Picture of a man listening intently during the Scientia User Conference

Scientia User Conference Day 2: Exams

With exam season upon us, David Hathaway, Product Manager for Scientia’s exams solutions, looks back on the exams-themed sessions at our recent User Conference.

This was the second year that we have run a dedicated Exams Stream at the Scientia User Conference.  A significant number of people attend the Conference primarily for the exams sessions (and some come just for that day), and it was heartening to see that our ~70-seater room was decently full – often almost to capacity – for most of the presentations.

To the untrained eye, planning exams may not seem different to scheduling a course, but it is – significantly.  Although inexorably linked, there are two distinct parts to staging exams: scheduling them and then managing them.

The scheduling part of exams is very much like scheduling lectures, albeit that you may well have different student sets in the same room – a group of history students and a group of maths students, for example – or the same group spread over many rooms. This presents challenges unique to exam timetablers.  The management of exams relates more to the preparation and delivery of the event itself: getting papers securely produced and delivered to the venue; invigilator recruitment, training and rostering; taking into consideration students who need extra provision; and management of the exam sessions.

Our Exams Stream was an opportunity for our customers to share how they manage their own exams – and a chance for us to update them on how our solutions are developing to meet the changing needs of the sector.

Going Anywhere?

Picture of David Hathaway at the Scientia User ConferenceThe day kicked off with a Scientia product development update.  While focussing on Exam Scheduler (ES) and Exams Management System (EMS), the session also touched on integration capabilities – particularly the new ability to make exam timetables available to staff and students via Publish.

The big news was that we will be moving ES to the Cloud (starting next year) as part of Syllabus+ Anywhere.  Like all elements of Syllabus+ Anywhere, exams users will get a new interface, components and functionality – and it will be underpinned by next-level reporting and auditing tools. This makes it much more than just a change of platform.

Listening at the Scientia User ConferenceUser Presentations

  • Jackie Lupton, University of Southampton, looked at the challenges of managing the invigilation process – or more accurately, managing invigilators. Following the process through recruitment, training and then timetabling invigilators, Jackie reinforced her key messages with references to how ES has helped Southampton drive changes to the invigilation process and delivered material benefits.
  • Copenhagen Business School runs a dedicated, off-site exam building with some 600+ workstations.  Lene Tobiassen’s presentation described the drivers and business benefits for using this kind of building, the main one being that it minimises disruption to normal scheduled activities and, mainly because of the flexible partitioning, creates a much better environment for running exams. All exams at CBS are taken online and Lene’s presentation looked at the benefits (improved workflow, monitoring and transparency) and challenges (hardware issues, etc.) of running exams this way.
  • Torben Grobaard, from Copenhagen University, stood in for his colleague Dorte Jensen (who was unfortunately ill) and covered their new, all-digital exams processes. He described the new software they commissioned and implemented to plan, deliver and mark all written exams at the university – and how it links to ES to produce optimised timetables for students. Particularly interesting was how he unpicked their process of putting the right people and equipment in the right room at the right time – no mean feat. The second half of his presentation gave an overview of the dedicated exams building run by Copenhagen University – particularly interesting was the revelation they cover a proportion of the building costs by renting it to outside organisations for running exams.

Making exams work for everyone

At the core of our solutions is the idea that using them can make academic life better for everyone.  This ethos is at the forefront of our forthcoming EMS solution, where we have dedicated an entire module to supporting students who need alternative arrangements or additional support in exam situations.  The Conference workshop I chaired on this subject was lively and informative with lots of idea-sharing and discussion – so much so that I had to stop it!

The workshop format suits some subjects more than others.  Based on discussions I heard throughout the day, a similar workshop session around invigilator management would be a good idea.  We will look at running this at the conference next year.

New for 2017: Exams-specific SRUG

The growing popularity of the Conference Exams Stream encouraged us to think about how we could further meet this interest throughout the year.  The news that we will have an exams-specific SRUG (Scientia Regional User Group) for the first time this year was very well received. I can now say that it will be held on 31 October at the East Midlands Conference Centre.  Booking will open in June, full details TBC.

With ES 3.5.4 and a full EMS release just around the corner, this is an exciting time for our exams solution customers.  Find out more about both solutions by listening to the podcasts below.

See more pictures from the Conference here, including the world’s most tense game of Jenga.

Customer Stories: Aberystwyth

Aberystwyth University logo

Organisation and management of courses is a key driver for student satisfaction. Aberystwyth transformed its fortunes in this area with a little help from us.

With just a few days left for UK students to complete the 2017 National Student Survey, we thought we’d look back on one of last year’s biggest success stories.

