ofCourse Scheduling: I understand that both of you have been involved in scheduling this year. Can you give us some background?
Lindsey Gustafson: I’ve only been Associate Dean for Academic Affairs since August. Terri is our Dean, but was our Associate Dean for many years and is experienced in scheduling. I created the recent schedules, but she reviewed and gave invaluable advice.
Theresa (Terri) Beiner: I stepped in over the summer to revise the fall 2020 schedule as a result of Covid-19. Several years before serving as Dean of the law school, I was the Associate Dean and in charge of scheduling for 3½ years.
ofCourse: How did Covid-19 impact your schedule?
Terri: I worked on two different schedules over the summer — one in case we would be entirely face-to-face or entirely online, and the other for hybrid. We ended up being hybrid, so the schedule had a mixture of face-to-face, hybrid, and online courses, depending on the needs of the faculty member (immunocompromised or living with someone who is) and the schedule itself (i.e., back-to-back classes where one is online had to be followed with another online class).
Lindsey: Terri worked HARD on this all summer. Many revisions, as I understand.
Terri: I had a team of faculty members and administrators looking over schedules as we revised them. Our very patient registrar kept on having to adjust class schedules.
ofCourse: Obviously, we’d all prefer to be meeting in person, face-to-face. But from a scheduling perspective, is it any easier to make an all-online schedule? Or a hybrid schedule?
Lindsey: Hybrid is harder, I think, because you have to manage bodies in the building and keep them socially distanced. Our entirely online schedule looked like our entirely in-person schedule.
Terri: I agree with Lindsey’s assessment of this. It’s harder to create a hybrid schedule — where you have some in-person, some online, and then some classes in which students attend both in-class and online.
ofCourse: Do you think your experiences this year will have any long-term impact on how you approach scheduling, post-Covid?
Lindsey: All the learning we’ve done feels like it is outside the scheduling sphere — learning how to teach well, how to engage and communicate with students. And of course I’m still on the uphill side of learning scheduling. We are hoping that our experiences — both in scheduling and teaching — allow us to expand our online offerings going forward. And we have upgraded the tech in our classrooms to allow students to attend virtually. I’m sure that will be useful in the future.
Terri: I agree with Lindsey. We are likely to have more online classes as a result of this and/or provide students with the option to attend a class virtually.
ofCourse: Lindsey, this is the first year that you’ve been on the other side of the scheduling fence, so to speak. Are there any surprises? Things you didn’t know about scheduling that weren’t as you expected?
Lindsey: I was surprised by faculty members who insisted they had a right to teach at particular times in the afternoons, on particular days. And no one wants to teach four days a week. I wasn’t surprised by the complexity because I had been warned, but because we have both full-time and part-time sections, I could see the complexity was legitimate and daunting. It felt a little like sudoku — moving one thing changed everything else with cascading effects.
ofCourse: Terri, you’ve been involved with scheduling for longer. Is there knowledge you have that you realized you took for granted as you worked on transitioning the scheduling to Lindsey?
Terri: I think it’s important to make sure a scheduler looks at what students in different cohorts can take to form a good schedule. So, for a law school, you need to look at scheduling from the perspectives of 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls. With the upper-division students, you need to think strategically about what you want them to take (so, offering fewer options at a prime time) and classes you schedule at the same time because you’d like students to choose between them (electives and seminars that have less impact on bar passage, for example). I tried to help Lindsey think in those terms. Only she can answer whether I did so successfully or not!
ofCourse: Do you have any scheduling “war stories”?
Lindsey: We will have war stories after this year. We have a specific number of students we can have in our large classrooms and still be socially distanced. Right now in our Spring planning we are right at that limit and the student flow seems perfect. If we have one more student request to attend in-person and need a specific class, the whole schedule will need to be adjusted.
This semester, we had to accommodate students who had an online course and then not enough time to attend an in-person class that followed. They were given a classroom to sit in and attend the other class virtually, and strict instructions to wipe everything down when they left.
ofCourse: How much time do you set aside to build the schedule?
Terri: I scheduled for the entire year all at once — generally in the spring semester for the summer, fall, and following spring semesters so that students could plan. Of course, those prospective schedules were always tentative, because you can’t schedule adjuncts too far in advance. However, it did allow students to see required and bar-tested subjects. The process generally took me 6 weeks (with mulling time in between). And then I’d look at them again for a few weeks before releasing each new revised schedule.
Lindsey: At this point, I’m just trying to keep up with Terri’s planning, but eventually I would like to stay two years ahead. It would be nice to allow students to plan their entire three years with some predictability.
ofCourse: We’re in the business of creating software for course scheduling. How do you think scheduling is going to change in the next 5 years or so? What are some of the trends at universities that we should be thinking about?
Terri: You’re going to need to incorporate online classes — those that are synchronous and asynchronous as well as those that are hybrid. By the way, basically all our online classes were synchronous. We had maybe one or two that were not. You’ll need to factor in whether a student needs to travel from a face-to-face class to an online synchronous class into the scheduling software. They need time to get home or to wherever they are taking their online classes. For our students, that’s occasionally outside of a Taco Bell. Wifi in Arkansas can be dodgy. It’s good here at the law school, but students need to maintain social distancing given the pandemic.
ofCourse: What’s one piece of advice you wish you had had when you first started building course schedules?
Lindsey: That I will always get complaints, and that I will likely need to adjust the schedule many times before it is really, truly final.
Terri: You can’t take complaints personally. Schedules are always works in progress, and you can’t please everyone.
Lindsey: It was invaluable to be able to go to Terri with questions. I can’t imagine learning the scheduling process without having access to someone with institutional knowledge and experience.