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Tips & Tricks

The Art and Science of Scheduling

by Christine Stewart
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The process of building an effective course schedule goes beyond rolling over a master schedule year over year. It requires a delicate balance of analyzing data to make better-informed decisions while adjusting for variables that only human insight can provide. It’s a process that I refer to as the art and science of scheduling.   

While data contributes to the “science,” institutional knowledge and past practices form the “art.” Unfortunately, those practices are rarely adjusted over time. That’s why it’s so important for institutions to review their historical analysis around the course schedule. The key areas to focus on are like-term trend analysis, consecutive term analysis, and search for potential reallocation of resources.  

  • Like Term Trend Analysis – The like term trend analysis provides seat recommendations based on an algorithm to determine trends. It’s primarily used when working on the first draft of a schedule. These recommendations allow institutions to easily adjust the low hanging fruit. Many times, institutions know some of these adjustments need to be made, but they don’t have the data, or science, to support it. Here we need to be careful to not rely too heavily on the art. It’s easy to fall into a habit of saying, “we need to leave the schedule the way it is because of XYZ,” and continuing with the same practices that may need to be updated.  
  • Consecutive Term Analysis – The consecutive term analysis provides data on consecutive terms as opposed to like terms. Institutions like to review this data as it gives a different viewpoint, particularly when considering where courses might need to be added. If a course is overloaded or full in consecutive terms, it might suggest it’s a bottleneck for students, and they may be having difficulty getting scheduled for that course each term. Institutions will also use this data point to help determine which courses might be most beneficial to offer in smaller terms. For example, if a course is full in fall and then again in spring, perhaps it would be helpful to provide a section in the summer.  
  • Reallocation of Resources – Reallocation of resources allows a school to think more creatively when acting on Ad Astra’s recommendations. I spend a lot of time with clients reviewing courses that need to be added and looking to see where we can free up those resources to allow for additional needed seats. This is a bit of what I call the art of scheduling – digging into the schedule and determining what courses are must-haves in a particular term and what courses we can get more creative with to meet the needs of our students.  

The historical analysis provides an early opportunity to review the schedule and make necessary adjustments. By first examining the science, or data, you can remove the noise and allow for a better initial schedule. This will allow more time to fine-tune the schedule outside of what the data is suggesting, using what you know to be true to your institution and students, or as I like to call it, the art of scheduling. 

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Monitor Align Like Term Trend Analysis Reallocation of Resources Consecutive Term Analysis Historical Analysis