Abersytwyth University opened in 1872 with a cohort of 26 students and three teaching staff.  Today, it has more than 10,000 students studying across its six academic Institutes.  The main campus of the University is situated on Penglais Hill, overlooking the town of Aberystwyth and Cardigan Bay, and comprises most of the University buildings, Arts Centre, Students’ Union, and many of the student residences.  The University boasts a number of famous alumni, including HRH Charles, Prince of Wales.

The Challenge

Aberystwyth took in an unusually large intake of students in 2011.  This placed considerable pressure on the university’s existing timetabling processes.  As a result, the 2012 National Student Survey (NSS) highlighted shortcomings in Aberystwyth’s organisation and management of courses.  Data collection was inconsistent, leading to availability clashes.  Lectures were scheduled by a central timetabling office into a subset of large classrooms; smaller rooms were ‘owned’ and managed by departments, making them invisible to the central scheduling team.  Furthermore, classes were ‘rolled over’ from the previous year, meaning that a big room which had once housed a big class might be allocated to a far smaller group – and vice-versa. This had led to inefficient use of teaching space.

The Solution

In 2013, Aberystwyth commissioned Scientia to undertake a Business Process Review.  Our recommendations led to a complete restructure of its timetabling and space management processes, including:

  • Making more rooms centrally owned and therefore available to the central Timetabling team;
  • Refining data collection methods to reduce staff and room availability clashes;
  • Implementing the auto-scheduling capability of Syllabus+ Enterprise, meaning classes would be appropriately scheduled according to room capacity; and
  • Creating a personalised timetable for each student.

The Outcome

With teaching space now largely centrally-owned, formerly ‘hidden’ spaces devolved to Faculties are now visible to the central Timetabling Team.  Combined with the auto-scheduling functionality in Syllabus+ Enterprise, Aberystwyth has been able to optimise its use of rooms and resources, significantly improving utilisation rates.

“Thanks to these changes, we now have the most efficient timetable possible.”
Tim Davies, Director of Information Services at Aberystwyth

“We’ve undergone a complete change in concept and culture.  Before, we scheduled classes with very little information available to us, meaning that we spent a lot of time after the production of the timetable making changes – a very labour-intensive process.  We reduced the number of ways for staff to give us their availability information and made the format consistent.  Having that information at the start of the process means far fewer changes once the timetable’s been produced.  Autoscheduling with Enterprise means we are optimising the available space and providing the best possible timetable for our staff and students each year,” said Tim.

Combined with other efforts to improve the student experience, Aberystwyth has once again put itself back at the top of the tables, achieving 92% in the 2016 NSS – 4th in the UK and 1st in Wales for overall satisfaction.  This 9% year-on-year rise was the second-biggest improvement for a mainstream university in 2016.  Satisfaction with the organisation and management of courses has also made a marked improvement.

“Successful Timetabling has played an important part in improving the student experience.”
Jackie Sayce, Institute Manager at Aberystwyth

Building on recent successes, Aberystwyth has recently launched its ApAber app, enabling students and staff to access their personalised timetables on the web and from mobile devices.  Amongst other things, they can also access their AberLearn virtual learning environment, see what public computers are available, check their attendance record, and find out how much money they have on their AberCard.

Download this customer story here.

Day one of the Scientia User Conference

The Importance of Scheduling for Student Satisfaction

The importance of student satisfaction has grown in line with tuition fees and competition from a global higher education marketplace.  It’s always mattered, but in the era of big student debt and funding predicated on performance, it’s now a key strategic aim for most institutions.  That’s why we chose it as the focus of our 2016 White Paper, and also why it became the theme for our 2017 EMEAA User Conference.  How students feel about their institution is influenced by numerous factors: the quality of teaching; access to learning resources; and examination and assessment, to name but a few.  Users of our software are particularly concerned with the impact good course organisation and management can have on student satisfaction.

Timetabling and Student Satisfaction

Timetabling is a niche part of academic administration, and our software is a niche product designed with and for that sector.  With such specialist knowledge and implementations specific to their institution, Timetablers tend to change job relatively infrequently.  That means we get many of the same people coming to Conference year after year, cementing the enduring relationships we have with our customers which go way beyond the usual provider-client transaction.  It’s a partnership in every sense of the word.  So the Wednesday morning of Conference is all about welcoming old friends – and making new ones – before we get down to business.


Darren Woodward at the Scientia User Conference 2017We kicked off after lunch with a high-level session on Syllabus+ Anywhere – our forthcoming Cloud-based scheduling solution.  This was Darren Woodward‘s fourth EMEAA User Conference, but the first since he ‘moved to the Dark Side’, as his former colleagues from Auckland put it.  Our poacher-turned-gamekeeper delivered a great session which looked at the features, benefits and roadmap for the solution.

