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Timetabling and Strategic Planning – Two sides of the same coin

March 18, 2021

A timetable balances the provision of education, or training, and the use of resources, for example, space and staff. From an operational perspective, it has always been the case that a clash free timetable is made available, allowing individuals to follow teaching delivery patterns throughout the course duration. Well, until now that is. Suddenly, it is not essential that the timetable needs to be clash free! Dr Barry McCollum from EventMAP discusses some ramifications of this, and outlines the increasing need for effective Institutional Strategic Planning.

Covid has introduced the necessity and possibility of allowing students or trainees to choose what and when they study as part of an overall approach to their life work balance. In what has felt like a 'scramble' to create and maintain delivery timetables, Institutions have been forced to accelerate into the world of creating and making content available online. The ability to have content online, creates the potential for delivering learning 24/7, with the individual choosing what is appropriate, albeit within a fixed duration period. As long as the individual adheres to certain precedence constraints, e.g., class ‘A’ should come before Class ‘B’, and additional group work constraints, they have the ability to decide how they consume teaching provision.

The first question that this may raise, is, what is the impact on the timetabling process?

Well, there remains a need to schedule classes where specific specialist spaces and equipment are required as part of the course delivery. This is so, whether people are physically present, or viewing remotely via MS Teams, Zoom, Webex, Google Meet etc. These timetable slots will have to be scheduled in accordance with course structure and availability. Also, where group learning is part of the provision, slots must be fixed and made available, ensuring collaboration is able to take place.

So, no need to panic Timetabling Staff, the profession is safe!

In actual fact, it becomes even more complicated as demand on utilisation of specialist facilities will increase significantly. Particularly as Institutions seek to balance bringing people together for specified times and activities, combined with the creation and delivery of online content.

The second, bigger question, is what space is actually required in the delivery of the timetable. Now this really is a huge question, as potentially only a fraction of existing space will be required in the provision of such a consumer led process. At the very least there is the real possibility for substantial reconfiguration of existing space in supporting the new approach to delivering the timetable.  Establishing how much space is needed, and in what configuration, will require a major planning effort. Particularly around balancing, making available content, and ensuring delivery is structured, in accordance with required learning and training outcomes. There is no doubt, the Covid situation has been disruptive, though the legacy of the situation will mean an increased demand for flexibility. This is particularly so as students and trainees adapt to greater control over their blended learning experience.

More so than ever, the timetabling function enters the realm of strategic planning. EventMAP's approach to planning allows an understanding of how the current timetabling process is resourced, and what the impacts of ongoing changes in response to Covid, and other restrictions might be. We are also able to generate scenarios outlining how a blended approach may be taken going forward, and the impact on the underlying available space. Through the adoption of optimisation within an intuitive scheduling engine, OPTIME, the ability exists to rationalise space while adapting to Covid and indeed streams of good practice as we progress out of the current situation.

Students and trainees of the future will demand much more in terms of flexibility within 'their' learning process. Universities and training organisations must therefore prepare themselves to transform the approach they take in the construction, and deployment, of timetabling activities.

If you would like to know more about the work we have undertaken to help Institutions adapt during the pandemic, or the work we are undertaking as we move out of the current health crisis, contact us via our website for more information.

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