Use historical reporting to decide which professor draws the short straw

People did not ask for a good number of the features in this system. Those additions come from a game I play. In this game, I pretend I am you, you the Registrar, you the Dean of Academic Affairs, you the Schedule Admin. And were I you, and were I the one asked to make my school's schedule, this is the tool I would want if I had to do your job. Granted, I have two added advantages. First I have some experience making these sorts of things. And secondly, and probably more importantly, I have become reasonably obsessed with this challenge.

Now as for the requirement of this system, my system. First and foremost it has to be easy to use and understand. A close second is my system needs to do what I need it to do, namely, make a schedule that accounts for all of the obvious and odd and nuanced exceptions that tend to invade every university schedule. Lastly, it needs to make me look smart.

Now odds are you don't know me personally, but if you did, you would know that that last item is a pretty big ask. But my lack of intellect is thankfully not the focus here. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

It is rare to make a schedule where everyone gets exactly what they want. We do quite well in this regard, remarkably well actually, but there is always a class or two that just won't get the perfect draw in the big picture. In these cases, you as the admin sometimes have to decide who gets a shorter straw. This short straw could be a Friday teaching slot or an early morning placement or the class landing in the exact opposite part of the day the professor requested to teach. In these cases, someone is going to get what they want, and someone is not. The trick is who.

In asking myself the question of what information I would want to make that decision, I concluded I'd like to know that of the people involved, what is their recent teaching history. For instance, what did last year's teaching load look like--did they teach both semesters? Did they take on an overload class? If they taught, where did their classes land? At desired times or less appealing times?

Without any data in hand, these decisions tend to fall to through an entirely subjective process. Historically, whoever is going to make my life more miserable or yell the loudest is who will get the better draw. But if I had actual data, empirical evidence to stand on (and hide behind) I could make an objective argument. I could say that based on this and this and this, you are in the barrel this time around and teach Friday because the other two people have already caught a Friday class in the last three years.

When I decided I would want that sort of data if I had to make those types of decisions, we put a plan together and now YOU have that data for those types of decisions. For every course offered you see its history which includes who taught it and when (while you've been on the ofCourse platform at least). Same goes for professors. Pull up a faculty profile, and you will see their teaching history, including the classes they taught as well as WHEN they were scheduled (as well as the ROOM they took place in!).

So never walk into a tie-breaker decision without any bullets again and never again make a decision based solely on who will yell the loudest. Now you have ammo. Use it to make calm and reasoned choices (and get yelled at less).

As always, see you on the scheduling pitch.


Troy Dearmitt

Troy is the CTO & Co-founder at ofCourse.

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