It’s an incredibly exciting time for us and that came over in Darren’s presentation.  He focussed on how Syllabus+ Anywhere moves timetabling from a required back office function to an embedded service within an institution, able to help with everything from change management to capacity planning in Estates.  This new core solution will encompass much of the functionality currently covered by a number of our current products, not least data collection – the vital first piece in the scheduling puzzle.

Darren touched on some research which shows the connection between self-service and student satisfaction.  Enabling students and staff to do everything from module selection to ad-hoc room and resource booking is proven to increase productivity, efficiency and satisfaction.  The timetable is no longer something which is done to them, but done by them and for them.  Solutions such as Resource Booker, Publish and Enterprise Activity Adjuster already deliver this.

Getting User Experience (UX) right is absolutely key with Syllabus+ Anywhere.  To these ends, we have partnered with Isle Interactive who focus exclusively on UX and have an impressive and diverse roster of clients, including Cambridge Education Group and Muse.

Making a big place seem small: developing an ‘academic identity’

Dr Ben Calvert, USW, student satisfactionNext up was a keynote from Dr Ben Calvert, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Learning, Teaching and Student Experience at the University of South Wales (USW).  Ben’s insightful talk addressed the disconnect between academic pedagogies and processes, and asked: Are we all looking through the same lens?  Ben suggested that student satisfaction could be improved by joining up the dots between academic planning and university administration – not least by considering the timetable earlier in the course design process; the space in which we learn can have a profound impact upon that learning, and yet it is rarely considered during the course design phase.

USW have used Trendence to turn student data into actionable insights.  They discovered that many of their students struggled to find their place at university.  They did not identify as ‘academic’ and therefore had low expectations of their university outcome and future prospects.  USW implemented some changes to help them develop their ‘academic identity’ and make a big place – the university campus – seem smaller and less daunting.  One major change was to reduce the number of course modules.  Reducing the academic complexity meant they weren’t so overwhelmed by choice; it also gave them a more focussed programme of study, which helped to develop their academic identity.  The relevancy for our delegates was that a reduction in course modules makes it easier to create a good quality, coherent timetable.

Self-service: a driver for stakeholder satisfaction

SUC17_hkhThe excellent session on Enterprise Activity Adjuster (EAA), by Hull University’s Helen Kirby-Hawkins, took staff satisfaction as its starting point.  Hull had an interesting problem: if its tutors were unsatisfied with their scheduled classroom, they would simply book themselves an alternative using our Web Room Booking software – without cancelling the scheduled room!  This led to a chronic waste and shortage of space.  Hull’s solution was to implement EAA, enabling staff to make changes to the timetable themselves.

Initially, 30 tutors were given access and the ability to change any element of the scheduled session: day, time, room, teaching staff.  Uptake was great and feedback from staff was very positive: they felt empowered and valued for having control of their timetable beyond the data collection period – some months before the course delivery.

But what effect did changes to the published timetable have on student satisfaction?  Attendance data and feedback showed that they didn’t mind about room or staff changes, even at relatively short notice.  In fact, students were frequently happy that their tutor had moved the session to a ‘better’ room.  What they did mind were changes to the scheduled day and time – particularly if a lecture was being moved forward to earlier in the day.  With this insight, Helen and her team were able to limit the changes staff could make in EAA.

Questions from the floor centered on notification of frequent timetable changes.  Helen acknowledged that the number of changes had increased from 1,800 to 2,500 a year since EAA was rolled out.  Even a few years ago, promptly notifying students of this many changes would have been impossible.  But these days, she said, students tend to live week to week, constantly checking their academic calendar – updated from Syllabus+ throughout the day – on their mobile device or computer.  So despite the frequency of changes, students judged the timetable to be better overall.

Syllabus+ Anywhere: ambitious, agile, incremental

Mark Dickens, ScientiaThe final plenary of the day was a more technical look at Syllabus+ Anywhere – the stuff ‘under the hood’ – and how Scientia is gearing up to meet the challenges and opportunities it brings.  It’s a big and ambitious project, but thanks to a high-level of customer engagement and an Agile approach to development, we know we’re getting it right as we go.  There won’t be an Apple-style ‘big reveal’, as customers are so involved with the development process.  Despite that, we hope there will be a few pleasant surprises once they start using it later this year.


The day ended with dinner, the forging of new friendships, and the now-famous Dinesh Vaswani Memorial Quiz, named after a former Scientia colleague.  This year, we asked those present to donate their spare change in support of Jimmy’s Cambridge, a local homelessness charity.  Attendees generously gave £285, which Scientia has matched, meaning that Jimmy’s will receive £570 in total.  Heartfelt thanks to everyone for their contribution.

