Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) will become the UK’s first Classroom Occupancy System (Clocks) user when it deploys the pioneering space management solution later this year. SHU has purchased Clocks to inform its 15-year Estates Development Framework, which is currently under development, and is reviewing both current space utilisation and future space requirements.
Donna Cooper, Space Resource Manager at SHU, said, “Space is an expensive resource and we have identified continued issues with staff prospectively booking rooms which they then don’t use; manual room audits and surveys tell us that this is the case. But with each space audit taking five weeks, they are so time-consuming and expensive that we’ve actually stopped doing them. Clocks will enable us to see both real-time room use and analyse room use over time – a semester or year. We’ll be able to compare the data with planned use from Syllabus+ and schedule more appropriately. It will give us much-needed data on how our spaces are actually being used versus their scheduled use, enabling us to optimise how we use our space.”
Donna and the Facilities & Estates Team will use Clocks data to drive new policy around space use at SHU and find new ways to optimise the use of space. They’ll be working closely with users to find improved ways of booking and managing space: “We’re an inner-city campus with growing demands on our space so we simply have to use what we have as efficiently as possible.”
SHU will run a pilot implementation covering five buildings between October and December 2017. If successful, they will roll it out across the campus in early 2018, with full use in the 2018/19 academic year. For more information on Clocks, contact us.
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!
In the brilliant company of AMBA – ensuring excellence at the world’s top Business Schools
There was a real buzz at our office in Cambridge last Wednesday morning as we eagerly awaited the arrival of Andrew Main Wilson, Chief Executive of the Association of MBAs (AMBA), and colleagues. They were visiting to sign off on a landmark partnership, 12-months in the making, that will help Scientia to better understand the global Business School market, enabling us to respond to the unique timetabling challenges which those Schools face. In doing so, we hope to transform how Business Schools meet their specific scheduling needs.
Not all MBAs are created equal
You may not have heard of AMBA, but you will almost certainly have heard of MBAs: the Master of Business Administration, a postgraduate degree which is widely held to be the essential foundation for a successful business management career. But there are MBAs, and then there are AMBA-accredited MBAs: rigorous assessment ensures that only the highest calibre MBA programmes which demonstrate the best standards in teaching, curriculum and student interaction achieve the AMBA accreditation. That’s roughly the top 2% of MBA programmes worldwide. At a time when the value of an MBA is questionable, and the traditional, institution-based learning model is being disrupted by online providers such as Coursera, an AMBA-accredited MBA is still a sure-fire path to success and, ultimately, wealth: in its 2013 survey, AMBA found that MBA graduates from its UK accredited Business Schools received an average salary of over £82,000. More importantly, AMBA-accredited MBAs offer top-quality connections with the alumni of some of the world’s best Business Schools.
Responding to the unique scheduling challenges of Business Schools
The Business School market is fast-growing and competitive. As with the higher- and further-education markets, institutions are increasingly under pressure to maximise their use of rooms and resources and provide accurate, up-to-date timetables to staff and students. With nearly 30-years of experience behind our class-leading timetabling and resource management software, we’re confident that we can help AMBA’s accredited Business Schools to overcome their specific scheduling challenges: meeting the needs of ambitious students with high expectations; timetabling lectures for high-level business leaders with changing schedules and limited availability; and managing the extra data resulting from partnerships with affiliate schools and universities. More importantly, this partnership shows that AMBA are confident of that, too.
James Grashoff, Scientia’s Head of Sales & Marketing (EMEAA), said:
“We’re thrilled to be working with AMBA. Our partnership will enable us to respond to the unique scheduling challenges which Business Schools face, particularly the complexities of timetabling within a fast-changing environment. We look forward to building on our work in this sector.”
Andrew Main Wilson, AMBA’s Chief Executive Officer, said:
“In the increasingly competitive and complex global world of postgraduate management education, every Business School is now searching for competitive advantages and more efficient customer service levels. The need for optimising efficiencies from resource planning, including campus facilities and full- and part-time faculty utilisation is now, I believe, becoming more rigorously reviewed, and time-pressed domestic and international students are now demanding more time-efficient curriculum scheduling. We have therefore partnered with Scientia to offer our Schools leading edge thinking and software in best practice scheduling and timetabling.”
