Prior to the introduction of CourseAtlas, Rutgers did not use a course scheduling software system. Rather, Rutgers maintained its course information for all schools and departments and simply “rolled” the courses forward into the same like semester (e.g., Fall 2018 became Fall 2019). Among other limitations, this “rollover” process does not: systematically adjust to dynamic course variables (e.g., changing enrollments, student housing choice trends, new classroom stock, etc.); measure student demand systematically and adjust accordingly; and, perhaps most importantly, manage common “blocks” of courses across departments that students require, creating bottlenecks that impact time-to-degree.
Departments and their faculty enter four categories of information, which CourseAtlas uses to determine the best day, time, and location for courses.
- Faculty/Instructor Availability: Rutgers–New Brunswick created a Faculty and Instructor Teaching Availability application to enable faculty to indicate when they prefer to be available to teach. Department chairs may also enter approved "block-offs" for faculty and instructors, times when they are unavailable due to scheduled University, School, or department obligations, including professional obligations relating to service, research, and scholarship. Finally, accommodations for faculty with medical or disability needs, or for a sincerely held religious belief or practice are entered by Academic Labor Relations in accordance with the University's existing process.
- Detailed Course Information: Information for each course section is entered by the academic departments. Most departments will also enter who is teaching each course section; some departments may choose to schedule their sections first and then assign instructors to the course sections once they are scheduled.
- Classroom Stock: Classroom information includes the size and location of each room, as well as specific room characteristics (e.g., type of seating, available classroom technology, film screening options, etc.).
- Student Academic Blocks: Departments enter "academic blocks" and "course combinations" to ensure that common combinations of courses that students need to take in a given semester do not conflict with each other, ensuring our students can register for the courses they require in order to progress toward their degrees.
Working directly with the schools and departments across Rutgers–New Brunswick, the Office of Scheduling and Space Management completed simulations on four successive semesters: Fall 2018, Spring 2019, Fall 2019, and Spring 2020. For these simulations, CourseAtlas was loaded with the most recently scheduled semester to create a test schedule using the new process and software, and the resulting schedule was analyzed using the already-scheduled term as a baseline. The Office of Scheduling and Space Management then worked with the schools and departments to review the simulated schedules and gather feedback. Each successive simulation then incorporated adjustments that have been made in response to this extensive feedback from the schools and departments.
Following four successful simulations, CourseAtlas will be used to create the official student schedules beginning with the Fall 2020 schedule, which will be available to students for registration in April 2020.
A 19-member Implementation Advisory Team, which is comprised of a cross-section of staff and faculty from different academic units, has been briefed roughly monthly on implementation progress, from 2017 to present, and the committee representatives have provided guidance and feedback in consultation with colleagues from their respective schools and departments. In addition, information and updates on the course scheduling project have been provided to the campus community on an ongoing basis through a number of different channels, including:
- Town hall meetings (NB) open to the entire campus community;
- Group training sessions and additional individual department trainings provided by the Office of Scheduling and Space Management (NB) to school and department staff and faculty;
- Regular announcements, updates, and requests for information provided by the Office of Scheduling and Space Management through the Course Scheduling–NB Sakai site to New Brunswick faculty and staff directly involved with the current course scheduling process;
- A scheduling working group made up of a cross-section of faculty and staff, ongoing periodic meetings on scheduling-related topics, including system/process changes;
- School leadership meetings with the chairs and senior leadership from the School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, the School of Engineering, Rutgers Business School, the Graduate School of Education, and the School of Management and Labor Relations;
- Departmental meetings with departments in the respective schools;
- SAS administrative staff meeting—presentation by Scheduling and Space Management leadership on the new system and processes;
- Finally, a New Brunswick Scheduling Committee—comprised of faculty administrators and faculty from all New Brunswick schools—was created to provide guidance on faculty scheduling procedures.
The Office of Scheduling and Space Management has worked with the academic departments to use historical student registration data and school and departmental curricula to create "course combinations" and "academic blocks." An example of an academic block is a set of electives that a department wants to offer at non-conflicting times, so students in that department can choose two or more of them. Course combinations are common sets of courses that a certain number of students take in a given semester. CourseAtlas schedules these courses "conflict-free," enabling students to take that combination of courses and continue their progress toward their degree. The Office of Scheduling and Space Management has worked with schools and departments to create over 5,000 "course combinations" and "academic blocks," which will reduce bottlenecks created by conflicting courses that impact students' time-to-degree.
In 2015, Rutgers–New Brunswick created a comprehensive data model to analyze course-related travel patterns, and this model has been run each successive semester to measure the effectiveness of the University's efforts to reduce student travel. As part of Rutgers' overall Student Experience Improvement Initiative (SEII), the University has reduced student travel by nearly 25,000 trips per week since 2015. This data model will be used to continue to make refinements to CourseAtlas, as part of our overall goal to reduce unnecessary course-related travel. In addition, the University will continue to track our students' time-to-degree, course enrollments, departments' access to more appropriate classrooms, as well as feedback from students and academic units, to measure the effectiveness of the CourseAtlas project.
In creating the University’s physical master plan, the planners conducted extensive student surveys, including survey questions specific to course scheduling. For example, students were asked: “Have you ever been unable to take a class because of a tight class change schedule? Is the inability to take this class likely to delay your expected graduation?” In the survey, 19% of 1st year students, 29% of 2nd year students, 33% of 3rd year students, and 30% of 4th year students responded yes.
The Office of Scheduling and Space Management conducted a followup survey of more than 5,000 students, which, in addition to echoing the findings of the master planners, revealed that better assignment of courses into appropriately sized classrooms wlll allow more students to take the classes they need when and where they need them.
Rutgers–New Brunswick created a Faculty and Instructor Teaching Availability application to enable faculty to indicate when they prefer to be available to teach. Department chairs may also enter approved "block-offs" for faculty and instructors, times when they are unavailable due to scheduled University, School, or department obligations, including professional obligations relating to service, research, and scholarship. Finally, accommodations for faculty with medical or disability needs, or for a sincerely held religious belief or practice are entered by Academic Labor Relations in accordance with the university's existing process.
The Office of Academic Labor Relations (ALR) will continue to oversee and facilitate requests for accommodations received from faculty members related to the faculty member’s own disability or who require a religious accommodation. If a faculty member believes that he or she requires a reasonable accommodation based on a medical condition, disability, or sincerely held religious beliefs, he/she should contact ALR (848-932-7174). Additional information pertaining to faculty disability or religious accommodation requests also is available at https://academiclaborrelations.rutgers.edu.
For other accommodations (e.g., mobility issues), faculty members should contact ALR, who will work with the Office of Scheduling and Space Management to ensure the faculty member is scheduled in an appropriate classroom.
As with the current scheduling process, specific room requests are conveyed to departmental scheduling staff, who will enter the appropriate information into CourseAtlas. This information will be used to assign the appropriate classroom, depending on availability.
As with the current scheduling process, in consultation with the respective departments, the Office of Scheduling and Space Management will schedule courses that teaching assistants and graduate assistants are teaching so they do not conflict with the graduate courses they are taking.