Winning Quiz team photo
Victorious Celts – the winning team at this year’s Conference Quiz

More insights and photos from our 2017 EMEAA User Conference soon!

Introducing Syllabus+ Anywhere

What’s in a name? For us, everything, says Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia

Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at ScientiaWhat is a technology year worth in human years?  Can we apply the same 1:7 ratio we do to calculate ‘dog years’?  At approaching 30 years old, Syllabus+, our core scheduling software, should be pushing up the daisies by now.  And yet it’s not.  Hundreds of iterations on from its launch, Syllabus+ still gets a lot right, which is why it’s the number one choice for academic scheduling worldwide.  That’s why many of our clients have been with us almost as long as Scientia has existed.  Syllabus+ is also Scientia’s most-recognised brand.  For a company which is known as Cyon across half the world, that’s important.

The recognition and trust in the Syllabus+ name is the reason we’ve retained it for our forthcoming solution.  But that’s about the only thing we’ve retained.  Syllabus+ Anywhere is a completely new system, built on leading-edge technology and free from the constraints of a legacy system – but underpinned by the knowledge and experience we’ve gained through its forebear’s faithful service.

Communication: the foundation of healthy relationships

This is the most fundamental change Scientia has made in almost 30 years of business.  We knew that this was not a journey we could take without major input from our customers.  Product development at Scientia has always been collaborative and based on actual need, not perceived need.  But as our client base has grown to some 450 institutions worldwide, we’ve sometimes found it a challenge to maintain the levels of communication which are easier for smaller organisations.  As a former customer, I know how frustrating that can be.

As the saying goes, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  You told us, we listened, and we’ve worked hard to improve communication and feedback opportunities for customers.  In the past year alone, we have:

  • Launched Idea Manager, a platform which enables customers to influence our development focus by voting for candidate features. These candidates are themselves derived from client requests and suggestions.  The first voted-for features will be implemented in the forthcoming 3.14 release of Syllabus+ Enterprise;
  • Surveyed users to discover what functionality they most use in our current solutions, resulting in more than 75 individual use cases which will feed into the development of Syllabus+ Anywhere;
  • Run detailed User Journey Mapping sessions at client institutions, enabling us to drill down into the requirements of different roles at an institution; and
  • Launched a simplified Customer Satisfaction Survey, making it easier for users to tell us when we get it right – or wrong.

This is on top of ongoing customer support activities, which include:

  • A dedicated Account Manager;
  • Our Customer Support Portal with ‘Knowledge Base’ – solutions to more than 400 real-world Service Desk queries;
  • Free monthly Webinars, enabling customers to keep abreast of the latest developments in our software; and
  • International Conferences and User Groups, providing much-needed ‘group hug’ opportunities for the tortured souls in the unique world of academic timetabling.

Joining the dots with Syllabus+ Anywhere

From our earliest days, we have had to ensure effective data transfers within Scientia’s scheduling suite and between third party applications.  As we have shown with Connect, integrating Syllabus+ with applications such as student records systems is both achievable and beneficial.  But our suite of distinct ‘boxed’ products has led to what could be seen as a disjointed offer.  All that ends with Syllabus+ Anywhere.  The micro-services architecture enables us to provide a scalable offer with the flexibility to pick only the elements you need from a holistic solution, with effective interoperability with other enterprise solutions baked in.

One thing clients have been keen to discuss is the process of migration from the current system to the new one.  We will help each customer to create an individualised migration plan.  When all of the functions currently covered by Enterprise are fully supported by Syllabus+ Anywhere so that any customer could choose to migrate, we guarantee that we will continue to support the products being replaced for a further two years.  We will make an announcement to that effect when we reach that point in development.

At the end of that two-year period the legacy software will continue to run indefinitely, and you will still own a perpetual licence to use it.  All that changes is that Scientia will cease to devote development resource to the legacy products.  But looking at what Syllabus+ Anywhere delivers from a customer point of view, institutions are going to see the benefits of migrating to the new system as soon as they can – and we’re going to make it a no-brainer to do that.

Beyond the back office

By providing powerful reporting functions, timetabling moves from a required ‘back office’ service to a valuable strategic resource for any institution.  For example, accurately predicting your institution’s future space needs will be easier than ever with Syllabus+ Anywhere.

More than ever, the university timetable is visible and accessible by students, staff and faculties.  Self-service selection of study modules, booking rooms and resources, integrating lecture or teaching timetables with your personal calendar: all possible from any web browser on any connected device.  Our software has the ability to powerfully represent the student voice in the scheduling mix; maximising this to enhance student experience and engagement is yet another way of activating the strategic value of timetabling services.  This is particularly pertinent in the UK, where university funding is now partly dependent on student satisfaction outcomes.

