As shown in previous articles, there are many useful techniques for analysing teaching space utilisation data to determine how well space has been used on average during a survey week. However, one aspect these techniques don’t consider is how teaching space frequency, occupancy and utilisation change during the teaching week.
Why do this?
Any fluctuation in the teaching space utilisation rate during the teaching week will affect your ability to reduce/increase the number or size of the teaching spaces available. This is simply because the estate has to be able to accommodate the peaks in demand and in doing so, this equates to large amounts of space being underutilised during the troughs (low utilisation). By creating a timeline of utilisation during the survey week, you can interrogate and investigate the reasons behind the various peaks and troughs during the survey week and determine how to reduce the severity of both.
From a space management perspective equal demand throughout the survey week is the prime target, as this will enable you to amend the state provision to provide exactly the right number, type and size spaces to accommodate all the teaching demands without any oversupply. This in turn, will therefore provide you with an excellent space utilisation rate and ensure you are getting the most out of your teaching space.
How to calculate Frequency, Occupancy and Utilisation Rates by Timeslot?
To calculate your teaching space frequency, occupancy and utilisation rates by timeslot you will need to analyse the data using different methods to that used previously although the general concept and information required is the same. The difference being, that instead of calculating the frequency and occupancy rates for each space (or a group of spaces), you will need to calculate the frequency and occupancy rates for each timeslot.
A quick and automatic method of calculating frequency and occupancy rates for each timeslot, without having to worry about the formula’s etc, is to use the Education Space Consultancy Teaching Space Utilisation Data Analysis Tool. To gain access to this tool, simply subscribe to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter and you will receive a password that will provide you with access to this and any other resource provided by Education Space Consultancy, for free. Then simply enter your institutions space utilisation data into the spreadsheet and you timeslot frequency and occupancy rates will be automatically calculated and presented in a table and graph such as that shown below.
Why Are There Peaks and Troughs?
As the example above shows, there is typically some if not a lot of fluctuation in frequency, occupancy and utilisation rates during the survey week and similarly to other data analysis techniques discussed in this series generated from the “8 Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Teaching Space Utilisation Data” article there are often many reasons. Therefore the first step is to understand what is causing the peaks and troughs and to do this, it is first worth interrogating the data further i.e. by splitting the data up by space type, location, department/central ownership, availability and access, then calculating the frequency, occupancy and utilisation rates per timeslot for each sub division.
By splitting the institution data up by these categories, you will be able to highlight whether it is a proportion of the spaces i.e a specific space type or location that is causing the peak and trough or whether the highlighted peak/trough is a common trend across the whole institution. Also, by splitting the data into these categories, you may also notice other peaks and troughs that have not been highlighted in the institutional timeslot analysis, again it is worth highlighting these as issues as they also effect space requirement for that category.
Once you understand which spaces are causing the peak and troughs you can investigate why and as with the other space utilisation data analysis techniques discussed in this series the best place to start is with the person(s) responsible for managing the timetabling of these spaces. Are there any space or timeslot restrictions that they know of and implement during the timetabling process that could have resulted in this peak/trough for these spaces? If so, do they know why this has been implemented? Then, also ask the person(s) responsible for requesting the bookings or the department responsible for the space/bookings. Again, discussing the results and investigating what the reasons are for the peaks and troughs – remember, these may well just be preferences rather than real constraints, so try to determine exactly what they are, why they have been put in place and how they have been founded.
As with all the data analysis techniques discussed in this series, effective communication is critical to not only understanding the issues effecting timeslot utilisation but also to solving them. Therefore discuss why you are raising this problem with the persons involved and why you are looking to solve it, ensuring you explain this information in a meaningful way that they can clearly understand and relate to. Also, be sure to ask and discuss their thoughts and reasons behind this peak/trough in utilisation as well as what they feel could be a potential solution, it would also certainly be worth discussing what you feel could be a potential solution and why, so you can incorporate this feedback and ensure you have the full picture before any actioning or recommending any changes.
Common Causes of Peaks and Troughs
Early Morning Starts 09-10:00am
As shown in the data set above, frequency ( + occupancy and utilisation) rates typically slump first thing each morning i.e. the 09-10:00am timeslot. I have found this is common across most institutions and the reason given is typically that the students and/or lecturers don’t want to be taught/teach this early.
In simple terms, I can see the point, starting teaching later is likely to be more preferable especially if you only have a couple of lectures each day. However, the consequence of this is that more teaching space is required in order to accommodate the same number of teaching activities at great expense to the institution.
Therefore, it is worth considering and discussing whether the significant cost of providing and maintaining this extra teaching space is outweighed by the benefits of permitting teaching to start later in the day. Is there evidence that student experience or results suffer due to teaching taking place at 09-10:00am? What if the money spent providing the extra space to accommodate this preference could instead be spent elsewhere, refurbishing the released space for other purposes that could benefit students and staff?
