The difference between that timetabled and surveyed can be very significant, with often 100’s if not 1000’s of hours booked and not attended per week. This can equate to a huge waste of teaching space; an hour booked and not used could have been made available for someone else who needed it, been used to create an improved student/staff timetable or even resulted in extra teaching space having to be provided when in real terms it wasn’t required.
The number of hours booked and not used is however not the only the issue that is worthwhile investigating when comparing the two data sets….
Over the last year we have carried out numerous teaching space utilisation surveys for HE institutions and for some a low occupancy rate has been recorded, with rooms often being used by classes that are significantly smaller than the capacity of the teaching space they occupy.
Why is this happening?
The survey data alone tells us that teaching activities are being booked in rooms that are much larger than required, perhaps suggesting that the solution would be to simply timetable these classes into suitably sized rooms – hurray, occupancy rate resolved, right?
Unfortunately, not, as with a lot of things the solution isn’t typically this simple.
Those in charge of creating the timetable are likely to be already attempting to fit activities into suitable sized teaching spaces using the class sizes they have been provided i.e. the timetable class sizes. Therefore, from a timetabling perspective this is already happening; despite the survey data saying the contrary.
The key to understanding why the low occupancy rate is occurring is therefore within the timetable data, or more specifically by comparing the timetable and surveyed class sizes.
Timetable vs survey class size check
The most effective way of doing this, unless you have a handy software solution for doing so, is to get both data sets into excel and use this software to compare the two. The method of doing this will depend on the format of your data sets, however I would advise you;
· Ensure both data sets are in a list format, ideally with the survey and timetable data displaying the data per hour (although if this isn’t possible there are excel solutions for getting round this).
· Then concatenate data in both data sets to make unique identifiers that you can use to vlookup timetable class sizes from the timetable data set to the survey data set, or vice versa. Typically, your room name/day/time will be enough detail for a unique identify.
· You can also use this same method to vlookup over other information, such as activity names, module names, department names, staff names etc. This is useful if you intend to investigate the causes further, as you can pinpoint those you would like to discuss the issue(s) with.
As a minimum our aim would then be to produce a list of the timetable activities that occurred during the survey week with the capacity, surveyed class size and the timetable class size noted beside each.
It is then simply a case of comparing three data points;
1) Room capacity vs survey class size
2) Room capacity vs timetable class size
3) Survey class size vs timetable class size.
Once you have this, you can determine where the problem, or problems, are occurring.
Room capacity vs survey class size
By comparing the two, you are calculating each individual activity’s occupancy rate. Therefore, this is a very useful tool for highlighting the worst/best activities and then using the other two comparison techniques (see next two points) to discover why these low/high occupancy rates are occurring before investigating further.
Room capacity vs timetable class size
You can use this field to determine those activities that could potentially have been timetabled into a more suitable sized teaching space, with the data that was available. We would recommend that you sort by the difference, then highlight all those with a timetable class size that is significantly different to the room capacity.
This data can then be queried with those responsible for allocating the teaching space, to determine whether any of these could have been accommodated in a smaller classroom and to detail why this/these bookings have been timetabled into teaching spaces comparatively smaller than that required.
Survey class size vs timetable class size
This field can be used to highlight those activities with surveyed class sizes that are significantly different to that of the timetabled class size. Often this can be very interesting, as the results can highlight some with surveyed class sizes that are very significantly different to that provided for timetabling.
Any significant differences will highlight one of two things, or potentially both;
1) Low student attendance
2) Inaccurate timetable class sizes.
Both bring with them their own concerns, therefore we always advise that any activities with a significant difference are sent to the school/department responsible so that they can investigate and provide feedback. Similar to the approach referred to in a previous article for investigating the number of hours booked and not used.
Feedback – the key to the solution!
By asking (and hopefully receiving) feedback on both “Room Capacity Vs Timetable Class Size” and “Survey Class Size Vs Timetable Class Size” differences, this provides the information required to address the issues.
We recommend that all feedback is analysed and then discussed in person with those schools/departments that provided it, there may well be key themes/common feedback issues that can be investigated further and in doing so you can get to the root of the issue(s) and solve the core problem – rather than simply correct those that the survey comparison has highlighted.
For example, there may be a common issue of timetable class sizes being provided that match a specific teaching space’s capacity, in order to ensure this is what is timetabled. Similarly, a school may have a large number of inaccurate class sizes – why is this? If the timetable is rolled over, are class sizes checked and amended each year? What is causing these inaccuracies?
By investigating these issues and looking to solve the root of any problems, this should improve timetable accuracy and for future years improve the occupancy rate for the teaching space. Typically, this results in a reduction in the demand for the larger teaching spaces, plus provides a more accurate data set that can be used for planning teaching space requirements for the future.
I hope you have found this article helpful, if you would like to discuss any aspects of this article or any of the consultancy services we offer (such as space utilisation surveys) further, please feel free to contact me it would be great to hear from you.
All the best