Best Practices for Your Strategic Scheduling Roadmap

March 16, 2021
Class Scheduling

At Coursedog, we believe that one of the most important steps in the scheduling process takes place before any scheduling occurs. Sitting down to map out your institutional goals is critical for building a strategic scheduling plan, beyond simply rolling the schedule term over term, that will help to optimize scheduling.

That’s why before kicking off any partnership we sit down with our partners to outline what they are hoping to achieve with their schedule. This is a quick and simple thought exercise that we recommend working through with your key scheduling stakeholders, regardless of whether you work with a scheduling partner or not.

Some of the repeated goals we hear from our partners are:

  • Maximize the likelihood students can access the classes they need to accelerate time to degree
  • Optimize the allocation of finite classroom resources to reduce bottlenecks
  • Reduce the amount of time it takes for administrators to build the schedule

We have worked with over seventy community colleges and four year universities to introduce and implement scheduling best practices that help to accomplish the above goals. While every campus is different, and scheduling decisions should be made based on the unique needs of an individual institution, below are a few best practices that we have found to be foundational to many institutions’ strategic scheduling roadmaps.

Introduce and Enforce Standard Meeting Patterns

We define standard meeting patterns as institution-specific day and time combinations that are available for section scheduling. For example, ‘MW 10:10AM-11:25AM’ could be considered a standard meeting pattern. If you compare the process of building a schedule to putting together a puzzle, having consistently sized pieces, or consistently sized time blocks, makes it easier for all of the variables to fit neatly together. In a similar sense, standard meeting patterns reduce the likelihood classes will overlap with one another, maximize available class times for students to select from, and help to distribute sections across available classrooms.

We have had a number of institutions come to us leveraging non-standard meeting patterns, meaning that departmental schedulers were able to schedule their sections at whatever start and end times they desired. This led to inefficient room optimization, and additional back and forth to amend scheduling kinks. By establishing standard meeting patterns, and building rules and workflows to enforce the use of these standard meeting patterns, these institutions have seen added efficiencies.

Implement Scheduling Rules to Eliminate Errors and Advance Institutional Policies

Scheduling rules can serve two purposes: reduce universal errors that are time consuming to correct, such as double-booked instructors, and enforce institution-specific scheduling policies. Scheduling policies often tie directly to institutional goals and metrics for success. However, they are only effective insofar as they can be enforced.

Many institutions audit rule violations by scanning spreadsheets and emailing department schedulers to correct for them as needed. By automating rule enforcement throughout the scheduling process, instead of following schedule submission, and streamlining the rule violation request process, we have seen institutions experience time savings upwards of 21 days. 

Introduce Scheduling Deadlines

Most registrars’ offices are familiar with receiving after-the-fact scheduling change requests. While scheduling changes can arise for a variety of reasons, delays in submission can have downstream impacts on both administrators and students that become increasingly difficult to forecast as the schedule is finalized. 

By sharing a timeline with all scheduling stakeholders, and adhering to this timeline, institutions not only add transparency to the scheduling process but they also reduce the likelihood they will receive late-stage change requests. Our partner institutions have reported seeing a decline in the number of change requests they receive when they enhance visibility around key dates in the scheduling cycle and enforce these deliverable deadlines.

Leverage Reporting and Analytics 

A distributed schedule is one of the most effective steps an institution can take to ensure students, particularly those that have jobs or care-taking responsibilities outside of school, are able to register for the classes they need to graduate. Data visualizations go a long way in validating that the class times assigned to sections are evenly allocated across departments and the institution as a whole, which help institutions better allocate resources and present students with options during registration. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of scheduling analytics, check out this article.

We have found graphic representations of the schedule, including seat utilization and time distribution charts, to be extremely impactful to institutions as they look to make informed scheduling decisions. Many institutions that we work with will choose to look at historical data in order to establish a baseline from which to improve upon, prior to leveraging these graphs term over term.

Course scheduling can play an important role in overall institutional effectiveness. Sitting down to map out your scheduling goals, and building a process around these goals, should be the first step in any institution’s strategic scheduling roadmap. 

Coursedog is here to help. For additional information and guidance on best practices that will help your institution, reach out to talk with an experienced member of our team today.

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