Improving the student experience with an improved tutorial selection process

As part of the JISC Institutional Approaches to Curriculum Design project, the UG-Flex project at the University of Greenwich undertook set out to “reveal and enhance the University’s curriculum development processes in order to support a more agile and diverse curriculum underpinned by integrated systems.”

As part of on going dialogue about the technical aspects of the project the team shared with us their some of their plans for developing more sophisticated, real time timetabling processes. Although this work is not directly related to the UG-Flex project, this example of choice of systems and their integration demonstrates the positive contribution to be made to the day to day delivery of the University’s curriculum. Clifton Kandler, Web Services Manager explains more in this guest post.

The Problem
Like many university’s at the start of courses (programs), course leaders are faced with the need to separate students in to groups for tutorials, lab sessions and in larger courses lectures. For our Business School which has courses with up to 500 registered this has been a particularly important issue for some time. Having moved on from collating student’s tutorial selections from pieces of paper placed on notice boards, prior to our migration to Moodle the Business School used the group functionality within WebCT to either allocate students to tutorials or enable them to self select a tutorial slot.

The lack of integration between WebCT and our timetable system, Syllabus plus from Scientia however meant that the setting up of these groups within WebCT was a manual process. Once students had been allocated to tutorials or had made a tutorial selection manual intervention was again required to provide this information to our timetable system to enable construction of a personalized timetable for students which is accessed via our Portal (Luminus from Elluician).

These points of manual intervention resulted in errors and delays in providing students with accurate timetable information at the start of courses, frustration on the part of course leaders who could not be sure who should be in their tutorials and consequently delays in organising students in to groups for group assignments for example.

The Opportunities
A clear opportunity existed to improve the experience of students, academics, School administrators and timetabling staff by integrating the systems involved and removing the points of manual intervention.

The decision to migrate to Moodle as our institutional VLE for the start of the 2011/12 academic year also provided an opportunity to develop the environment to meet our specific challenges. This was one of the decisive factors in choosing Moodle. The time table selection block was the first area of development chosen.

The final opportunity came in the form of SunGard’s Infinity Process Platform, this Business Process management tool enabled us with SunGard’s help to model, analyse and execute the work flows and integrations required. This tool is used extensively in the financial services industry and Greenwich is the first to use it in a Higher Education context.

The Process
A series of workshops was held with representatives from Schools to further understand the problem to be addressed and draw up a list of requirements and timetable for development. As well as meeting the objectives set a major outcome of these workshops was the acknowledgment on the part of participants of the complexities of producing solution to the issues raised from a systems integration perspective. The outcome of the process was that the following requirements were identified:

The solution should enable:
*Allocation of students on a Moodle course to tutorials.
*Enable students to self select a tutorial.
*Reduce the size of a tutorial on the fly – allowing staff to hide the full tutorial capacity in case they need to move students.

An eight week timetable was identified for the delivery of the project.

Systems Integration Achieved

Diagram of system integration

Diagram of system integration

Challenges
The major challenge for this development has been managing the co-ordination of 4 the parties (including Greenwich) involved. University of London Computing Centre who host our Moodle environment, SunGard for IPP and Scientia who provide the timetable system. A steep learning curve was involved in delivering this project within a tight 8 week time frame and on budget.

Enabling users to articulate their requirements was an additional challenge, the tendency is for users to largely ask for what they already have and to really only fully understand their requirements after actual use (see paragraph below). The ability to quickly develop in Moodle and IPP has meant that we have been able to respond to new requirements that have emerged.

Implementation and Subsequent Development
The selection block was used on all 561 Business School Courses at the start of the 2012/13 academic year and has been very popular with students, with reports of them valuing the additional control they now have over determining their timetables. We are clearly providing a better service to students.

Following the initial implementation the timetable block has been further developed to provide the following additional functionality:
● Allow staff to time release the block on a course by course basis.
● Allow staff to make changes to all activities in one go.
● Staff to be able to download the list of allocated students from the tutorial.
● Hide individual tutorials.
● Change the size of a tutorial in Moodle – this change is not written back to Syllabus +

The timetable block will be used by our Engineering, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Computing and Maths School’s as well as Business at the start of the 2012/12 academic year which means that over 70% of courses will be using the development.

Conclusion
The development of the Timetable selection block has not only enabled us to improve the student experience via process improvement, but has also enabled us to work with a Business Process Modelling tool seriously for the first time enabling Greenwich to support its desire to be a more agile and Service orientated institution.

About Clifton
Clifton Kandler is the Web Services Manager at the University of Greenwich, leading the team responsible for the development, implementation and support of the University’s VLE, Portal, Library management system and e-portfolio.

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