Showing posts with label timetabling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label timetabling. Show all posts

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Space, SSB and George

Early start yesterday for a UEB/HoDS meeting (I should include a glossary shouldn't I - University Executive Board, Heads of Departments). One of the main discussion items was Space. I have to resist the temptation to always add The Final Frontier.  Specifically teaching space. Have we got enough, do we need to use it better?
Lots of data provided, including the different patterns of teaching (Monday mornings and Friday afternoons aren't popular), and the number of rooms booked which aren't used.  Discussions centred around how we can change our systems to improve efficiency of use, and what cultures need to change. Lots of very constructive discussion ranging from central timetabling to extending the teaching day. Lots more discussion to come as we cannot keep building more space.

Also yesterday we had a Business Continuity Steering Group where we  had a demo of our new Incident Contacts system, and a debrief of the incident simulation of a couple of weeks ago. Some headlines coming out of it include the need for "sub plans" to have in case of an incident - how do we evacuate a building safely without using fire alarms for example, or how do we cancel and rearrange exams. 

Then yesterday afternoon was our Service Strategy Board. As usual, a full meeting. In fact all meetings yesterday were full, not one less than two hours. But, all useful and interesting. SSB had a presentation on our Incident Procedure which has been revamped. Some of the key points to come out of the discussion included:
  • Front line support are a vital part of the process. We need to integrate the helpdesk and service catalogue, and complete our  Service Level Agreements (SLA's).
  • We discussed target resolution time for typical low-medium-high level problems which will be in the SLAs
  • We're introducing more regular reporting on incidents and the following reviews
  • One of the major areas of discussion was around out of hours incidents which are often the hardest to manage. Our new  incident contact database will help but we do have an issue with customer expectations of  24/7 suppor.
  • Major incidents will continue to be  handled by a team, with an identified incident co-ordinator, working with the University incident management plan as appropriate. 
  • We also noted that the Service Manager for the area is key to strategic decisions and needs to be involved in all incident teams.
A good discussion and the revised plan will now be subject to further consultation before being finalised in the New Year when we'll start a period of training and awareness raising. 

Lots of other good stuff in the Service Managers highlight reports and project progress documents. I was pleased to note the continuing success of the creative media suite in the IC, and a recent session for 40 students in the production of creative media was fully booked within hours. You can read about in the IC blog here.
We looked at several new project proposals and approved one of them - which can be summarised as Getting out of uSpace  (uSpace is our collaboration software which we hope to be out of by end of next year).  Others will be subject to further discussion and prioritisation.

And the most exciting thing to happen yesterday - I adopted a new cat. George. He's huge and furry. Does he look like a maine coon to anyone?







Thursday, 11 October 2012

System and project reviews

We had a meeting of our Service Strategy Board at the beginning of the week, and had our usual look at projects progress, and at our new eLearning Strategy which is in the process of being approved. More later when it's been through all of the consultation process.

Other meetings so far this week have included a gateway review of our Common Timetabling Project.   This was the first of gateway reviews, and I felt it went  very well. We looked at what had been achieved so far, what the drivers were for the project - including better space utilisation, more efficient use of staff and student time, more flexibility, a more responsive timetable, and a better student experience.  we also looked at some different mechanisms for achieving this, changes to the way we deliver timetabling, changes to the timing, and changes to the timetabled day.  A great discussion, and in the end, we have closed this project down  at we can look at starting a new one so that we can focus on really achieving the benefits we need.

Finally, I've had a couple of meetings to kick off the review of our student system. Implemented in 1996 (I think), its home grown, written on an Oracle database, and has served us very well. Because we've written it, it's also very functional. However, it's time for a review to see what the best way forward is. Stay as we are, stay with the current system but invest heavily in further developing it, or implement a package. All have pros and cons, and we've established some working groups and a Steering Group  to oversee the review and come up with recommendations. It will be very interesting to see what comes out of it.



Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Timetabling, Google and browsers.....