Like it or not, tertiary education is becoming increasingly commodified. Tuition fees have become more common as the higher education sector has grown in size and the funding required to sustain it has increased. Some governments have decided that charging tuition fees is the only way to ease the financial pressure on the treasury (and to support students from less affluent backgrounds). Advocates of tuition fees state this as a positive development: students buy a stake in their education and are accorded ’consumer’ status, with all the rights that brings. Opponents have been fighting the commodification of education for years, with a recent study suggesting that students who see themselves as consumers, rather than learners, get lower grades.
Whatever your opinion, one thing’s for sure: with the average annual cost to the student reaching as much as £27,000, it’s no wonder that students’ expectations of their institutions are rising. As an education provider, how do you know if you’re succeeding in meeting your students’ needs and giving them good value for money? You ask them! Or rather, the national independent funding body for higher education asks them.
In the Netherlands, that body is Studiekeuze123 – a collaboration of the Ministry of Education, students and higher education institutions. Its stated aim is to offer “independent, comprehensive and reliable information about all accredited programs at colleges and universities in [the] Netherlands.” Its website – www.studiekeuze123.nl – is a one-stop shop for prospective students, helping them to select the right institution based on a huge amount of information – much of it collected from existing students via its annual survey, the Nationale Studente Enquête (NSE). The NSE is a wide-ranging survey on the various aspects of the tertiary learning experience: the programme’s curriculum, acquired skills, career preparation, lecturers, information provided by the programme, study facilities, assessment, study workload, student guidance and, of course, timetables.
For the prospective student, there are few more credible sources of information than the lived experiences of existing students. Performing well in the NSE has become central to a Dutch university’s appeal, with many using its outcomes as part of their marketing strategy – comparing themselves favourably with their academic rivals or boasting about improvements on the previous year’s scores. Most importantly, the NSE is a key feedback tool for Dutch universities, enabling them to improve the academic experience for their current and future students. And giving students the best experience possible is certainly in their interest: research shows that student satisfaction affects the entire student lifecycle, from retention to alumni giving.
Helping institutions to achieve their strategic goals is one of Scientia’s stated aims. Two of the NSE questions are specifically about timetabling, and two about space management:
Is your timetable published on time?
Are timetable changes published on time?
Is there suitable study space?
Is there available work space?
So we had cause to celebrate when we analysed the NSE results this year:
on average, Dutch institutions which use our timetabling and resource management solutions equal or beat the national average in the categories related to timetabling and space management.
In the case of the Universities we support (as opposed to Hogeschools), they beat the averages significantly – by around half a point in most categories.
More compelling still is the difference between the average ‘non-Scientia’ institutions and those using our solutions: almost a full point in most cases, particularly on questions around timetabling.
Timetable published on time
Timetable changes published on time
Suitable study space
Available work space
Scientia Uni Average
Scientia Hogeschools Average
The take-home point here is simple: students at Dutch institutions which use our Enterprise Foundation timetabling suite are happier with their timetables than those which don’t. Furthermore, those institutions are more able to make the right kind of study space available to their students. This is the bit where we sit back and rest on our laurels, right? Wrong. We can do better. You can do better.
We have a range of student-focussed solutions which could help you to better serve your future alumni (you know, the ones who in the US give almost $11bn a year to their former colleges): if you’re already using Enterprise Foundation for your timetabling, Publishenables you to send personalised timetables direct to your students’ phone, tablet or PC; Student Allocator empowers students to make choices of activities, modules and tutorials for themselves through any web browser; and you don’t even need to have Enterprise Foundation to implement our Resource Booker solution, which enables students and staff to make and manage their own room and resource bookings…
Congratulations to our Dutch clients for an outstanding performance in this year’s NSE. Here’s to continuous improvement, no matter where you fall in the rankings.
A few weeks ago – hot on the heels of a ‘big birthday’ – Duncan Corbett, Project Manager for Enterprise Foundation, celebrated his 17th year at Scientia. The occasion was also marked by an exciting new chapter beginning in the history of the Company. He explains all in this guest blog:
When I arrived here in 1999 to help train users of our software, Scientia essentially had two products: Syllabus Plus Course Planner and Syllabus Plus Exam Scheduler. Some of you reading this may have already been users of those products as far back as the early 90s. I think it’s those long-term users who coined the term “Classic” to refer to those original products in much the same way as people use the term to refer to a much loved older model of car. Much has changed in those 17 years.
In 1999 the internet was only 10 years old. If you were lucky you had an Intel Pentium II processor with a speed measured in MHz. It was probably running Windows 3.1, NT or – at a push – 95. Windows 98 was still seen as uncharted waters for most. Your mobile phone, if you had one, had a small screen, buttons with numbers on and you used it to make phone calls or to play “Snake”.
