ofCourse Scheduling: Tiffany, can you tell us a little bit about your role at UACCB?
Tiffany Guinnip: I affectionately refer to my role as the kitchen junk drawer! My position is home to a variety of academic functions. The biggest aspects of the role include serving as the LMS administrator and managing the course schedules.
ofCourse: How many course schedules have you worked on?
Tiffany: I have been working with the academic deans and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs on scheduling for around 4 years, so 8-10 rounds of scheduling.
ofCourse: That’s a lot of schedules. What do you think is the hardest part of making the course schedule?
Tiffany: The most difficult part for us is balancing the course offerings with our faculty. We are a small institution. That makes us nimble, but it can also be hard to find the balance between what we should offer and what we have capacity for.
ofCourse: What have you tried in order to find that balance?
Tiffany: We began to look at the enrollment data from previous terms to see where enrollment was for sections. As an example, we have many sections of English Comp I in the fall. We would look back at how many sections we had, where they were offered (online vs. on ground), and the fill rates of the courses based on the time of day they were offered. It was a lot of manual work.
ofCourse: Were there any surprises when you looked at the data?
Tiffany: What we found was that we were just pulling the schedule forward each semester, without evaluation. So we may have had 7 sections of a particular course on the schedule, which made the offerings options great, but none of the courses were filling. Our enrollment was changing and we had to acknowledge that. Also, once we had become fairly good at looking at the data, it was hard for us to create the schedule each semester. We were essentially starting over each scheduling cycle, trying to remember what did and did not work from previous schedules.
ofCourse: Did using the ofCourse Scheduler help improve that process?
Tiffany: Yes! One of our favorite features is it remembers the specifics of what can and cannot be scheduled at the same time. It keeps up with all the unwritten scheduling rules we have that are hard to remember.
Another challenge it helped us solve is we were creating the schedule blind, then assigning faculty load and manually making sure no faculty had overlapping courses. The software has helped with that as well.
ofCourse: Have the improved course schedules had an impact on student satisfaction?
Tiffany: Overall, I think our students are happy with the results we get from scheduling with the software. Our advisors enjoy the schedule and feel it is easier to work with. Our faculty are enjoying the software as well because they are getting a voice in the schedules each semester.
ofCourse: Just to get some background numbers, how many permanent and adjunct faculty do you have? What is the size of the student population, and how many courses are you offering per semester?
Tiffany: We have around 40 full-time faculty and 30-40 adjuncts each semester. Our student population is around 1,100. In our fall term we offer around 250 course sections and around 200 in the spring terms.
ofCourse: Nice, sounds like a cozy group! Can you think of a time in the last few years where there was a situation that required a big change to the schedule? What was it and how did you handle it?
Tiffany: We often had issues with our scheduling before. We would often accidentally schedule courses over one another that shouldn’t be. An example on our campus is Accounting II and Chemistry II. We would always accidentally schedule those at the same time and we have a population of students who need both (we only offer those courses in the spring).
One of our biggest scheduling issues was right as the pandemic hit. In February 2020 we released our Fall 2020 schedule. We have an introductory course that is 1 credit hour. We set the cap for that class to around 60 students. After the class had filled, we realized we had no space for the 60 students with social distancing. We had to come up with an interesting solution to have the students spread across multiple classrooms.
ofCourse: What did you do to connect the classrooms? Did you use video or something?
Tiffany: We didn’t have the option of splitting the course because we didn’t have additional faculty to teach it. So we found two classrooms next to each other that would each hold half. The students had an assigned room and the instructor taught live in each room every other day. On the days she was not physically in the room, that room watched her on Zoom on the displays.
ofCourse: Nice! There was a lot of improvising going on that first year of the pandemic.
Can you share any specific strategies you’ve used to make course scheduling more effective or efficient?
Tiffany: The biggest tool we had before ofCourse software was to look at the numbers and try to determine what we needed, but it was always difficult for us to get courses placed on the schedule right. Honestly, using ofCourse was our next step in being more effective and efficient. Just in efficiency alone, we were spending countless hours working on the schedules and looking over them. We still spend time going over them and working through them, but we are not in a room using three white boards and post-it notes trying to move classes around where we think they will work.
ofCourse: Is there anything you’ve learned about using the ofCourse Scheduler that has helped you use it more effectively? Or is it pretty much using it out-of-the-box, as-is?
Tiffany: I think for the most part we use it out-of-the-box. One thing we have done, though, is use the course tagging system to make sure classes we want in specific spaces only get scheduled in those spaces. We have also really utilized the genre feature to make sure classes do not get scheduled over one another, or that a student has the option to take every class they might need for their degree plan.
ofCourse: How do you expect your college to change over the next 5 years? Any big changes you see on the horizon?
Tiffany: I think higher education as a whole is changing rapidly and I expect we will see a lot of changes. At our institution, we have an entirely new administrative team that came on over the past year. They are working well together and have big plans. We are just beginning to work on a new strategic plan going forward. Our focus is to keep improving our processes so we can best help our students to do what they need to do to improve their lives.
ofCourse: What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone just starting as the schedule-maker? And maybe you’re about to have to give this advice, as I understand you’re transitioning the schedulemaker role to someone new next month!
Tiffany: Yes I am! I’ve moved from Director of Academic Services to Director of Institutional Effectiveness and Executive Assistant to the Chancellor, so I will no longer be making the schedule.
I think the best thing for me as a scheduler was to really work with everyone. Scheduling may fall on one person to make sure it is published, but what I have found works best is really working with everyone and being a team. I would work with the academic deans one-on-one and in a group and they were always the support we needed to make sure we had a solid schedule for students.
ofCourse: In ofCourse, you can use the preference collection system to let faculty provide their preferred teaching times. Did that make it easier to work with everyone?
Tiffany: Yes! Before ofCourse my office was working with the academic deans, but there were times faculty didn’t feel they were involved in the process. Using the preference collection system has made the faculty feel like they have a voice in their schedules. They also really like to use the commenting feature to provide reasoning as to why they are requesting something in a certain way.
ofCourse: Tiffany, is there anything else you’d like to share?
Tiffany: I can’t think of anything. We have really enjoyed using ofCourse though. It has made scheduling so much easier and it really brings everyone together.
ofCourse: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us!
Tiffany: My pleasure!