In 2007 the University Planning and Resources Committee approved the Timetabling Project as a separate project, to be administered as part of the SLIMS Programme. It provided seed funding for the Project to develop a refined University Timetabling Policy, and a business case outlining how that policy would best be implemented at UTAS. The new Timetabling Policy was approved by the Vice-Chancellor in 2008. Although the University Planning and Resources Committee endorsed the project Business Case, a budget was not allocated for the Project for 2009. As a result, the Project was put on hold until September 2009, when the Committee undertook a further review and the Project was allocated the needed funds to proceed. In January 2010, the SLIMS Timetabling Project Board approved the purchase of a new, commercially available timetabling application. The application selected was Syllabus Plus. Syllabus Plus was approved on the basis that it was the best fit for the University’s requirements, having been tried and tested at a number of other Australasian universities, and had an established interface with the TechnologyOne student management system to be introduced by the SLIMS Student Management Project.
Why the need for a new timetable?
Discussions about the approach to University timetabling were ongoing from 2006, when the University Teaching Facilities Management Group (TFMG) considered a timetabling discussion paper informed by student focus group feedback. Previous to the introduction of Syllabus Plus, the University was using a room allocation program primarily designed to book centrally managed teaching space, and not equipped to schedule classes. The SLIMS Timetabling Project was designed to address Strategy E10 of the University’s EDGE2 Agenda. This Strategy related to maximising support for the University’s core activities by aligning resources and improving business services and, in particular, calls for a review of the timetabling of teaching and learning activities.
The core objective of the Project was articulated in the UTAS Timetabling Policy. This Policy states that the University should have an efficient and effective teaching timetable that:
- supports unit choice and quality learning outcomes for students;
- manages teaching workloads; and
- makes the best use of teaching space and resources across the University.
In real terms, this means the Project aims to introduce an approach to timetabling that:
- Is student-focused – students will have the ability to access complete, comprehensive and personalised timetables. Clashes in compulsory and most common enrolment patterns will be minimised, which will increase attendance levels and reduce the need for students to vary their enrolment due to competing classes.
- Enables Faculties and Schools to negotiate with each other on providing students with the best possible range of unit options which are clash free.
- Allows scheduling to be carried out centrally. This is vital to ensuring that clashes are minimised and that the University's timetable is efficient from an institutional, as well as School or Faculty, perspective. Under this model, Schools and other UTAS areas will be able to choose their most suitable timetable from a number of centrally-scheduled options.
- Adopts improved timetabling processes that allows for timely production and publication of the next year’s timetable. New courses and units will be accommodated as part of the initial scheduling, rather than being slotted in to a timetable that has been rolled over from the previous year. This will reduce the amount of manual effort required of UTAS Timetabling Officers in resolving timetable clashes.
- Allows the University to respond to unexpected changes such as withdrawal of units or teaching space, or need for venues with specific attributes.
- Improves space usage. Improving the University’s average utilisation rate (currently 30%) to 50% will result in significant savings to UTAS in terms of capital development (new buildings and refurbishments) and recurrent operational and maintenance costs.
- Allows UTAS to analyse timetabling data and perform modelling based on “what if” scenarios.
What did the new timetable involve?
Centralised timetabling introduced a number of key changes relevant to academic staff. Essentially, these are:
- Production of an entirely new timetable for 2011 - the practice of rolling over teaching space bookings ceased. This meant new times and venues for classes reviewed on a yearly basis. Starting afresh, along with centralising teaching space and using teaching resource requirements to inform the scheduling, means that academic staff will have greater access to teaching spaces that accommodate their needs.
- Clash management - developing an institution-wide timetable that minimises clashes in common enrolment patterns may mean less enrolment variations and attendance problems in classes due to timetable clashes.
- Greater ability to accommodate urgent or last minute changes - accessing centrally-held space data and the current university schedule means that Schools are able to make changes and schedule activities more quickly and easily. This is particularly important around semester commencement and census dates when student numbers are likely to change. It will also be possible to see the knock-on effect of these changes on other scheduled activities.
- Accommodating "teaching-free" time - the new timetabling system allows for staff unavailability, such as defined research days or certain afternoons set aside for staff meetings or seminars, to be accommodated in the scheduling process. This means that teaching activities will be scheduled so they do not encroach on this time.
- Although the Timetabling Project Team undertook some initial data gathering during the early stages of the Project, the Data Collection and Input stage involved a fulsome collection of all unit, teaching and offering data from UTAS Schools and Centres. School/Centre Timetabling Officers played a key part in this process, using the skills they have gained from the training to input data for their School/Centre directly into the new system using the Web Data Collector (WDC).
In particular, School/Centre Timetabling Officers were asked to input and check information relating to the following:
- Locations - Teaching activities in spaces that have the capacity and attributes needed. An audit was conducted to ascertain correct teaching space attributes. In addition to being used by the Syllabus Plus system, this information will also be used to update the University's existing facilities management system, Archibus.
- Enrolment - Previous years' enrolment numbers for particular units (to inform the number and capacity of teaching activities) and confirmation of compulsory units within courses of study and identifying common enrolment patterns to allow for clash management.
- Teaching - Teaching patterns (how a unit is delivered - eg one lecture and one tutorial per week); and venue attributes required to deliver each teaching activity (including the physical resources needed to teach).
- Staff - A summary of staff responsible for taking each teaching activity, and their individual availability to teach.
Information was also gathered regarding individual School/Centre requirements such as intensive/block or stream teaching arrangements, use of specialist spaces. In 2010, the Project focussed on installing the new system and produced the first live timetable for the 2011 academic year. Rollout of Syllabus Plus to Schools was accomplished in 2011.