Scheduling Large and Small

I have always known that I kind of like scheduling things. I will be department chair relatively soon, and I am looking forward to making making the teaching schedules for people. When I was a kid, I would schedule fake professional basketball and baseball seasons for fun. This is a sort of macro-scheduling, and I enjoy doing it.

What I have recently learned about myself, though, is that I hate micro-scheduling. I don’t like emailing back-and-forth to find a time that works for all people. I have embraced tools like Doodle to some extent, but I usually have to schedule one-on-one appointments, and Doodle seems like too much work for that.

I have a lot of appointments right now with my advisees to choose classes for next semester. I decided to use the Google Appointments replacement youcanbook.me, which I have written about before. This has worked ridiculously well, and it has saved me a lot of stress (Note: Neither Google nor youcanbook.me has contacted me, and I am not getting paid to write about this. I am just a simple user).

For the last several years, I have not scheduled office hours. I stopped doing this because it actually made it harder for me to meet with students. Regardless of when I schedule office hours, most of my students cannot attend. This means that I have to make individual appointments with them and still attend my regular office hours. Because I need to attend my office hours, I cannot schedule meetings during this time. So I have to schedule the meetings during times when I could have been meeting with students, which means I cannot meet with students during those times.

So I have just been scheduling “office hours” individually as students need them (which is getting to be less and less), and I hate schedule this stuff (although I like meeting with students).

So my plan is to schedule “open hours” when I plan my work day. I will use youcanbook.me, which I will post on my website and Moodle page. Students can sign up whenever they want, and I don’t need to do the scheduling, save for the random student who absolutely cannot meet with any of my preferred times. I think that this is going to greatly increase my quality of life.

Two things: Each morning, I am going to remove options to sign up for that day. This is because I don’t always re-check my calendar, and I don’t want any surprises. Also, I am going to start doing this after advising is done, since I don’t have any time between now and then anyway.

Does anyone have any experience with this? Any tips?

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10 Responses to “Scheduling Large and Small”

  1. TJ Says:

    Oh, man. I am in the middle of reassessments for 35 students, and advising for 30 other students. I need this soooooo much. It is likely too late for this term, but NEXT term, I am going to try this.

  2. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I’m advising between 300 and 400 students this year, plus teaching two classes, meeting with 3 grad students, and being vice chair. I’m not willing to have students signing up on an appointment calendar—no one gets to put things on my calendar except me.

    I’ve set up two open office hours a week, for which students can reserve a place in line by e-mail, or just show up and wait until those with reservations have all been served. I stay until all the students have had their time with me (I made the hours 4–5pm), which means I’m usually doing 4 hours a week, not 2, but I could leave earlier if there was no one waiting.

    I also allow students to make appointments at other times—but they have to send me their schedules, and I look for an opening on my calendar. Because some openings are more valuable to me than others, I try to give them a slot that will fit their openings but minimize disruption to my day (an optimization that never happens if others put appointments on my schedule).

    I probably spend about 6 hours a week in one-on-one meetings with students, but I expect that to triple spring quarter, when all the sophomores will have to declare their majors. (My teaching load will be a bit heavier then also, as one of my classes will have 6 or 12 hours of lab time, with no TA.)

  3. bretbenesh Says:

    “I’m advising between 300 and 400 students this year.”

    This blows my mind. That is 10% of my school’s entire enrollment.

    “no one gets to put things on my calendar except me.”

    I agree with this. With youcanbook.me, I set the times when they can sign up. So I essentially give office hour options for each day, and students can sign up for those times only.

    “I also allow students to make appointments at other times—but they have to send me their schedules, and I look for an opening on my calendar.”

    This is my current policy. I think that it works well, save for the fact that I don’t like this process. Far too often, the emails go like this:

    1. Student: Can we meet?
    2. Me: What is your schedule? (my stated policy is that they send me their schedule every time they ask to meet, but this has not been effective).
    3. Student: I am free on MWF from 1–4 pm, and then on TTh from 10 am on.
    4. Me: Let’s meet this Tuesday at 10:30 am.
    5. Student: I actually can’t do it on THIS Tuesday.
    6. Me: (Gives them three options).
    7. Student: (Picks one of the options).
    8. Me: (Confirms).

    So I have four emails that I receive and four that I send for a not-ideal-but-not-uncommon exchange. I would rather just post the options from the 6th email directly to youcanbook.me, and then have the student sign up. This results in 0 emails in the ideal (but still common) case, and the same 8 emails if the student absolutely cannot meet during any of the options I have given them.

    At least, this is how I hope it will work.

    Good luck with your hundreds of students. I am amazed.
    Bret

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    The bioengineering major has been growing rather rapidly recently, which has converted a reasonable load into an unmanageable one.

    Also we completely revamped the curriculum last year, so that it is effectively 4 different majors, with only about 30% overlap in courses. That means that there are 7 different curricula students could be following (the 3 old concentrations or the 4 new ones), and considerable confusion on the part of students about what their options are—they hear something about the new curriculum and assume it applies to the old one, or vice versa.

    There is a staff adviser who students are supposed to see before coming to me (the bioengineering advising is a full-time job for her), but I have to handle all the exceptions and all the “what elective should I take” questions.

    I’m going to try to get some more faculty to start advising in a couple of the concentrations, so that the load can be spread a bit.

    I never give the students multiple options when they are asking for times outside my allocated office hours. They tell me when they are available, and I ask them to come in the first of those slots that fits my schedule. If they don’t come then, I mark them on my calendar as a no-show, and wait for them to reschedule.

    I avoid some of the problems with handling so many advisees by sending out e-mail to the entire list occasionally, when something comes up that I think will be a common question. I also handle a lot of routine questions by e-mail.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      “The bioengineering major has been growing rather rapidly recently, which has converted a reasonable load into an unmanageable one.”

      A blessing and a curse, huh?

      “I never give the students multiple options when they are asking for times outside my allocated office hours. They tell me when they are available, and I ask them to come in the first of those slots that fits my schedule.”

      This is exactly what I start doing, but then they frequently have some exception to their schedules. I wish they would include these exceptions when they email me, since I do not need to *generally* know their schedules; I only need to know for the immediately purpose of scheduling an appointment. Your students must be better about this than mine are.

  5. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    “Your students must be better about this than mine are.”

    Maybe (I supervising one of the tougher majors in a research university). Or maybe I just am less forgiving if they tell me of a slot and then cancel.

    I’ve posted more on this topic in http://gasstationwithoutpumps.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/advising-too-many-students/

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Thanks for the post—I found it interesting.

      I just want to be clear and fair to my students. When I said, “Your students must be better about this than mine are,” I meant that your students are better about emailing their correct schedules than mine are. My students are pretty fantastic about showing up once an appointment is made, and I don’t want to give the impression that they aren’t. There is just a noticeable percentage of students who tell me they are free, say, after noon on Monday, but then response with “I can’t make it THIS particular Monday, since I have track practice/work/band practice/etc.”

      So they just aren’t as thorough when they describe their schedules, but they are very good about following through once an appointment is made.

      Thanks for letting me clarify.

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