The number of weeks a taught module activity is timetabled for, often fall sunder the “all semester” bracket with module activities being booked for all weeks, at the set day/time throughout the semester. There is therefore typically (and hopefully) an expectation that these timeslots will then be used for all the timeslots booked ……but how sure are you, that this is actual what is happening ? Are all the weeks booked, actually being used?
I have found that in answering this there is often an institutional belief that yes, the timetable does reflect what is actually happening. However once investigated via a space utilisation survey it quickly becomes apparent that this is certainly not the case. Why is this?
In most cases, those requesting timetable activities do have the option of requesting specific days and times but either don’t realise or if they do, still choose to select “All Semester”. This can be for a variety of reasons/misunderstandings, such as “I thought I would be more likely to get a better room, if I chose all semester”, “I didn’t realise I could choose specific weeks”, “Although I won’t teach all weeks, I like the flexibility of having all the weeks available”, “I haven’t yet decided which weeks I will be teaching” and “It’s easier to select all weeks, rather than select each individual week, what’s the difference anyway?”.
All of these can be answered through effectively communicating the impact this booking behaviour has upon teaching room availability, the timetable and consequentially student experience and available funding. There are two common themes, 1) A misunderstanding over what is expected, resulting in more weeks being requested than needed and 2) A misunderstanding of the effects requesting more weeks than required has.
I would combat both of these points together, combining the communication tactics explored in a two previous articles; 7 Ways To Improve Timetabling Communication And Understanding Within Your Institution and How Framing A Problem For Your Audience Will Improve Success in order to quickly and effectively resolve the booking issue. Therefore to do this, you will need to fully understand the issue and communicate its effects clearly to those that are requesting timetable activities. So, to take a previous comment “What’s the difference anyway?”
The overbooking of weeks for timetabled activities ultimately results in more teaching space being booked than required, but stating this often dosn’t make it any clearer to those outside of the timetable world. “How can releasing a few weeks from my timetable request back into the timetable, improve the timetable for the students?” This is a fair question and is what I believe to be the core reason for rooms being booked when not required. The answer is, that if everyone released the odd weeks they don’t require into the timetable you end up being able to piece together activities into one room, rather than the two or three they originally took.
I find a useful way to picture this, is to think of Tetris. The individual pieces shape, presents the weeks they are requesting. Therefore they each piece won’t neatly fit together with all or most of of the other pieces, however, remember you have 1000’s of bookings not just a couple. Therefore, you will be able to combine pieces together in a certain pattern in order to save space and still ensure actvities remain in the same room for all of their requested weeks. The image below gives a better idea of this concept:
In this example, when the Maths and English lectures are timetabled for all weeks, they naturally take up a room each on Monday 09-10:00. However, when specific weeks have been provided it has been feasible to slot the requests together into Lecture Room 1, only. This therefore, saves an entire timeslot in Lecture Room 2, all semester that can be used for another timetable request.
Although this may seem idealistic, in my experience there will be many instances where you do see this perfect scenario or if not a slight variation where activities still slot together but there remains one or two weeks where the room is vacant. In my experience, the result can be even more beneficial with an even greater amount of weeks being released back into the pool thanks to the improved booking practice of only timetabling the weeks that are required. I have seen many instances where both lecture rooms and practical rooms have been requested all semester, despite only one or the other being required each week. In other examples, teaching rooms have been requested all semester despite them only being needed for the first two weeks. There can be huge gains, in ensuring only the weeks needed are requested and therefore timetabled.
There will of course, still be activities that do not neatly fit together with other timetable activities leaving rooms vacant for some weeks. This represents a fantastic opportunity for your institution, as you will now have many more timeslots available for adhoc teaching and non-teaching activities.
Adhoc workshops, guest lectures, commercial events, student events, tutorials, student seminars, presentations, revision sessions, exams and many other activities can be accommodated within these newly available timeslots all helping to improve the student experience and/or commercial activity for the institution. Not only this, but by using these new available timeslots your institutions utilisation of space will also increase, ensuring you get the most out of your space.
The key, is to communicate this message effectively to those that request timetable activities using the skills suggested in 7 Ways To Improve Timetabling Communication And Understanding Within Your Institution and How Framing A Problem For Your Audience Will Improve Success articles, as well as providing a user friendly method of doing so – i.e. via an online timetable data collection platform. Not sure if this effects your institution, compare you timetable frequency rate against your actual frequency rate – is there a difference? Then this almost certainly effects your institution, meaning that you have the opportunity to get more out of of your existing space by simply addressing this issue!
So, what do you think? Let me know you thoughts via the comments box at the bottom of the page, it would be great to hear from you.
If you are interested in the potential benefits of improving this booking practice and would like to discuss this further, I am very happy to talk this over with you free of charge so please don’t hesitate to get in contact.
All the best