Classrooms come in all sizes. In a perfect scheduling world, this would be the only room-related matter we'd have to worry about—how big is the room. And of course, in a mega-perfect scheduling-world, we would be able to copy-paste as many of those rooms as we needed. But as anyone who has ever put a schedule together knows, there is more to a room than how many students it can comfortably seat (and we've all stopped fantasizing about a real-world copy-paste feature). Fact is, rooms can be every bit as slippery as the people who teach in them. To help in this, today we are announcing two new room-management tools. Before describing these new toys, let me revisit two room controls that were previously available.
The first curve-ball rooms throw at you is their basic offerings. These days most university rooms are your garden-variety lecture-friendly layouts, and most come comparably equipped with the latest tech (e.g., projection, audio, and the like). But the term 'most' implies outliers, and accurately so. There always tend to be a few in the mix that offer something unique, something that makes it a better, or possibly lesser fit for a certain course or professor. A few examples include Courtrooms, Seminar-rooms, Distance-Learning labs, or perhaps it's a room that's not even on your physical campus. Anyone who has taught or helped organize people who teach know that these slight variations can matter more than a little.
To meet this need, we implemented a Room Amenities feature last year which allows you to note such unique elements in your rooms. Then when you are building a schedule, you can make a specific amenity-request for a class. The system will then place classes only in rooms that can meet the cited Amenities.
The next most common hurdle we see is the room is not always available. Maybe you share the space with another group. Or the room is reserved part of the day for special events. We have long-offered the ability to block a room from being used during portions of the day or week. This was probably the first special room treatment introduced and even though it is not put into play all that often when it is needed, it tends to be really needed. If your schedule requires such protections, send us a note, and we will see to them.
So that's two issues covered, but as promised, there's more. Here are the two recent additions.
The next most common scenario is the room is "kinda" available to be used, but only in special situations or with prior approval. While the time blocking above strove to handle this, it just wasn't versatile enough to cleanly handle every situation. In response, we're introducing a NEW feature we call the REGISTRAR-ONLY setting. Here you can add a room to your list of options but then flag it as a Registrar-Only room. By doing this, you are telling the Scheduler that this room exists, but it may be used only if you, the schedule administrator, specifically request a class be placed there (through a Registrar Override). Without such a mandate the brain will consider the room off-limits, and it is as if the room doesn't exist. I predict our admins who have played the Active/Inactive shell game with the algorithm, will be giddy about this less hacky way of moving a room in and out of the scheduling rotation.
What we have above are some rather obvious and admittedly blunt tools to deal with common room issues. This last feature though adds a level of elegance and sophistication to your room management. The short version is we can now write special rules that will govern a room's behavior. The next obvious question is 'what sort of rules?'. Here are a few examples:
- Make it so only a specific CLASS, say Research and Writing, can use a room.
- Make it so only a specific TYPE of class, say Clinics or Seminars, can use a room.
- You could even say only a specific PROFESSOR can use a room.
There are numerous variations to this. My intention is not to iterate through each but to give you a sense of what is possible. But that last example alone, limiting a room's availability to a single professor, implies how exacting the touch can be.
But even cooler than this fine-motor control is how your scheduling landscape is extending. We are not saying this class MUST go in this room. That is how the previously discussed rules operate and is something you the admin must overtly pre-determine. These rules subtly assert themselves against your schedule. It is essentially saying if you need some extra space, you may use this room in this way. For tightly constrained schools who are right at the edge of their capacity, this new feature will prove a real-life saver. For schools who might not be that close to the line, it will be just another time-saving, angst-reducing feature that will make their scheduling challenge that much more effortless and their end-schedules that much more impressive. I imagine you can see how if I started getting into all the possible scenarios, we would be deep in the rabbit hole in no time so it's probably best we take that offline, and you reach out directly with your own scenario(s).
Now if there is a dour part to this story, it is that we, at ofCourse, will need to help you get any of these Room-Based rules in place. But all you need to do is send us a note describing what you're trying to achieve and we will help you get it set up.
In summary, some of the things covered by these two new features were 'technically' possible given the prior tools (some, not all). We could have figured out a way to wire a room/course to achieve what you're looking for, mostly. But making it happen would have been time-consuming and a little bit joyless, and that won't do because as everyone should know by this late stage, we are here to make the process easier, not harder. Or put differently, ofCourse Scheduling is in the joy-making business, not the joy-taking business and these new features are just a few more meaningful steps (of quite a few at this point) in that direction.
As always, see you on the scheduling pitch.
February 16, 2018