute the schedule effectively, and everyone requests the same time slot, you will have bottlenecks and the optimization will not work. 
  • The value of a room optimizer increases proportionally to the size of your school and the degree of centralization of room scheduling. More rooms centrally owned = more space to optimize = more value in maximizing space utilization and more time saved optimizing. 
  • The value of time and room optimization together increases proportionally to the degree that your scheduling process is centralized. More centralization = easier to consolidate preferences = easier to optimize. 
  • Time optimization should really only be used by centralized schools.
  • Oftentimes, you may not want to implement an optimization for your first scheduling cycle. It may slow down the implementation process and can be implemented after go-live, during the section scheduling process, but should not be a requirement prior to project go-live. 

The Power of Purpose-Built Solutions and Integrations to Extend Your SIS

Learn how to proactively evaluate potential vendor integrations with your SIS to meet your institution's needs. A list of essential questions will guide you through data mapping, integration architecture, and deployment considerations.

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