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.
We 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’
Next 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
The 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
The 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.
More insights and photos from our 2017 EMEAA User Conference soon!