Scheduler Spotlight

Meet the deans, registrars and other administrative staff responsible for scheduling at their respective schools.

Scheduler Spotlight

Paul Rose, Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives

Paul Rose Photo

Name: Paul Rose
Title: Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives
School: Ohio State University Moritz College of Law
Years in current position: 1
Years at current university: 12
Previous title: Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Current city: Columbus, OH
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Interests: Cycling, sketching

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What do you like most about making the course schedule?

I enjoy finding creative (and occasionally elegant) solutions to complex scheduling problems. Balancing faculty preferences with student and college needs isn't easy.

What does a great schedule accomplish for a school?

It gives students and faculty an opportunity to flourish. Students have the opportunity to prepare for their careers, of course, but also to potentially find a new path in an area of law they hadn’t considered. For faculty, finding ways to help them teach what they love and love what they teach makes for a much better learning environment for all.

What’s a common mistake you see in schedules?

Block scheduling tends to use space and time less efficiently than scheduling throughout the day.

How do you work with faculty to make an effective schedule?

Sometimes faculty are not aware how much their individual preferences can impact the rest of the schedule. I work hard to find solutions that maintain a student-focused approach while also respecting faculty preferences as much as I can. These are my colleagues and friends, and I take a long view—I don’t ask folks to do anything I wouldn’t do, and I try to recognize individual needs and power dynamics that can make scheduling more difficult for faculty members (particularly junior faculty, and faculty with young children). If I need to ask someone to do something that will be difficult for them, I make a special effort to accommodate their preferences in a subsequent year. Faculty have been great over the years in working to create the best schedule possible.

What’s the best compliment you ever received about a schedule you worked on?

For me, the most meaningful compliments are the simple “thank-yous” I have received from students who really, really wanted a particular class, or faculty who really needed an accommodation that I was able to provide.

What’s one piece of advice you have for someone just starting as a schedule-maker?

Be willing to work hard to accommodate student and faculty preferences.  It makes for a challenging sort of logic puzzle, but you will receive dividends later as faculty will be more willing to accommodate your requests.  

What challenges does the current pandemic pose for scheduler-makers?

We are not sure what will happen in terms of infection rates, and the science is still evolving. We may be forced to adapt even after all the effort to put together a schedule that involves in-person, hybrid, and online learning. It will take patience and goodwill from faculty and students, but I’m confident we can rise to the challenge.

Share your story in Scheduler Spotlight: spotlight@ofcourse.org

Scheduler Spotlight

Ryan Max Rowberry, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs

Ryan Max Rowberry Photo

Pictured above, Ryan is working with the Mayans in Mexico to preserve their heritage.

Name: Ryan Max Rowberry
Title: Associate Dean for Academic Affairs;
Associate Professor of Law
School: Georgia State University School of Law
Years in current position: 1
Years at current university: 8

Current city: Atlanta, GA
Hometown: Aurora, CO
Interests: Sports, travel, medieval history

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What’s the hardest part of scheduling?

Everything—balancing classes, various cohorts of students, faculty demands, and, of course, social distancing guidelines given the pandemic. There are so many shifting pieces that it really is an art.

What does a great schedule accomplish for a school?

A great schedule allows a school to be flexible. Classes, instructors, students invariably change and a great schedule allows you to build in flexibility and consistency.

What’s a common misconception about scheduling?

You only do it once. Scheduling, I’ve learned, is an iterative process. Because a schedule tries to balance so many competing demands, it’s bound to change.

What’s a common mistake you see in schedules?

Assuming that the schedule is ‘finalized’. I’ve learned that no schedule is ever truly final—it just hasn’t been changed yet.

Do you ever get pushback on the schedule?

Yes, faculty often push back on when they teach or what room they teach in. With software-generated schedules, some of the pushback is eliminated because faculty get to indicate their preferences in advance.

What’s the worst thing that's ever happened to your schedule?  

This past academic year was my first time making the schedule, so I'm still a newbie. But undoubtedly, the worst thing that's happened would be COVID-19. It forced everyone to rethink room capacities; numbers of people in the building; modalities for instruction. It forced many faculty members to move classes online. All of this upset the schedule immensely. I must have redone the schedule 3 or 4 times, and it’s still not finished as the pandemic continues to shift.

