Category Archives: Internal events

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!

Scientia User Conference 2016

If you schedule it, they will come. Timetablers assemble for our biggest international User Conference yet.

scientia lanyards

More than 200 Scientia software users descended on the Radisson Blu Hotel at Stansted Airport, UK for the annual EMEAA User Conference last week.  Running since 1998, this was a record year with more institutions, delegates and user-led presentations than ever before.  This year’s theme was Managing Complex Resources in a Competitive World – an opportunity to explore how Scientia’s scheduling solutions are making timetabling and resource management easier for hundreds of institutions worldwide.

#SUC16: a round-up of tagged content

Darren Woodward, Uni of Auckland
Darren Woodward

We welcomed people from 13 nations, making this a truly international Conference.  Timetablers from the University of British Columbia – relatively new customers and first-timers at Conference – were our furthest-travelled regional customers; but Darren Woodward, Exam & Timetable Services Manager at the University of Auckland, took the long-haul crown – a welcome representative from our APAC region, and a voice of authority on centralised timetabling at large tertiary institutions.

Delegates at the Scientia User Conference 2016It’s called the User Conference for a reason: it’s all about the users.  That might sound trite, but if we did nothing more than put the users of our products in a room together once a year, there would still be a whole heap of positive outcomes.   Needless to say we do a fair bit more than that, but the point stands: the opportunity for our customers to talk and learn from each other is paramount; the Conference is primarily about timetablers inspiring one another and sharing good practice.

Scientia staff talk to customers at our 2016 User ConferenceTo facilitate this networking, we have long breaks – and lots of them: 40 minutes between sessions in the morning and afternoon; an hour-and-a-half for lunch; and down-time before and after dinner for our customers, technology partners and Scientia staff to simply connect.  We always have available drop-in spaces for people to use as they need; and where we know customers are facing similar issues, we introduce them.  One customer has suggested we could further improve knowledge transfer by inviting questions beforehand, leading to themed discussion groups to be held during the breaks.  Certainly something to consider for next year.

Presentations

Mark Stewart, Microsoft
Mark Stewart

Amongst all this frivolous socialising, our Steering Committee somehow managed to shoehorn in 19 user-led presentations, 12 Scientia product-focussed sessions and a Keynote from Mark Stewart, Microsoft’s Education Business Partnership Lead.  Titled Embracing Education Trends with a Growth Mindset, Mark’s talk broadened out the Conference theme by looking at the trends which are likely to affect and influence us over the coming years, both as timetablers and software developers.  A video of that presentation will be available soon.  Our relationship with Microsoft is already deeply embedded, and we look forward to working with them ever more closely as we develop our Cloud-based scheduling solutions.

With such a wide range of user presentations it wouldn’t be fair (or possible) to highlight the ‘best’.  By numbers, though, the most popular user-led sessions were:

  1. Avoiding War in the Workplace – Paul Brierley, Uni of Manchester
  2. Say That Again, I Dare You! – Scott Rosie, Uni of Edinburgh
  3. What Constitutes a Good Timetable? – Joanne Mitchell, Queen’s University Belfast
  4. Exam Scheduler 3 Implementation at the University of Southampton – Jackie Lupton
  5. Fully Scheduled Nursing Timetables: Post-Transplant Pain Management – Paul Sweetman, City University

Customers at the Scientia User Conference 2016That the two most popular sessions were about dealing with the difficulties of being a university timetabler says a lot about what delegates value about the Conference: it’s a place to air frustrations and, hopefully, find new ways to deal with the inherent complexities of scheduling at large institutions.

Suffice it to say that no-one is more impressed than us by the innovative ways our scheduling solutions are used.  You can see the full programme on our Conference site, and Scientia customers can now access all the presenters’ slide decks through our User Forum.  Once again, our most sincere thanks to the institutions and presenters whose sessions make the Conference what it is.


The User Conference isn’t just for existing customers: it is a great opportunity for institutions who might be considering implementing Scientia’s timetabling and resource management solutions to find out more about our products and services, and hear first-hand from users about how it has helped them to better manage their time and space. Tatjana Duskevic is Timetabling Services Manager at the Royal College of Arts (RCA).  The College is currently considering automating its timetabling and resource-management, and Tatjana – a former user and ardent fan of Scientia’s solutions – had come along to learn about recent product developments.  Tatjana said:

“I truly believe that Scientia makes the best timetabling software on the planet.  I say this having also used CMIS, SITS, and Cubia (a bespoke solution create for Greenwich School of Management – now a Scientia customer) over the last 11 years at different HE institutions in London.  I can honestly say that none can match Scientia’s products for stability, flexibility and usability.”

“Scientia’s core Syllabus Plus scheduling engine is mature and well-supported, which is reassuring for institutions looking for a timetabling solution; but it was refreshing to hear in the Roadmap presentation that the next-gen scheduling engine – already in development – will be a Cloud-based product.  It was extremely worthwhile coming here to see how Scientia is progressing and to find out how other users apply the software at their institutions.”

Of course, the software itself is only half of the story.  Another benefit of coming to the Scientia User Conference is the opportunity to have face-to-face support or product demonstrations in the Demo Room.  Natalie Bruce, Support Team Leader, said:

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Natalie Bruce

“From a Support perspective, Conference is a key opportunity for the whole Team to put faces to names.  We might speak to a customer hundreds of times over the life of a contract, so it’s important for us to know who we’re talking to.  Having the chance to unpick issues with people face-to-face in the Demonstration Area was also highly rewarding.”

Were you there?  Share your thoughts – email us: conference@scientia.com; we are accepting completed Feedback Forms until the end of April.  We are always looking for ways to improve the Conference.  If you think you could make a difference, join our 2017 Conference Steering Committee!

Click the picture below to see our photos from the event.  Until next year…

Scientia staff at the 2016 User Conference