Late Afternoon and Evening Teaching 16:00 >
Teaching space frequency, occupancy and utilisation rates also typically drop off during the late afternoon and evening timeslots for teaching space. Again, as discussed above the reason given for this is typically that students and staff do not want to be taught/teach at this time.
The same theory also applies here, if teaching is condensed in the middle of the day more teaching rooms are required than actually needed at great expense to the institution. Is there evidence suggesting that the student experience and results suffer from teaching at this time? If so, what is it about late afternoon and evening teaching that is causing this? What if the students timetabled day ensured that having a late lecture meant they didn’t have an early lecture that (and the next) day? What if onsite campus facilities – i.e. daycare, student services, security, shops etc remained opened in the evening?
Wednesday Afternoon Sports
Many institutions ensure that Wednesday afternoons are made available for sport activities, therefore teaching of undergraduate and sometimes masters students is not permitted. Again it is worth considering and weighing up the cost considerations of permitting this vs the benefits, this constraint delivers. In most cases, I have found that there are significant student experience benefits of ensuring Wednesday afternoon remains “teaching free” for University students, however it is certainly worth considering what other activities could use the space at this time.
Could student societies use the teaching space? Could students book the rooms for activities such as presentations or studying? Can staff book the teaching rooms for activities such as meetings? Could external companies or other education suppliers use the teaching spaces for training/presentations/meeting etc?
Lunch Periods 12-13:00 and or 13-14:00
Some institutions enforce a lunch period, either staggering classes so students either have 12-13 or 13-14 as their lunch period or all students have an hour for lunch at the same time. As before, it is certainly worth considering the space costs of doing so and weighing this up against the benefits this constraint delivers.
Is there evidence that student experience and results would suffer without an enforced lunch break? I am not suggesting students and staff work 09-10:00 every day without a break, rather in most cases students don’t have teaching all day and therefore is an enforced lunch break as well as other free periods actually required?
If lunch times are seen as a requirement, I would certainly advise considering staggering the lunch period over 2 hours (12-13 adn 13-14) as this will reduce the impact this has on the demand during the other timeslots during the teaching week. Also, what else could the available space be used for during these lunch periods? (see Wednesday Afternoon Sports suggestions)
Monday Mornings and Friday Afternoons
These are typically times when again low frequency, occupancy and utilisation rates are recorded. As with before, weigh up the costs of the low utilisation at this time against the actual benefits it delivers – are there genuine benefits with avoiding Monday morning and Friday afternoon? If so, what are they? And can they be overcome without preventing teaching at these times?
In many cases, the reasons for low utilisation rates at certain times or on certain days will be because this how it has always been. Therefore be sure to investigate the perceived benefits of not teaching during certain times/days – are there any? If there are, can they be resolved or met without restricting teaching at these times? Always weigh up the costs associated with providing this constraint and ensure that those involved are aware of the costs associated. Just because this was found to be the best solution 10 years ago – doesn’t mean it is now, a lot may have changed since then!
Ultimately, it may not be feasible to overcome all the teaching constraints that result in an imbalance of activities during the teaching week however if this is the case this still presents an opportunity for the institution to explore other avenues that will help to increase the number of activities using the space at this time (as well as other many other benefits). Some of these could include enabling staff and students to book the rooms for activities at this time (potentially benefiting student experience, results and staff), allowing student societies to book the space (benefiting the student experience and the societies), opening up the teaching space at these times for external businesses (extra income) or educational partners (local links, extra income and potentially improved student experience).
By investigating timeslot frequency, occupancy and utilisation rates and the reasons behind the peaks and troughs, you are sure to find areas that can be improved and will help you to rationalise your estate and ensure you are getting the most out of your space.
I hope you have found the article useful and interesting, remember to sign up to Education Space Consultancy newsletter to gain free access to the Teaching Space Utilisation Data Analysis Tool that will enable you to instantly analyse you teaching space utilisation data.
If you currently don’t carry out teaching space utilisation surveys at your institution or do but currently manage them internally or with another company, please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me to discuss how Education Space Consultancy can offer you a professional, reliable and client focussed teaching space utilisation service that will provide you with the information you require, when you need it, at an affordable price. Also, remember to take a look at the Teaching Space Utilisation Survey and Consultancy page for more information on how Education Space Consultancy can help you gather this information and help you improve your institutions teaching space utilisation
Next week I will be posting another article in this series, this time looking at Department vs Central Teaching Space Analysis so remember to look out for this or sign up to the Education Space Consultancy newsletter to be sent a link to this article via the fortnightly newsletter.
All the best