Right now, I’m looking forward to sharing the progress we’ve made with customers coming to the Scientia User Conference this week.  Hope to see you there!

Darren

Across the pond and over the desk: Introducing Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia Ltd

Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management at Scientia
Two weeks in – still smiling!

Academic timetabling’s one of those curious professions: almost no one outside of it knows exactly what it is or what it entails – and that goes for other university staff, too. The flip side of this coin is that those in the profession get to know each other very well – particularly those in the Scientia family, facilitated by the Company’s range of excellent user events and virtual networking opportunities.

As the title of this post suggests, I’ve recently made the leap from Scientia client to employee, joining as Head of Product Management. With our Product and Development teams based in the UK, I’ve also relocated here from New Zealand. Having spent the past 16 years in a range of strategic roles at the University of Auckland, a long-term Scientia client, it’s fair to say I was a pretty well-known face on the Asia Pacific (APAC) scheduling scene. So whilst I’ve been to a few of Scientia’s European User Conferences and met some ‘local’ Timetablers, my name isn’t exactly synonymous with Scientia beyond APAC. That’s something I hope to quickly change, and I’ll be drawing heavily on my experiences as a client to shape how we do things – and not just from a product perspective.

As with most big career changes, the decision to jump wasn’t a single issue thing. Suffice it to say that I was ready for a new challenge just as Scientia was tooling up for the biggest change in its near-30-year history: the development of a brand new, Cloud-based scheduling solution. Let’s be honest: Cloud services are hardly innovative these days. Nonetheless, the benefits for our clients of moving to a Cloud-based, service delivery model are compelling:

  • Flexibility: the ability to scale up (or down) with ease, without further investment in hardware or space
  • Automatic software updates: the latest releases installed remotely by the expert service provider
  • A lower total cost of ownership: users save on hardware costs/upgrades and on-premise consultancy time
  • Reclaimed space: in some cases, entire rooms which were once full of server racks can be repurposed
  • Access from anywhere: with flexible working practices becoming more common, the ability to access business-critical data from anywhere is vital

What piqued my interest were the opportunities for the next generation of Syllabus Plus – whatever it’s ultimately called. Being part of this development and seeing how much work has already occurred is, frankly, thrilling. The new architecture and design approach will see the delivery of a range of innovative new solutions, with a huge capacity for rapid responsiveness to an ever-changing tertiary market.

But that is really the mechanics under the hood. What I am most looking forward to is being part of a team which will deliver a whole new level of functionality, visibility, interoperability and usability to its existing and future customers. This is where my experience lines up with Scientia’s vision: moving the traditionally ‘back office’ functions of timetabling to a core strategic service within the university. Everything from planning capital building programmes to academic delivery modelling can benefit from timetable data. Combined with powerful integration and reporting tools, our vision is for a complete planning and scheduling solution which goes way beyond putting students and staff in a room together. Now that’s exciting to me and is something I wanted to be a part of.

Moving from Scientia client to employee gives me the ability to see things from a customer perspective, and that’s how I intend to operate: as our customers’ champion and conduit; a channel to make their voice heard in the ongoing development of our current and future solutions. It’s an exciting time to be part of the Scientia family, and I’ll be sharing further thoughts as I get my feet well and truly under the desk.

About Darren

After graduating with an Art History and Politics Degree, Darren spent the following 10 years working in the corporate sector, primarily as an Account Manager with Apple Education, before entering the tertiary education sector.  Originally entering the Auckland College of Education prior to its amalgamation with the University of Auckland, he was involved in special projects, data analysis and strategic reporting before being seconded onto the Automated Timetabling Project in 2009 as Modelling Analysis to support the implementation of Scientia’s Syllabus Plus Enterprise solution.

Having been appointed the Manager of Timetabling Services in 2010, that service merged with the Examinations Office to form the Examinations and Timetabling Office, supporting both academic and exam scheduling.   A focus that Darren brought to the role was to move the ‘back office’ functions of timetabling to a core strategic service within the University, consulted with on future major capital works building programmes and academic delivery options.  During this time he continued studying, completing a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration on Information Systems.  He is currently studying for a Master’s Degree.

Darren joined Scientia as Head of Product Management in January 2017.

Ten Reasons to Come to the 2017 Scientia User Conference

The 2017 Scientia User Conference is rapidly approaching and tickets are selling fast.  If your finger’s still hovering over the ‘book’ button, here are our Top 10 reasons to come:

  1. It’s the largest annual gathering of Scientia software users anywhere in the world

    Network with around 200 colleagues from across the EMEAA region involved with timetabling and resource optimisation.  You are guaranteed to come away with valuable information and insights which you won’t get anywhere else.