Yesterday morning we had some meetings open to any member of staff to listen to Google talk about their apps suite, and give some demos. I was pleased to see that there was a lot of interest and the lecture theatre was full for both sessions. Very lively discussion, and people seemed to be impressed with the functionality of apps, and particularly the integration with Sites. Very easy to collaborate and share stuff, and some nice new features. So, we'll have to see what the take up is like. We will be promoting all of the apps suite, once we have the calendar live. And the calendar will be live when we're happy with the data migration from our existing calendar. Legacy data eh?

Also yesterday we had some feedback from a consultant who had been taking a look at our Common Timetabling project. We had a pilot last year which was not particularly successful, and we wanted someone from outside to take a look and give us advice on what we could have done better, what lessons we could learn, and how to take it forward. It generated a lot of debate about room usage - occupancy (how many seats in a booked room are used) and frequency (how many of the available slots for a room are booked). Our figures are not particularly high for either and we need to look at the reasons - there are many and varied ones - one being that apparently not all students turn up for lectures.  A helpful report with a number of recommendations we'll be taking forward over the next few weeks.

And finally for now, a major frustration with browser versions and software suppliers. We try and ensure that all of our services run on all modern browsers, but when  our suppliers can't keep up, what can we do? It also doesn't help when browser versions are released in rapid succession - like Firefox for instance - and they remove the previous versions that did work. I haven't got a browser on my mac at the moment that works with one of our services, unless I go back to Firefox 3.something. Oh well, I just can't approve anyone's leave......

Friday, 5 November 2010

Timetabling as a change management project

One of the good things about attending conferences  is finding out how other colleagues have approached projects which are similar to ones we are involved in, often in different ways. Yesterday I attended a session on how UCL had approached their Common Timetabling project, which is very timely, as we have just completed a pilot in our own such project, and have encountered a number of problem. UCL had similar reasons for doing it - to facilitate interdisciplinary study, to provide better timetabling information to students, to use teaching spaces more efficiently and to make more efficient use of modules and resources.  Their timetabling is decentralised, with each department producing its own timetables, and they decided to leave it that way.  In order to facilitate common timetabling they decided to introduce a block structure, with mornings divided into different blocks and streams for lectures, and lab classes etc in blocks in the afternoons. There were some issues with this, and initial pilots weren't totally successful, and some departments refused to cooperate. However, what is important, is that UCL approached this as a massive change management process, with a long timescale of 3 years, a lot of work on risk management, and a lot of resource put into it. Change managers were recruited and a lot of effort was put into "readiness assessments", as well as using dedicated staff and temps for data hygiene. Sobering really, and has led me to consider our own project, and whether we need to allocate more resources to it. Think the answer might be yes!

Following on from this session was one from LSE about how they've implemented CampusM, the mobile app for students. I've given a similar talk so many times about we did it, it made a pleasant change to listen to someone else. They've done it in a very similar way to us, but with some different data and features. They've also branded it LSE Mobile.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Under the sea...

Spent most of Wednesday entertaining visitors from JANET, our network provider. A good opportunity to learn from each other. Them to find out  about our needs and how we work, and us to find out about how they deal with the increasing demands on them. On of the things we touched on was the absolute critical nature of our internet connection now - it isn't just to give us a connection to the outside world, but used to run critical services over. As we outsource more services, this dependence will only increase. We also looked at whether our current connection of 2 x 1Gig links is enough. Of course, 2 x 1Gig links doesn't make a 2Gig link.  You have to understand etherchannels to get that one. We think we need at least 1 x 10Gig link, especially to cope with the amount of research data we predict will need to be transported in the future. We also touched on the issues surrounding security and misuse of the network, especially the downloading of copyright material - on the increase at the moment as the new students discover the amount of bandwidth they've suddenly got, but soon clamped down on by our security team.

A good day, and a very useful set of discussions. I'm fascinated by simple things especially the  logisitics of something I haven't really thought about before. Like network links, and the fact that there really are big fat bundles of cables under the Atlantic Ocean which can get pulled up and broken by anchors, or nibbled at by fish.  Wonder how they fix them when they're at such a huge depth.