Shortly before I joined, Syllabus had moved to a tab-based interface, with logical groupings of properties being displayed on separate tabs. Prior to that the controls for every property of an object had been crammed onto a single page. In spite of the fact that this meant you needed 20/20 vision and rock-steady mouse control to do anything, some users were uncomfortable with the move to tabs because it required more mouse clicks to get to the information they wanted.
In 2004 we released our Web Room Booking solution, enabling students and staff to make ad-hoc room and resource bookings themselves through a web browser, reducing the burden on admin staff and giving greater transparency to the process. We also introduced browser-based data collection tools to gather the timetable requirements of stakeholders; previously most customers were using paper forms that required manual data entry with the associated risks of misunderstanding and error. Similarly, in Student Allocator we delivered a browser-based solution that enables students to choose modules and activities, broadening participation further whilst reducing cost, time and duplication of effort.
Possibly our biggest leap until now in the development of our timetabling solution came in 2007 with the release of Syllabus Plus Enterprise – or Enterprise Foundation, as the core suite of software scheduling tools is now known. This is essentially a re-working of the user interface elements of Syllabus Plus. It provides a more modern look and feel, a more task-centric, rather than data-centric interface, and a more granular set of permissions. This meant that Enterprise Timetabler, for example, might be given to users that would not have been trusted with Syllabus Plus Classic for fear of the damage they might do to the data.
Meanwhile, back in the world of technology, the big shift in computing has been the trend towards Cloud-based solutions and the supply of software as a service. Before the advent of Cloud computing you would need to source and maintain sufficiently powerful hardware to cope with your maximum demand for computing power; implying a level of built-in redundancy. A Cloud-based solution means that the software provider supplies and maintains the computing power and the supply can flex to meet your requirements. Enterprise Activity Adjuster(EAA)was our first toe in the water with respect to this new technology. I can remember vividly standing in a lecture theatre in Auckland, New Zealand, using a prototype of EAA to make a change to an activity in a Scientia Database hosted in the cloud; the server was actually in Dublin, Ireland. It struck me at the time that, without leaving earth it would be difficult to pick two places further from each other; a powerful demonstration of the potential of the Cloud.
Since then we have made further forays into the world of Cloud-based solutions: Resource Booker is slowly gaining market share from our highly-successful Web Room Booking solution, empowering students and staff to manage their own room and equipment bookings. Publishenables staff and students to receive personalised timetables directly to smartphones, tablets and laptops, letting them view their timetable in the browser or calendar apps of their choice.
And that brings us back to the new chapter in Scientia’s history that’s about to begin. In March this year, at our annual EMEAA User Conference, we announced the development of an entirely new, Cloud-based scheduling solution. That’s exciting: despite the fast-paced nature of the technology industries, it’s not every day that you are afforded the opportunity of spear-heading a completely fresh start on a company’s core product. A store of enhancements that I’ve been building over the course of years, all of which would be too disruptive to introduce to the current solution, are now back on the table.
No doubt there will be challenges. Customers will naturally have questions about data security and privacy. This will, of course, be a vital component of whatever the new solution looks like, but holding large datasets securely in the Cloud is not an issue that Scientia uniquely has to address. It’s an issue that is common to all Cloud-based solutions, some of which are dealing with data that’s much more sensitive than the timetable information we are managing.
It’s natural that we approach change with caution. I can remember talking to users in my early days who were uncertain how they’d manage with the move to “this new-fangled tabbed user interface”, but I don’t think that any of us would now vote to move back to the cluttered single window approach. We recognise that the change has brought improvement. Similarly, reimagining our scheduling solution for the Cloud is not just exciting for me – it will also bring benefits to our customers: the 400+ tertiary education institutions worldwide which rely on Scientia’s products to maximise the use of their resources while providing students with an excellent education. A timetabling solution based in the Cloud will bring a lower total cost of ownership, and improved scalability. Free from the constraints imposed by legacy software, we can design for easier integration with other software, easier localisation and improved performance. What’s not to like?
Our developers are currently busy planning the development project and thinking about the first prototype application that we’ll use to test our new Cloud-based scheduling engine. I’ve already had the opportunity to share my aspirations with them so that we ensure that those goals are not excluded by anything we do in the early stages of development. We have promised our customers a detailed development plan in July so look out for an update from me then.
Duncan Corbett is Product Manager for Syllabus Plus Enterprise.