  2. Learn about the latest developments in our next-generation Cloud scheduling solution

    The 2017 Conference marks one year since our announcement that we will deliver a new, Cloud-based solution for planning and scheduling.  We’ll be sharing our progress to date, including outcomes from our recent work with customers that is helping us to target our development effort effectively.

  3. 20+ user-led presentations

    There’s no better way to learn about the many and innovative ways our software can be used than from users themselves.  That’s why we dedicate as much of the Conference as possible to user presentations.  Some are presentations, some are participative workshops, but all will add value to your own use of our solutions.

  4. Scientia product updates

    Find out what our products can do right now – and what’s coming up in future releases – direct from our Product Managers.  We will be updating many of our product ‘features and benefits’ brochures and previewing them at the Conference.

  5. Free time with our Consultants

    Even in a highly-connected world, there is still nothing like being face to face with colleagues for Getting Stuff Done.  As a customer, you will be used to seeing your Account Manager regularly, but the opportunity to grab some free time with our experienced Consultants is invaluable.

  6. Make your voice heard

    As a Company, we are always keen to hear from our customers – especially now that our exciting new development work is underway.  The User Conference is a further opportunity for you to tell us what you want from our forthcoming solution.  Your comments in open sessions as well as conversations directly with Product Managers all feed in to the development process.  This year’s Conference will include a new feature: a formal opportunity for you to record the task you would most like to see improved, as well as your ideas on the best way to do that.

  7. Keynote addresses by leading industry experts

    Not one, not two but three keynotes which touch on the theme of student satisfaction, its importance, and the role that intelligent scheduling can play in improving it.  See the session overviews at conference.scientia.com.

  8. Meet Scientia’s technology partners

    We’ve always believed we can deliver more for our customers by working with others to develop our offer.  Many of you will know of Scope4mation, originators of our Connect integration tool.  They will be back this year alongside Lone Rooftop, our newest partners, whose ‘building intelligence’ solutions spell and end to under-utilised space and unnecessary build projects.

  9. The famous Scientia hospitality!

    We ease you into the conference on Wednesday with lunch and the opportunity to catch up with colleagues old and new.  Following the afternoon sessions, you’ll be rewarded with a great informal supper and our now-famous (or infamous) quiz!  From the sublime to the ridiculous, quizmaster Mark Everitt will confound and surprise you with a range of questions to test even the most seasoned pub-quizzer.  Points mean prizes, so choose your table carefully!

    The Thursday of Conference is always the biggie: a full-on day of keynotes, elective sessions and networking.  So the evening is all about fun!  We start with a pre-dinner drinks reception followed by a formal table-service dinner, and end up in the adjoining bar which will be transformed into our very own arcade with driving games, table football and numerous other entertainments.

  10. Amazing value

    We believe that the Scientia User Conference presents amazing value for money.  Two full days and nights of professional development, networking, consultancy, accommodation, food and entertainment for a little over £500.

Click here for the Conference schedule and to book you place today.  See photos from last year’s Conference.

The Importance of Timetabling for Student Satisfaction

Scientia’s analysis of ten years of the UK National Student Survey uncovers four key areas that relate to the success of universities.

Scientia White Paper 2016As we close the door on 2016 and our clients and their students shut down for Christmas, a time of reflection begins.  In our case, this reflection looks back a bit further – ten years, in fact – as we aim to gain insight into the successes and failures of institutions through our analysis of UK National Student Survey data.

Our latest piece of research, a White Paper entitled Placing the Student at the Heart of Higher Education, sheds light on the importance of timetabling and resource scheduling in the fee-paying era.

Since the introduction of student fees in 1998, higher education has become an increasingly commercial entity. From 2017, some UK students will spend in excess of £9,000 a year on tuition fees. This makes it imperative for institutions to rank student satisfaction alongside academic excellence to ensure future success in both attracting and retaining their ‘customers’. Scientia’s analysis of ten years of the National Student Survey has uncovered four key findings that relate to the success of universities.

Satisfaction with organisation and management of university courses is improving

In line with the new challenges of the consumer-focused era, universities are seeking to improve their satisfaction scores by updating and improving their administration systems. In the past five years, university students who strongly agree that their course is well managed and organised has increased by five percent. Indeed, updates to administrative systems have also improved the number of students who agree their timetable is working effectively, with over 75% of respondents agreeing with this statement. In line with this, 78% of students agree and 40% strongly agree that changes to their course or teaching are communicated effectively.

The increasingly tech-focused lives students are living mean that they are more connected now than ever. Scientia’s solutions including Enterprise Foundation – its core timetabling suite – and Scientia Publish improve the student experience by keeping universities up to date with the latest technologies and systems.