Yesterday we had a meeting about how we're going to drastically change the process of getting data into our student system on the structure of programmes   - what I remember as the "regulations". The very complex set of rules which governs what students have to do to get their chosen degree. This information drives so many other systems now including registration, the timetables and the VLE, and it is vital that it is entered in a timely way and that it is accurate. We're going to have to make things much simpler and shorten many timescales.

Today I've been preparing for my annual trip to EDUCAUSE which starts next week - the big HE IT conference. Really looking forward to it.  Will blog about as many sessions as I can,  but they may be in note form. This will be the first week long conference I've been to without a laptop, just the trusty iPad. Hope it works OK.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Departmental meeting

Interesting departmental meeting on Friday morning - nice to see lots of people there. I gave a short presentation on the good stuff that had come out of our last World Cafes around the 5 key challenges we'd identified:
  • Reducing Complexity
  • Doing things differently
  • Reducing Space
  • Reducing our Carbon Footprint
  • Diversifying Income
Lots of ideas and suggestions some of which will get fed into our planning process. We also like to get outside speakers in where we can, and this time it was the turn of the Director of the Development and Alumni Relations Office, who gave an extremely interesting and entertaining talk about the work of the office, and aspects of fundrasing, which I think is often misunderstood. Lots of good examples of why fundraising is important, and how it can make a difference, particularly to some students for whom scholarships are the only way they could afford to come to University.

An entertaining (as always) presentation on some new features of our phone system, and a look at the issues surrounding Common Timetabling were also on the agenda.

Finally we saw a demonstration of our remote assistance service. Users can initiate a chat session with an analyst on our Helpdesk through our self service pages:


who then takes details of the problem, and if necessary initiates a remote assistance session and takes control of the user's machine. One analyst can handle up to 10 consecutive sessions, it reduces time traveling to see individual users, provides easier diagnosis and resolution of problems, and is a much less frustrating experience for the user, who doesn't have to be asked to do things they're not comfortable with. An excellent service which we're now starting to promote heavily.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Re-using labs, and getting rid of paper

Liaison Meeting with the Faculty of Science today- lots on the agenda, including big discussion on teaching space. We're trying to make the best use of our estate, and reduce space if we can - we need to reduce our carbon emissions, like all Universities, and reducing space is one way of contributing to it. In order to reduce space, we have to utilise what we have much better, and we were discussing today ways of doing that. Our common timetabling project should help, but we're also looking at other innovative ideas, such as using laboratories as computer rooms when they're not in use for practical classes. Obvous we can't have hard wired PCs in there, but we could have a stack of laptops using the wireless network that could be brought out when needed. Issues to address obviously such as what applications we can deliver to them, can we cope with 75 simultaneous connections to wifi, have we got the staff to maintain them - but nothing insurmountable. Of course students could also use their own laptops, if we could get the applications to them. Hopeful our new desktop project will solve that one...

Another area where we need to improve our carbon footprint is in printing - and we are currently going in to departments carrying out printing audits to see how we can help them print less, and where they do have to print, do it in a more efficient and carbon friendly way. I'm still amazed by how little people consider the cost (£ and C) of printing. The number of meetings I go to and see people clutching folders of single sided papers, carefully printed out by clerical staff I assume, often with colour banners, and presumeably filed when they get back - despite the fact that nearly all papers are held electronically centrally. Or thrown away, often having never even been referred to in the meeting. Hobby horse of mine I'm afraid!

Finally today we had a long look at our budget, and discussed costs, prioritisation and timing of our capital spending. Very difficult to do when you can't get good cost estimates for projects which are not complete, and will be making decisions about possible changes to technologies and infrastructure. Lots of flexibility needed!

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Common Timetabling

Very short Programme Board this week as no project reports due to Christmas break but we did approve two new projects - one s a continuation of an existing one. Currently we're reviewing our VLE, and once a decision is taken on how to proceed we will have quite a big implementation task, so that's been set up as a new project. The other has been under discussion for some time, but we're finally getting on with it, and this is to implement a common approach to timetabling.

