Office of the Provost

August 31, 2017

New Seattle classroom scheduling system by spring 2018

Jerry Baldasty

One of the most frustrating things I experienced as a faculty member was challenges in nailing down the exact time and location of my class. And it wasn’t just me. In autumn 2016, nearly one-third of classroom requests were honored long after they were made.

This has a real impact. Last-minute classroom scheduling complicates life for faculty and students alike. How can faculty and students possibly plan and coordinate their lives – work schedules, research, travel, child care, transit routes, classes needed to graduate on time – when we don’t know our course schedules in advance? This will get far worse if we don’t do something about it now. And, as UW enrollment grows, demand for classroom space has reached an all-time high. Our incoming first year class is the largest ever. In short, our current classroom scheduling practices simply don’t work.

We’ve been looking for solutions using a very inclusive process over the last three years. We began by analyzing our classroom space and scheduling on the Seattle campus. We surveyed faculty and students, conducted extensive focus groups and interviews and consulted with numerous campus groups. Everybody – faculty, students and staff – overwhelmingly criticized our current practices and pressed for greater predictability in scheduling.

So, we took their advice. Because we simply cannot afford to build a new Kane Hall, we identified alternatives to make the best possible use of our existing classrooms and improve our current scheduling practices. My staff has held dozens of meetings with department schedulers to identify potential problems and solutions.

Our goal at the UW, of course, is great teaching and learning. To do that, we need to better use our classrooms and increase the predictability of class time and location before student registration opens each quarter. Our new general-assignment classroom scheduling model, will do just that, as it is phased in over the next year.

Here are three practices we’re going to use:

  1. Fixed-distribution model: Academic units will spread their course requests across a 10-hour teaching day. The Office of the Registrar will work collaboratively with units, schools and colleges to schedule courses.
  2. Block scheduling: Class times also will be standardized, and classrooms will be used continuously throughout the day, avoiding empty periods between classes.
  3. Multi-year plans: Scheduling large classes annually will make planning ahead easier. Courses needed by many students — such as gateway or required courses — will be the first to be scheduled during the the most popular times for courses.

We will monitor all of this. The Registrar’s Office will check enrollments to see if larger classrooms still have seating capacity, and whether small classrooms are overflowing. If we need to make changes room assignments, we will.

Similar models have been successfully adopted at peer institutions such as University of California, Los Angeles; University of Southern California; and Northwestern University.

This new general-assignment classroom scheduling model will be fully implemented by spring 2018. Implementation will be led by the Office of the Registrar in collaboration with key partners, such as Classroom Technology and Events, and Health Sciences Academic Services and Facilities. These partners are working with departmental schedule coordinators and other groups to explain the new scheduling practices, assist units with incorporating these practices into their planning, and refine these practices to improve scheduling within the new system.

The lives of UW students, faculty and staff are busy and complex already. Through predictable scheduling and better use of time and space, we can ease the frustration and uncertainty, while meeting the increasing demands for classroom space.

Will this be the perfect fix? No, but it’s a substantial start.