Year in review: Product updates in 2020

It was and continues to be an unusual and different sort of year. Everyone had to be flexible, and we at ofCourse were no exception. In late Spring, we had an exciting lineup of system enhancements ready for development, but several of them had to be set aside to build tools to support scheduling-making in a socially-distanced world. We also had to shoulder, with many of you, a second scheduling season.

All this said, we were still able to extend our system in compelling ways. Whether you’ve been following along or not on our newsletter and website, below is a summary of features already present, as well as a few we are still working on but hope will be ready in time for the Spring scheduling season.

Course assignment notifications

I mentioned this in last year’s best-of mailer as something that was not yet complete. Just mentioning it now to say it was finished in time for the season and quickly became a favorite for folks. There are few things nicer at the end of a long scheduling road than being able to notify ALL teaching faculty of their specific day/time appointments with a click of a single button.

Breaktime controls

We added a breaktime feature that lets you control the breaktimes between classes. This previously was part of your initial setup and not openly configurable. Now you can select a breaktime before each schedule run, which allows for some experimental combinations. It also proved helpful for adding extra padding between classes for Covid-related cleaning cycles.

Customized mailers

Another item we made user-configurable dealt with the faculty mailing system. You can now control a number of things in your outgoing mailers to faculty, such as:

  • Setting personalization levels (saying “Hello David” or “Professor Plisko”)
  • Closing polling form access to block changes by faculty at the preference deadline
  • Controlling who the outgoing mailers come from
  • Adding a space between the salutation and the start of the mailer content

And on your Schedule Notifications (in Step 5), you can hide the room assignments and choose whether or not to provide a link to the public schedule that shows all classes or just their classes.

Improved preference analysis

We developed a more sophisticated way to review and assess preferences. This new report evaluates the flexibility of a professor’s incoming day and time preferences. It even has a switch to display anyone who only gave prime-time options. This helps schools enforce flexibility in their prefs, saying that at least one of the three faculty prefs must be in a non-prime-time window. The list displayed when using the prime-only switch has come to be known as the “naughty report.”

Schedule cloning

The ability to reproduce a finished and polished schedule has been on the to-do list for a few years. There were some challenges on our end to reliably offer this feature, but we slowly chipped away at it and got it working in late spring. This means if you have a schedule you like and want to try a particular set of modifications but aren’t entirely sure if they will work, we can create a copy of the schedule at any point in your process, and you can try your changes on the copy. If it doesn’t work out, you can always return to the original OR have us make another copy and try again.

This cloning ability proved to be another invaluable tool for Covid-19 scenario planning.

Covid-19 strategy support

We worked quickly to develop tools and features to assist schools in all the various Covid-19 strategies they were trying in response to social-distancing mandates. Whether you were going entirely online, needing to produce hybrid schedules, or working to support partial in-class experiences (e.g., half the students in person on Monday and the other half in-person on Wednesday), we created switches and controls that would let the algorithm build schedules with these various strategies in mind.

Unassigned professors

We created a new professor type to handle situations where you don’t know who will teach a class. Many are familiar with the To Be Determined (aka TBD) professor assignment, but we added an ability to assign a course to an entirely unknown professor. This created a new sort of flexibility to your Step 4 builds. The main difference is that TBD profs cannot be scheduled in conflict, but “Professor Assignment Open” courses can.

Weekend support

Weekend courses used to be handled entirely through Special Designations. You can now expand your school week (and schedule grids) to include Saturday, Sunday, or both. This means you can now properly add courses to the schedule and have the algorithm set the time and rooms for those classes through either faculty or registrar preferences. Further, they will more naturally display on the public views and text exports.

Sticky filters

This item is a smaller one but will make its mark when you need it. What this does is it remembers the last settings you applied on a filterable page. An example — you are working on the course load in Step 2. Using the filters, you limit the display to show only Seminars. You click into a class to review or modify it. When returning to the full course listing, the page will remember that you were working on Seminars and display only those. This should resonate with anyone who has ever had to reset a filter, possibly through clenched teeth, multiple times. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, if you go home and pull the page up on a different computer, it will remember the last settings you used even then.

In the pipeline

As mentioned, Covid-19 scuttled our pre-set development plans, but that is not to say we have given up on the original list. Below are a few additional items that are not yet complete, but we are hopeful they will be available to you by the coming scheduling season.

Faculty/course-level genre protection

Genre protection has historically happened at a pretty high level and namely, by course or course category. But we are adding more granular controls which will let you truly hand-compile special-case protection scenarios. For instance, you can now say; I want these five courses, taught by these five people, to not be scheduled in conflict (even when other sections of the courses exist). This detailed oversight will allow for a whole new level of course diversity protection.

Configurable public views

We are working on letting you better control the detail of the course listings on the public views. This will allow you to suppress or show things like section assignments, rooms, or class capacities.

Preference amplification

Want to increase the preference-weighting for a particular professor or course? We are working on a feature that will let you identify classes at the faculty/course-level for special consideration during the Step 4 algorithmic builds.

Extended reporting capabilities

We are working towards a new suite of reporting tools that will expose a lot more about your courseloads and finished schedules. Once in place, this will be a list of reports that will see routine additions, but we will be kicking things off with a few compelling takes on your data to get things started.

Exam scheduling

And last but certainly far from least (both in impact and effort), we have broken ground on the exam scheduling extension and hope to have a first iteration available for use early next year.

We hope you are as excited to use these new features in the coming year as we are to offer them. 

As always, we look forward to seeing you on the scheduling pitch.

Troy.

More ofCourse feature updates

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Troy Dearmitt

Troy Dearmitt

Troy is the CTO & Co-founder at ofCourse.

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