Scientia’s clients come out on top in the National Student Survey

In the list of 22 institutions scoring a student satisfaction level of over 90%, 12 of Scientia’s clients featured. Students at these institutions reported an overall improved satisfaction level compared to their peers at universities that do not use Scientia’s solutions. Aberystwyth, for instance, charted the second biggest improvement this year, reaching the top 10 with an overall satisfaction score of 92%, up 9% on 2015.

Looking specifically at the Organisation and Management questions over 10 years, Scientia’s clients fill seven of the top 10 positions, showing just how important a successful timetabling and resource scheduling system is in improving the performance of higher education institutions.

To find out more about the success of our clients and solutions, please read our other blog, Institutions using Scientia’s solutions have a strong showing in the UK National Student Survey.

Organisation satisfaction varies across the country

With different organisational challenges that need to be overcome, the Organisation and Management results of institutions varied dramatically. Breaking the results down into regions, Northern Ireland came out on top with a satisfaction score of over 80%, whereas London brought up the rear with a score 7% lower. London’s challenges may be exacerbated as universities based in the capital tend to have split campuses, limited spare capacity for room scheduling as well as the fact that lecturers and students alike have to commute to and between the sites.

In the North West, universities are likewise split across the urban regions of Merseyside and Greater Manchester with similar complexities. At the other end of the spectrum, the East Midlands universities such as the University of Nottingham have sizeable campuses and good transport links.

Organisation satisfaction varies between subjects

Much to our surprise, History and Philosophy top the list of subjects that students “strongly agree” are well organised and managed, with Business and Engineering coming middle of the pack and Medicine bringing up the rear. With its complicated and varied schedules, Medicine will benefit most from a centralized timetabling approach. Scientia has been able to dramatically improve the organisation of complex schedules at the School of Health Sciences at City University, London, after the organisation adopted our centralised timetabling system.

Conclusion

In the student-as-consumer age, customer satisfaction counts. As has been demonstrated – and much to our expectation and satisfaction – Scientia’s solutions are at the forefront of delivering successful organisational and timetabling solutions to higher education institutions, improving our clients’ standings in the National Student Survey. Our student-focused solutions help our clients to deliver the best educational experience with the latest technologies to ensure future success.

Why we sponsor the Times Higher Education Awards

Recognising success in higher education is vital for a thriving sector, says James Grashoff, Head of Sales and Marketing EMEAA at Scientia.

Scientia presents the Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology Award at the Times Higher Education Awards
James Grashoff, right, and Richard E Grant, second from right, present the Award for Outstanding Contriution to Innovation & Technology to staff from Nottingham Trent University

In November, I had the honour of presenting the Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology Award at the Times Higher Education (THE) Awards in London.  Widely recognised as the Oscars of the UK higher education sector, the THE Awards were set up to shine a spotlight on the very best that UK universities and colleges have to offer.  Award categories cover everything from Research Project of the Year to Outstanding Contribution to the Local Community – and all points in between.

This was Scientia’s third consecutive year of sponsoring the Awards.  Not only is it a unique opportunity to network with some of the most influential people in our sector, but over the years we have been able to invite many senior staff from the institutions we support to celebrate the nominees and winners with us.  In short, it’s a fantastic way to see the breadth and volume of exemplary work going on in UK universities today.

As a Company, we believe in recognising and celebrating the success of others in our field.  That’s why we chose to sponsor the Outstanding Contribution to Innovation & Technology category, won this year by Nottingham Trent University where Paul Evans, Professor of Applied Imaging Science, and colleagues have made huge strides in developing 3D X-ray scanning, which is helping to make airports and air travel safer across the world.  As someone with more than his fair share of air miles, I want to personally thank Paul and his team for their efforts.

Would it have been nice for a Scientia client to win the Award we sponsored?  Of course!  But it’s hard to be disappointed: a quick glance reveals that almost 60% of the shortlist and more than 40% of the winners are Scientia clients.  To know we are trusted by so many institutions at the top of their game is both humbling and extremely gratifying.  That trust is highly motivating as we get ever closer to the delivery of our next-generation timetabling solution, based on innovative Cloud technologies.

We were particularly thrilled to see Aberystwyth shortlisted in the Most Improved Student Experience category.  A lower-than-expected result in the Organisation and Management section of the 2012 UK National Student Survey was the catalyst for their journey of improvement.  In 2013, Aberystwyth commissioned Scientia to undertake a Business Process Review which led to a complete rethink of its timetabling and space management processes.  Teaching space is now largely centrally-owned, meaning that formerly ‘hidden’ spaces devolved to Faculties are now visible to the central Timetabling Team.  By using our software’s auto-scheduling functionality, Aberystwyth has been able to optimise its use of rooms and resources, significantly improving utilisation rates.  The result: Top 4 in the UK and 1st in Wales for overall Student Satisfaction.  Jackie Sayce, Institute Manager at Aberystwyth, was kind enough to acknowledge the role successful timetabling has played there in our 2016 White Paper.