I’ve found the best way to deal with it is to know that many changes will be made and to make them on a daily basis. Otherwise, tasks build up and become overwhelming.

What’s one piece of advice you have for someone just starting as a schedule-maker?

Use ofCourse software! Once you get the hang of it (and it’s quite intuitive) it makes schedule-making as easy as it can be. Plus, any changes are saved in real-time so that everyone has access to any alterations. It’s made the scheduling side of my job much easier. Now if only the pandemic would cooperate!

Share your story in Scheduler Spotlight: spotlight@ofcourse.org

Scheduler Spotlight

Jim Gibson, Professor of Law

Jim Gibson Photo

Name: Jim Gibson
Title: Sesquicentennial Professor of Law
School: University of Richmond School of Law
Years in current position: 2
Years at current university: 17
Previous title: Associate Dean for Academics

Current city: Richmond, VA
Hometown: Mountain Lakes, NJ
Interests: Geeking out on obscure stuff like scheduling algorithms

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

What’s the hardest part of scheduling?

The hardest part of scheduling is that there is no one hardest part. Instead, it’s an insanely complex, multi-part balancing act. Use classroom space efficiently. Avoid curricular conflicts. Respect student time. Accommodate faculty availability and preferences. And so on.

What do you like most about making the course schedule?

For me, making a schedule is like exercising. I don’t enjoy doing it, but I enjoy having done it.

What does a great schedule accomplish for a school?

A great schedule maximizes student learning by giving them the flexibility to take the courses they want to take. Everything else — classroom availability, faculty preferences, etc. — is in service to that goal.

What is a common misconception about scheduling?

I don’t think people appreciate that making the schedule — challenging though that is — is actually the end of a months-long process of deciding what courses will be taught, finding the right faculty to teach them, and keeping track of the tons of idiosyncratic issues that emerge. I usually started working on the next academic year’s curriculum in November but didn’t start making the schedule itself until March.

Can you give us an example of a scheduling challenge?

Sure. It’s specific to schools where one semester (or year) is all required courses, to which the students are assigned, and after that it’s mostly electives, which the students choose for themselves. Like law schools.

In that context, one should recognize that scheduling any upper-level course at the same time as any other upper-level course always imposes a cost, which can be avoided by scheduling the upper-level course against a first-year course.

Suppose you have three big classrooms and two timeslots, into which you need to fit four first-year required classes and two upper-level electives. It’s better to put two first-year classes and one elective into each slot than it is to put three first-year courses in one slot and the two electives in the other slot with the other first-year class. This is because whenever upper-level courses are scheduled against each other, there may be students who want to take both but cannot. But there is never a student who wants to take both a required first-year course and an upper-level elective (with very rare exceptions). 

In other words, making a law school schedule is really making two schedules. The first is for the required first year, and you don’t have to accommodate student choice for that one; it’s all about classroom and faculty availability. The second is for the upper-level electives; here student choice is really important (in addition to classroom and faculty availability). So you can use the fact that student choice doesn’t matter in the first-year schedule to maximize student choice in the upper-level schedule.

Do you ever get pushback on the schedule?

Pushback on the schedule comes with the territory. No schedule will ever be perfect for everyone, so just admit its flaws and promise to try to do better next time. I especially did that with faculty pushback — e.g., “I know you didn’t get your preferred teaching time this year, but I’ll make a note of that and make sure to give you first dibs next year.”

What’s the best compliment you ever received about a schedule you worked on?

I’m not sure I’ve ever received a compliment on a schedule. If a schedule is done well, no one notices, which is as it should be. If it’s not done well, you’ll hear about it!

What challenges does the current pandemic pose for scheduler-makers? How will you deal with those challenges?

I can’t really speak to the pandemic challenges, as I haven't been responsible for the schedule since 2018. Those who make schedules today have my deepest sympathies — I imagine that safe in-person teaching during a pandemic basically reduces the size of available classrooms by around 75%!

Do you have any advice for someone just starting as a schedule-maker?

It’s really complicated. You’ll make mistakes. Own them, apologize for them, learn from them, and move along.

Share your story in Scheduler Spotlight: spotlight@ofcourse.org

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