Timetabling is currently based at a departmental level and there is consequently considerable duplication of effort as timetables are created locally. Requests are then made for room bookings centrally, and then often timetablers will transpose the allocated room information back into local systems.

The software we use has the capacity to capture relevant information such as staffing constraints and to automatically produce a scheduled, roomed timetable. We can then produce clash free personal student timetables which can be delivered to students though the portal and Google calendar, and though our mobile application, campusM. This should also save a considerable amount of staff time by reducing duplication of effort, and develop better timetabling expertise at Faculty level. The timetable will be produced earlier allowing for better planning, and we should also be able to utilise our existing rooms better. We intend to have draft timetables produced in this way for our pilot Faculties by this summer.

Another meeting on a similar topic - discussion about the Drama Studio and how we can accommodate everyone who wants to use it, including academic use for our Drama degree which is expanding, the Student Theatre society, other academic departments and external amateur dramatic groups. We have a user group coming up next week where a lot of these issues will be discussed.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Programmes and Projects

Lots of meetings yesterday - is there such a thing as a pre-Christmas meeting rush? First was with the Faculty of Arts and was one of our strategic liaison meetings. Discussion was around our main service areas - support for learning and teaching, research and communication and collaboration. We identified some priorities for further work and discussion, including the area of space utilisation and timetabling. They offer many degree programmes, with a high number of dual degrees, and finding enough space and with the right equipment is an issue for them. Currently we have a timetabler in each department, and the rather sophisticated software we have is used mainly as a room allocation system. At our Programme Board meeting yesterday we agreed to establish a new project to look at moving to a more central timetabling system, using more of the software's functionality to improve the utilisation of our estate. This links in with a number of University initiatives, including the carbon reduction one.

Also at the Programme Board we approved another new project, to review our portal. We've had a staff and student portal for some years as part of our strategy to make everything available over the web, and the time has come to review it. Lots of preparatory work already done, so now we need to make a decision on the way forward.

Following our Departmental Programme Board we had a meeting of the University Collaboration Improvement Programme Board where we had a very interesting discussion on whether Universities encouraged and rewarded collaboration, and how important it is to break down silo mentality. The latter is particularly important in times of financial difficulty - it's very easy to become very protectionist, but that won't get us anywhere - except into more difficulty.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Least cost, soonest mended

Programme Board today where we have a close look at all existing projects - looking at progress against timescales, issues, concerns, resources etc. We also look at new project proposals and definitions and project closure documents.

Today we had a couple of new project definitions. The Student Timetables project aims to deliver individual student timetables, via the web, on paper and via hand-held devices.
The timetabling software we use has the capability to deliver individual student timetables, but we've never used it. We've made progress over the years in enabling departmental timetablers to integrate their timetables with the room bookings system and introduce staff and other local data to the system, and this is the next logical step.

The project will enable “student fitting” - allocating students to tutorial/seminar groups so that only the events that students are expected to attend are displayed in their individual timetables. Hopefully this will also improve space utilisation by introducing real-time student numbers to individual events, enabling booking staff to match supply and demand more closely. It will also provide much better and more accurate management information.

The other project is a review of printing across campus - this is a replacement for a project which began its life called Least Cost Printing, affectionately referred to as Least Cost Soonest Mended when we realised it wasn't going anywhere.

The aim of this project is to review and report on current printing procedures at the University in terms of environment, savings and best practice and make recommendations for improvement. The University uses 64,000,000 sheets of paper per year, and our spend for print could be too high and it may be that we are not employing best techniques, service and quality. There are savings attached to not printing and this contributes to energy savings and reducing our carbon footprint. Savings are also achieved by procuring the right/most appropriate output device for printing needs. We also need to consider the whole life cost of a printer and how and where printing occurs. We will be looking at case studies from other Universities that have performed such reviews