Tag Archives: scheduling

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!

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.

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.

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

Institutions using Scientia’s solutions have a strong showing in the UK National Student Survey

UK student satisfaction at an all-time high

It’s that time of year again in the UK when students’ views about their institutions are published, analysed, and pored-over. On Wednesday, the results of the National Student Satisfaction Survey were released. Since its inception 11 years ago, over 2.5 million final-year undergraduates have taken part in the survey, organised by HEFCE, which consists of 23 questions spread across categories including teaching, assessment, academic support and – of particular interest to us – organisation and management, including the quality of the timetable and notification of changes. Here’s a nice infographic from the HEFCE website which shows its reach and engagement:UK Student Satisfaction Survey 2016

First things first: well done to all the participating institutions;  86% of the 300,000+ students who responded said that they were satisfied with their course, the same as the all-time high recorded in the 2014 and 2015 results. How to interpret this stellar result in the £9k-a-year fee era? It’s likely that universities realise they must work extra-hard to make the cost of an undergraduate degree seem worthwhile. In the student-as-consumer age, customer satisfaction counts.

But the real question on our mind was this: how did the institutions using our timetabling and resource-management solutions fare? A quick glance at the top 20 on the THE website revealed that no fewer than eight (40%) of our clients feature. Better still, The University of Law takes joint first place with a whopping 97% satisfaction score. Clients Keele and St Andrews share joint fourth place with 94%, and Aberystwyth squeaks into the top 10 with an admirable score of 92%, up no less than 9 points on their 2015 score – the second-biggest improvement of any institution this year.

Further down the table, Exeter, Lancaster, Dundee and Bath all put in a strong performance at 90% satisfaction or above. All in all, a fantastic result for some of our clients. But how much of their success can we attribute to the organisation and management of the courses – something our solutions directly influence?

The importance of the timetable in student satisfaction

The organisation and management section consists of three statements:

  • The timetable works efficiently as far as my activities are concerned
  • Any changes in the course or teaching have been communicated effectively
  • The course is well organised and running smoothly

We analysed the results from ten years of data and found some very interesting insights. We’re thrilled to report that Scientia’s clients filled seven of the top ten slots (70%) relating to organisation and management, and that the students attending institutions where our scheduling software is used report an overall improved satisfaction level compared to their peers.

Scientia-Top10-Satisfied with organisation and management_70%

Going deeper, if we analyse the results regionally we see a large difference. Northern Ireland’s institutions lead the way with their organisation and management results, whereas the London institutions have the worst showing. That’s important data for us, and something to address with existing and future clients.

UK Student Satisfaction Survey 2016

We are delighted to see continued improvement in universities’ organisation and management over the past ten years. As the chart below shows, 2016 is the best-ever for satisfaction.

UK Student Satisfaction Survey 2016

Announcing Scientia’s partnership with AMBA

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.

Scientia's partnership with AMBA aims to improve scheduling at Business Schools worldwide
Andrew Main Wilson, AMBA’s CEO (left), and James Grashoff, Scientia’s Head of Sales & Marketing EMEAA, sign the partnership agreement.

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.

Building on solid foundations

This is not a new space for Scientia: we already supply scheduling solutions to more than 130 Business Schools worldwide – nearly 40 of which are AMBA-accredited.  With our help, institutions including Cass Business School, Greenwich School of Management, Copenhagen Business School, BI Oslo, Norwegian School of Economics and ESADE (Barcelona) have been able to optimise their use of staff, rooms and resources, thereby meeting demand, reducing cost and improving student satisfaction.

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.”

If you’re an AMBA-accredited School or Member, look out for our posts on the AMBA Community site.  Visit our website to find our why we beat the competition to become Regent’s University’s chosen provider.

Business Schools can improve their scheduling with Scientia
Colleagues from AMBA & Scientia who were instrumental in creating the partnership. L-R: Tommaso Scali, Emily Wall, Andrew Main Wilson (AMBA); James Grashoff, Jasvinder Virdi (Scientia).

Some exam nightmares you can’t plan for. For the rest, there’s Exam Scheduler.

Is your institution ready for Exam Season?

Exam calendar iconThis is a stressful time of year for students, as proved by a slew of recent articles on how to stay positive and manage anxiety during exam season.   Exam stress isn’t just the preserve of HE students:  in the UK, new figures have revealed that the NSPCC-run ChildLine has delivered 3,077 counselling sessions about exam stress to young people last year, a rise of nine per cent on 2014/15.  In Hertfordshire, anyone aged between 10 and 25 and registered with a Herts GP surgery can sign up anonymously and have an online chat with a fully-trained therapist, reports the Herts & Essex Observer.

Exam season is also a stressful time for the institutions hosting the exams.  Their aim is to make the experience as stress-free as possible for their students whilst juggling the need for radically altered timetables and room requirements, plus extra staff in the form of invigilators.  Their solution must cater for everyone, ensuring that the needs of students with disabilities, health conditions, specific learning difficulties are met.

That’s where our Exam Scheduler solution comes in: it helps institutions to optimise their students’ experience by reducing the operational risks which extraordinary events, like exams, produce.

Don’t take our word for it: hear Dr Julian Moss, former Head of Student Academic Services at Liverpool University, talk about how Exam Scheduler helped them to lessen the risk of errors, better manage their invigilator allocation, and reduce their exam scheduling process from 12-15 person days to just one day.

Things Exam Scheduler can’t help you prepare for include riots,  storms, fire alarms and bomb threats.  Maybe in v3.6??

Good luck to everyone preparing for and sitting exams over the coming weeks, and to our valued customers around the world which support them.

“Change is vital, improvement the logical form of change.” J C Penney

Duncan Corbett presenting Scientia's Cloud visionA 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.

Snake game on a Nokia phoneIn 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.

Cloud computing iconMeanwhile, 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.

Scientia Publish on a mobile phone
Our Publish product gives students personalised timetables on any connected device

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.  Publish enables 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.

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:

25761617261_7e670197c9_m
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

Taking Control of your University Timetable

How do you enable non-timetabling staff to make small but sometimes critical changes to the university timetable, without involving the specialist scheduling team?

The strategic importance of timetabling specialists is in creating a structure that optimises productivity and use of assets throughout the university timetable, ultimately driving student satisfaction. However, small tasks such as room or staff alterations can often divert attention away from the bigger strategic issues. That is why we introduced the Enterprise Activity Adjuster module (EAA).

EAA is designed to support users who need to make adjustments to existing timetables quickly and easily while on the move. The remote functionality of the system means alterations can be carried out in real-time, allowing staff to make immediate changes to the schedule onsite or off campus. It also enables the timetabling team to go ‘mobile’ and discuss the schedule with departments and faculties there and then.

One key benefit to using the module is that it can facilitate alterations to the university timetable from a range of users including the central timetabling team who act on requests from departments to change pre-existing arrangements, timetablers based within a department or occasional users authorised to make minor changes. For example, an academic may cancel a lecture from home, or the estates team can quickly relocate lectures owing to structural or technical issues.

In this video Duncan Corbett, Product Manager at Scientia, explains how the Enterprise Activity Adjuster module can empower staff to take responsibility for small changes and complete tasks independently, allowing timetabling specialists to fulfil time-critical processes.