Classroom scheduling to go high tech

by Jessica Steeno

University students may find themselves sitting in state-of-the-art classrooms because of software the University purchased to schedule classrooms more efficiently.
“Having this new tool will allow us to better suit classrooms for what students in the 21st century will need,” said Harvey Turner, director of planning and programming for Facilities Management.
Schedule25, a program developed by a University of Michigan doctoral student as his dissertation, promises to take the work out of scheduling classrooms.
Elizabeth Grundner, assistant director of the Office of the Registrar, said the program will increase the speed of scheduling classrooms from a month to only a few days.
The software will also allow the University to use fewer classrooms by ensuring rooms are continually in use.
Removing the unneeded classrooms from use will save the University about $2 million a year, Grundner said.
The state Legislature awarded the University $6.2 million for the renovation of classrooms during the next few years, Turner said. If the University uses fewer classrooms, the renovation funds can be used to make bigger improvements in rooms, which are in use, he added.
Classrooms no longer used as a result of the software could be remodeled and used, such as labs or offices, Grundner said.
Registrar employees have spent the last year programming the physical features of all University classrooms into Schedule25, which is sold by Universal Algorithms of Portland, Ore.
When the program is ready, registrar employees will be able to enter into a computer the size of the classroom needed, equipment a professor may want and even the type of furniture a professor prefers. Less than a minute later, the program will find a room that fits those characteristics.
A year ago University officials estimated the software would cost less than $100,000; it ended up costing $59,950.
The program will also be used to schedule meetings and events at the University. Grundner said her office handles about 12,000 requests for meeting and event rooms every quarter.
There are several disadvantages to using the program, however.
Because Schedule25 doesn’t assign classrooms until the regular class schedule is ready for publication, Continuing Education and Extension classes must wait until then for specific room assignments. Currently, the rooms where classes will be held are listed in the CEE bulletin when it is printed. Since the bulletin is only available once a year, specific room assignments will no longer be listed in the bulletin. CEE students will find out their classroom assignments when they register for classes.
Another disadvantage is that computers are not as flexible as people, Grundner said.
Many teachers have specific room preferences because of location or familiarity, and the program is not designed to allow for this.
However, the benefits of the software outweigh the differences, Grundner said.
“Hand scheduling is beautiful, but it’s slow,” she said.
About 150 universities across the nation, including the University of Minnesota-Duluth, already use Schedule25, Turner said, adding that these schools are happy with the software.
“It works very well,” he said.