Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Academic Room Booking and Course Scheduling on St. George Campus

From: Scott Mabury, Vice-President, Operations and Real Estate Partnerships
Date: April 24, 2019
Re: Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Academic Room Booking and Course Scheduling on St. George Campus

The Vice President Operations and Real Estate Partnerships is leading a project to improve the way courses are scheduled and rooms booked on the St. George Campus.  A small committee has been created; it is led by the VP and a representative from Arts & Science and includes staff from ACE and the VP-OREP portfolio. The primary goal of this committee is to ensure a marked improvement in the 2019-20 Fall/Winter classroom allocation process relative to the previous two years, and to lay the groundwork for continuous improvement for the future.

Through the work of this committee and discussions with a broad range of St. George stakeholders, it has become clear that there are many considerations, challenges or limitations that impact academic room booking and course scheduling on the St. George campus.  Here are the top 10 items that you may not be aware of, along with actions the committee is taking to address them.

  1. The more options available, the better…right?
    Did you know that the St. George Campus currently facilitates over 61 course meeting patterns, each with its own potential start times throughout the day?  The more patterns there are in the schedule, the more complex the task of assigning classrooms becomes. Many other universities have as few as 10 patterns available to them. This project will begin the conversation on reducing the number of meeting patterns with the goal of facilitating pedagogy and student learning within a framework of efficient space utilization and schedule flexibility.
  2. Construction Season, not just for GTA roads!
    In the past almost all renovations were scheduled to take place during the Summer session. However, in the 2018-19 Fall/Winter Session we had 48 out of 295 rooms taken out of service for Transforming the Instructional Landscape (TIL) construction and other improvements. This much larger number of rooms out-of-service was in response to the Deans’ request that the TIL project be jump-started to reduce the overall project timeline. These rooms would reasonably service approximately 10% of all course meeting times on the St. George Campus. Talk about (scheduling) gridlock! The good news is that only half as many classrooms are scheduled to be out-of-service for the 2019-20 Fall/Winter Session which will ease some scheduling pressures.
  3. Their, There and They’re/It’s the same…but different
    The size of a class can be described in a variety of ways depending on various points of view and context of use.  For example, class size can be reported using planning information (proposed/anticipated class size), historical enrolment (what happened previously) or self-reported (cross between aspirational and exaggerated data). When coordinating how academic rooms are booked for an entire campus, it is critical that everyone is reporting on and using the same information. This project is working to define relevant data and streamline the data collection processes in an effort to improve data integrity and quality of resulting decisions.
  4. The missing link…
    Despite the fact that it is often available, instructor information is generally not provided at the time classes are allocated to classrooms.  As a result, making appropriate accommodations and other arrangements (i.e., schedule classes back-to-back for the same instructor) is very difficult! The process of centrally allocating academic space will work to obtain as much instructor information as available in advance of classroom allocation to improve the quality of the allocation process.
  5. Imagine the possibilities!
    The academic divisions on the St. George campus collectively offer hundreds of program options to students – the majority of these program offerings provide a great amount of choice and flexibility. As a result, trying to create a strategic grouping of students into cohorts for mindful scheduling is an exercise in futility.  If your program is cohort based, talk to your room allocation office!
  6. Keeping it Clean
    Last year the ACE office spent more time cleaning up data than assigning classrooms! They would far rather spend their time helping divisions with more complex scheduling issues. When it comes to collecting data through multiple sources and managing a comprehensive database, it’s imperative that the data provided be of the highest quality. This means that data submitted for central room allocation must be accurate, relevant, properly formatted and understandable. Administrative notes that accompany requests for a room must be manually reviewed – let’s make sure that this time is well spent by ensuring that these notes are value added and relevant.
  7. The Butterfly Effect…sounds nice, right?
    Change is inevitable and sometimes welcome.  However, there are times when changes, even small ones, can have a large impact in a complex scheduling environment. It is not uncommon for a room or time change to impact upwards of 20+ other courses in order to accommodate a late, but valid, request.  It is critical to plan early and provide accurate and complete data…on time!  A clear and defined change management process will help manage those changes that do arise but are, hopefully, kept to a minimum.
  8. DCU and TCT and RRS and ROSI…oh my!
    The process of collecting room request data through the use of numerous systems, from 18 academic divisions supported by over 125 administrators, is an enormous task.  Finding ways to move and update data securely and efficiently between systems as part of a streamlines process is a goal of this project. This is an example of where letting the machines takeover is a good thing!
    (DCU = Data Collection Utility/TCT=Timetable Collection Tool/RRS=Room Reservation System/ ROSI=Repository of Student Information)
  9. Self-conflicted?
    When collecting room requests from academic units, there are examples of requests from the same unit conflicting with themselves!  There is a 100% chance that this request will have a direct conflict and be allocated to a less-desirable room. It is critical that room request data be validated using the tools that have been made available.
  10. The only rule is…there are no rules!
    With 18 academic divisions and many more sub-units on the St. George campus, each with their own goals, objectives, curriculum, schedules, processes and procedures etc., academic room booking is truly a case where one size does not fit all.  We must rely on a comprehensive and coordinated approach based on shared values, principles and outcomes if we are to be successful in allocating academic space in a manner that supports the University’s mission of teaching excellence and scholarship.

Neil Neebar ( Associate Faculty Registrar at Arts & Science, has been seconded part-time to lead the room scheduling project. Enquiries can be directed to him via email.