An institution’s timetable is the tool that determines where and when all teaching activities are taking place. Therefore, the timetable should also be the ideal tool to determine how well your using your teaching space – right?
Unfortunately, not. We have found that the accuracy of the timetable can vary significantly, with the number of timetabled activities taking place and the size of the classes occupying the rooms, often being significantly different to that timetabled.
Why does this happen? The reasons are varied; however, the bulk of inaccuracies are typically down to issues with the processes and practices connected to timetabling. Some examples of this include;
• Inaccurate and/or inefficient process for predicting planned class sizes, during timetable planning stages. There can be different processes per department or sometimes even by module, for doing this.
• Over estimation of the number classes required and the size of these classes, just in
case student numbers are larger than expected.
• Planned class sizes being matched to the capacity of the rooms, those booking want! (Not so innocent!)
• Staff uninformed on how to request timetabling bookings i.e. can specify weeks for bookings, they don’t have to be all semester!
• Inefficient, time consuming or lack of, process for cancelling those bookings no longer required.
• Room swaps!
In reality, each institution has their own process and practice issues that cause timetabling inaccuracies, that then result in space being wasted causing the estate to provide more space than is truly required. But how do you know whether your timetable is accurate in the first place?
Timetable Audit! (aka Actual Space Occupancy Data)
Actual space occupancy data (i.e the data collected from a space utilisation survey), provides an institution with an incredible resource for determining the accuracy of the timetable. This data includes the number of students that were recorded in each classroom, during each of the hours within your sample period (i.e 1/2/3 teaching weeks).
In order to audit your timetable data and find out how accurate your timetable really is, you need to compare your timetable data against your space occupancy data. There are lots of analysis techniques you can, to both highlight inaccuracies and potential reasons for these inaccuracies; I have listed a couple of the core analysis techniques below;
• Actual space occupancy frequency/occupancy/utilisation vs timetable frequency/occupancy/utilisation; Any difference here can indicate timetable inaccuracies but should only be used as an indicator – not hard evidence! (Open access teaching space is often used more than it is timetabled for example; which isn’t a bad thing! But does result in differences)
• How many bookings were (or weren’t!) attended; hours when there were timetabled activities but 0 students were recorded as attending.
• Recorded class size vs Timetabled “planned” class size; Look out for those that are significantly smaller and any that are larger.
• Recorded class size vs Timetabled “actual” class size; Again, look out for those that are significantly smaller and any that are larger.
• Timetabled “planned” class size vs “actual” class size; You don’t need the occupancy data to do this, but this check is just as important as the planned size should be very similar to the actual. For those that aren’t – highlight them!
Once you have done the above analysis you can then take it a step further to get an idea on why any differences might be happening, such as by analysing these results by day, timeslot and space type to give a few examples. This extra analysis will help you to build up some ideas on why these inaccuracies are occurring and is helpful for when carrying out the next step!
Why are these differences occurring?
Once you’ve determined how accurate your timetable is (or isn’t) you will then want to find out why any differences exist.. The aim here, being to pinpoint the processes and practices that have resulted in the timetable data being inaccurate so you can then resolve them (such as those noted near that start of this article)
An effective method of doing this, is to send out those highlighted differences to those departments responsible, requesting feedback; you can then use this feedback for pinpointing the processes/practices responsible. I would then highly recommend that you meet with each of those departments to go over the feedback, so you can gather the extra detail behind the reasons given.
However……. before this is done, I highly recommend that you look to gain senior buy-in from each department involved. I found this often makes the difference between this fact-finding mission being a success or a failure.
If there are significant differences between that timetabled and that taking place, then there are certainly benefits in resolving them, that you can highlight to each department. I have listed a couple below;
• Student timetable is currently inaccurate with more timetable activities than they need to attend (if there are rooms booked and not used). This has an obvious link to student experience.
• Rooms booked and not used, reduces the number of timeslots available to those that need them. This certainly has a negative impact on student timetables, as the timetabling team is forced to timetable activities into a limited number of timeslots, reducing their ability to create student friendly timetables.
• Survey class size smaller than actual class size. Potential to be student attendance, therefore this info very useful to departments. If not then, inappropriate size room likely to be timetabled for class, impacting on student experience. This increases the pressure and therefore also reduces the availability, of the larger capacity teaching spaces.
• Planned class size significantly larger than survey and/or “actual” class size; Can result in larger rooms be timetabled than required (student experience impact) or late room changes being made (potentially impacting on the student timetables). Also, again, increases the pressure and therefore also reduces the availability, of the larger capacity teaching spaces.
Successful Timetable Audit
Once you have determined what is causing your timetable to be inaccurate and why, the next step to successfully completing your audit is to of course now to solve these issues.
How you do this, will of course depend on the issues raised, however the successful projects we have worked on typically involve department senior buy-in (as noted earlier) as well as continuing close engagement with those departments involved. Remember, ultimately it is likely to be the processes they are responsible for, or at least engage with, that are resulting in many of the inaccuracies within the timetable and there are benefits to both the University and the individual departments in resolving many of the issues you will have highlighted.
This is rather of an extensive subject that I have condensed into an article form and typically requires a unique approach for each institution, therefore if you do have any questions or would like to discuss how you can successfully implement this approach at your institution; please do get in contact. I am very happy to offer my advice free of charge.
Similarly, if you are interested in improving the accuracy of your timetable, but do not have the time and/or resources to do so; we can certainly help. We provide a range of timetabling and space management consultancy services that we tailor to each client’s objectives, so please do get in contact if this is something you would like to discuss further.
I hope you have found this article interesting and helpful!