Above all else, we are thrilled to have contributed to the £10,000 raised by the event for the Nightline charity – a student listening service run by students, for students.  Every night of term, student volunteers answer calls, emails, instant messages, texts and talk in person to their fellow university students about anything that’s troubling them.  At a time when 1 in 3 students experiences distress at night, it’s a vital service – and one very close to my own heart, as I was a student volunteer whilst studying at Lancaster University some 35 years ago

Well done to all the nominees and winner at the 2016 THE Awards.

Darren Woodward appointed Head of Product Management at Scientia

Darren presenting at the EMEAA Scientia User Conference 2016
Darren presenting at the EMEAA Scientia User Conference 2016

Since the start of 2016, Scientia has been undergoing strategic restructuring to prepare for the shift in its focus from software products to software services. We are thrilled to announce that Darren Woodward, currently Examinations & Timetable Services Manager at The University of Auckland, will be joining us as Head of Product Management from January 2017.

Those who have met or worked with Darren will agree that he is perfect for this key role. Auckland is New Zealand’s largest university with over 40,000 students and some 5,000 full-time staff. It is the only New Zealand university ranked in the top 200 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings. Since joining in 2004, Darren has built up an exemplary scheduling team from scratch and has driven a programme of positive change – not least its paradigm shift to centralised timetabling.

He has long been an advocate for Scientia’s solutions – particularly Enterprise, of which Auckland was an early adopter. His broader experience includes being Chair of the Asia/Pacific Syllabus Plus Reference Group (ASPRG), and he has regularly attended our EMEAA Conference to discuss his experiences of using our solutions.

Darren is well aware of the demands and pressures of timetabling in a complex, pressured environment. He brings a great deal of knowledge and empathy, ensuring that Scientia continues to put the needs of its users at the heart of its operations. Darren will be leading us on our journey towards a Cloud-based scheduling solution, building on the significant progress we have already made.

Andrew Lau
Director of Scientia Ltd
For and on behalf of Scientia’s Executive Committee

Integrating university timetables with lecture video capture systems

More and more academic institutions are implementing lecture video capture systems.  Just as we now enjoy TV and films ‘on demand’ from the likes of the BBC’s iPlayer or Netflix, so universities have come to recognise the myriad benefits of a ‘watch again’ service for teaching and learning.

Far from being an excuse to bunk off lectures, committing taught sessions to video enables students to be more present during the class, listening and interacting instead of busily writing notes – two-dimensional notes which cannot hope to convey a complex topic as fully or meaningfully as a start-to-finish recording.  Importantly, recorded lectures can also increase accessibility and inclusivity for students who may be unable to take notes or physically attend the class.

Lecture video capture is yet another string in the bow for institutions which put the student experience at the top of the list.  Access to flexible learning resources means students can learn at their own pace and review sessions throughout the year – particularly useful when revising for exams.  Videos are also a vital component of distance learning courses, enabling those who have chosen self-directed study to get a sense of the classroom experience, and reduce the need for tutors to produce additional materials for this type of student.

There are dozens of lecture video capture systems available to suit any institution’s size and budget.  These range from a camera on a tripod in a classroom, manually operated by a tutor or technician, to integrated multi-source systems which capture the tutor’s delivery, slideshows, smartboard content, document annotations and a range of other sources, synchronising them into a finished video.

Example of Panopto lecture video capture systemScientia has recently completed another successful link between Enterprise Foundation, our core timetabling solution, and a lecture video capture system – this time with Panopto (branded as ReCap) at Exeter University in the UK.  As with all our video capture integrations, Panopto detects scheduled ‘events’ (usually taught sessions) from Enterprise and automatically records them – no action needed from a tutor, no chance of someone forgetting to press ‘record’.  If the ‘event’ is linked to a course, it will be automatically made available to students registered on that course.  Simple.

The most compelling reason for installing an integrated lecture capture system is, of course, improved learning outcomes.  A pilot at the University of Manchester – where we have linked Enterprise to the Opencast Video Solution – found that examination results improved following its implementation.  It also upheld what other studies have shown: that lecture attendance is not correlated with the use of lecture capture.

Integrating academic scheduling with lecture video capture is a fast-growing area for Scientia.  Earlier in 2016 we linked Enterprise to Echo360 – an industry ‘big beast’ – at the University of Melbourne in Australia.  With experience of integrating our timetabling software with both open source and turnkey video capture solutions, this is a great time for our clients to explore the options available to them.

Read about Newcastle University’s lecture capture journey on Panopto’s blog.