This article looks at how to improve your teaching space utilisation, without even having to leave your desk. Each tip can be actioned independently of each other and will help you to pin point, investigate and resolve factors that are effecting your institutions utilisation of teaching space.
1) Timetabled Class Sizes For Module Activities
The timetabled activity class sizes, are meant to represent the number of students that should be attending each of these activities. This aspect of the timetable data can become inaccurate as the timetable often relies on academic departments to predict class sizes for the upcoming year and therefore a centrally managed timetable class size check can be difficult to administer during timetable construction. This can result in classes being timetabled into rooms much larger than they need, simply because the timetable was provided with inaccurate class size data. If your timetable is rolled over each year, which most institutions will do in some manner, there is even greater risk of this happening with last year’s timetabled classes being rolled over into the next year, without being checked for changes in module enrolment numbers – are you sure the class sizes are being checked each year?
Thankfully, you can check your timetabled class size accuracy by using the following data:
a) Timetabled module activities with class sizes
b) Student contact hours, split by activity type.
c) Total number of students enrolled on each module
You hopefully have timetabled modules activities with class sizes available to you via a timetable export, if you don’t have class sizes or module information in your timetable data I strongly advise investigating why not, as this information is crucial for tracking data accuracy and monitoring space utilisation. The student contact hours and total number of students per module information you may well already have within your timetabling software, however if not it is likely to be listed somewhere central for the students to view – i.e. a module catalogue and hopefully it will be split up by activity type. If its not, then your academic departments should have this information – what you are trying to determine, is how many students are meant to attend each timetabled activity.
The next step, is to compare these two pieces of information and highlight any where you are unsure or notice differences and then investigate why. I find the best method of doing this is to go through all the data first, split the highlighted activities up by department and get in contact with a timetable contact from that department to discuss. This will help you and the department to understand why any inaccuracies have occurred, address the problematic procedure and therefore increase you utilisation rate for following years.
2) Timetabled Hours For Module Activities
Similarly to point 2), the number of timetabled hours per module is another piece of the timetabling information that can become inaccurate due to the method of data collection. Typically, this information is requested via each academic department and this request is often filtered down to the academic staff who are taking each module – therefore, if any of an institutions academic staff are unaware of how to correctly request a timetable activity or the importance of doing so, the data is likely to be inaccurate. If there aren’t any timetable processes in place to check the accuracy of the hours requested against that required (i.e. student contact hours per module), modules can unwittingly be timetabled for may more hours than required – resulting in rooms being booked and not used. A common scenario, is rooms being booked “All Semester”, despite a room only being required for a proportion of the weeks – this done 10’s or 100’s of times wastes a huge amount of space!
To investigate, follow the same procedure as point 2) however this time you are looking to compare the total number of hours timetabled for each module’s activity type against the number of contact hours each student should have. Watch out for where the activity has been split into groups i.e. seminar groups, as this will therefore effect the number of activities needed to be timetabled. Again highlight any that you consider may be inaccurate and contact the department(s) responsible. Find out why these inaccuracies have occurred and work with the department to solve them for the immediate and long term – i.e. correct this years timetable and adjust or create a new procedure that resolves the booking inaccuracy, so for future years this doesn’t reoccur.
3) Create A Timetable Model
A timetable model, can be a very effective tool for investigating whether you are currently using or plan to be using your available teaching space efficiently. If this is done each year, using planned student numbers for the following year, you can ensure that you have the teaching space required to deliver a space and student experience friendly timetable. Without modelling any planned changes to teaching space or timetabled activities, you will run the risk of losing potential income and estates costs through wasted space or have to make last minute changes to the timetable or estate in order to cope with an increase in timetabled activities which can have damaging effects on the student experience and space utilisation.
A timetable model can be done one of two ways, either using you institutions timetable software or by creating a module using software such as Microsoft’s Excel. The latter will have to use some presumptions such as a target frequency rate, but will typically take considerably less time than that of a timetable model using the timetabling software. Your target frequency rate will have to account for all the constraints that exists within your timetable, such as student/staff clashes and student experience preferences, that all stop the timetable for achieving a 100% frequency rate. By carrying out a model this way you can ascertain whether you require less or more teaching space (or available timetable hours per week), then change the model to reflect this and run it again.
Finally once you have found a space vs timetabled activities equilibrium it would be worth testing this via the timetabling software to alleviate any fears of using your target frequency rate. This will help to calm any concerns over whether any planned space reduction/increase will prevent the timetable from being produced considering all of the current and planned constraints. This last step isn’t a necessity if your target frequency rate has been calculated accurately, but will help to provide s definitive answer to any fears.
Creating a timetable model is an incredibly useful tool as you an create a long term view of what is required not only for now, but for years to come. This will enable you to plan any changes to the estate well in advance, maximising (or minimising!) the effect any changes will have upon the users by creating a carefully considered long term plan for tackling any space related issues that will arise as a consequence of the long term predictions.
4) Create An “Ideal Teaching Space” Model
I personally really like this kind of model, as it creates a picture of what you require given the current and/or planned timetable requests – ignoring your current space constraints. This model enables you to create a plan of what can be done to get your estate closer to this ideal teaching space provision. In creating this plan, you should uncover ideas that will cost little time or funding to make and result in real improvements to your space utilisation and/or student experience, that you previously may not have thought of. In addition, if this model’s findings are used to influence the estate strategy this can help to ensure future estates projects work towards providing this ideal teaching space requirement, maximising the benefits the institution receives from its estate.
To create this type of model, I would follow a similar procedure to that of point 4), calculating your ideal teaching space provision outside of the timetable software using software such as Microsoft Excel and then testing this space provision using the timetable software. Again as with point 4), this can be done to project years into the future as well as test changes to timetable delivery etc helping you to ensure that your estate is developed in line with the institutions timetable demands.
5) Plan your teaching space, with design software
Finally, a quick and visual tip for improving your utilisation of space is to check whether you are actually getting the most out of your space by creating teaching space floor plans, including all furniture and equipment using architecture design software such as AutoCAD. This can be completely desk based, if planning to purchase furniture/equipment for a teaching space as you can use the free 2D and 3D “blocks” that many furniture suppliers now provide, to create a space plan for each teaching space (providing you already have a room drawing). These blocks enable you to experiment with different furniture and equipment set-ups from your desk, to determine which furniture and equipment will enable you to maximise your capacity whilst also creating a effective teaching space.
I also advise creating space plans for all of your current teaching space with furniture and equipment accurately measured and added to these drawings. This will involve measuring all the furniture and equipment in the teaching rooms, so isn’t strictly desk based, but as with above this will enable you to get the most out of your existing teaching space.
So, what do you think? I hope you have found these “5 Tips For Improving Your Teaching Space Utilisation Without Leaving Your Desk” interesting and helpful, if so please remember let others know. Also, if you have anything to add or have recently carried out any of the tips yourself, then please let others know by leaving a comment at the bottom of the article, it would be great to hear from you.
If you are interested in getting the most out of your teaching space and want further information, take a look at the Teaching Space Utilisation Surveys and Consultancy , Space Modelling and Timetable Modelling pages for further information. Also please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me directly, I am very happy to offer free advice to help you get the most out of your estate.
All the best