Monday, March 25, 2013

A Quick Note On Scheduling

David Porreca, FAUW President

This post is intended to bring our membership up to speed on the latest developments regarding the new scheduling software being tested by the Registrar’s Office.  The discussion below is based upon a presentation and Q&A session held with Ken Lavigne at the most recent Faculty Relations Committee meeting on 14 March.

Positive Developments

a) “Pavilions”

The new scheduling software, known as “InfoSilem”, has the capability to have groups of buildings (i.e., “pavilions”) assigned to a specific academic unit such that that unit’s classes will only be held in those buildings.  In other words, for example, the English Department might choose “Hagey Hall, Arts Lecture Hall, Modern Languages, and PAS” as their ‘pavilion’, and therefore never again have to run to RCH or Optometry to teach a class.

b) Implementation

The new scheduling system will not be “going live” at least until the Spring of 2014, since results from further testing of both Fall and Winter terms are needed to optimize the new system.  In effect, the Registrar’s Office has been proceeding as if it were following FAUW’s call from a number of months ago that the new system not be implemented unless and until it be recognized as “better” than the system we have in place.  Although FAUW’s role is to look after the interests of faculty members, we understood “better” to apply to all stakeholders (including, e.g., students, grad studies, scheduling officers etc.).  If the testing from Fall and Winter prove to be sub-optimal, the Registrar has agreed that the implementation will be delayed further.

c) Improvements so Far

In the current iteration of testing, any scheduling restrictions expressed by faculty members have been inputted as if they were the most strict and rigid (“type 1”, according to InfoSilem’s ranking system, corresponding roughly to “medically necessary non-teaching time”; 2 other less restrictive layers are to be tested in later increments).  Despite this additional restrictiveness, the system produced schedules for those departments that participated in the testing so far that guaranteed at least two non-teaching days for 92% of the professorate, up from 87% in earlier tests.  In other words, we can expect further improvement on this front when the real-world, less-restrictive constraints are applied.

Needs Improvement 

a) Constraints vs. Preferences

Offering faculty members the opportunity to block off time in their schedule when they would rather not teach is how the tests have been proceeding so far.  Better yet would be a way of optimizing each professor’s schedule such that their individual schedules reflect the times when they want to teach.  Pedagogically, the latter is by far preferable, since UW students deserve to interact with their professors when they’re at their best.

It should be noted as well that the decisions regarding the levels of constraint mentioned earlier will be handled at the departmental level, just as it always has been, with no centralized awareness of the often confidential reasons for preferring some times over others.

b) Participation

If the tests are to accomplish their intended goals, all departments must participate, otherwise the tests will be skewed.  Only ~70% of departments have participated in the simulations so far, with only ~1/2 of graduate programs included.  For this Fall term, FAUW is pushing for each individual professor to receive a copy of their hypothetical “InfoSilem” schedule to compare to the real one they got under the current system.

c) Disparities across campus

The testing of the InfoSilem software is revealing significant disparities between academic units on campus in terms of how scheduling is handled at the moment.  Some units already ask for each individual’s preferred teaching times, which they tend to obtain for the most part, while elsewhere, faculty members have never, ever been asked such a question and have always accepted whatever schedule they’ve ended up with.  In other words, the change in practice with InfoSilem will affect the working lives of some more than others.  FAUW will be monitoring this situation closely, and we welcome feedback on how the testing of this system is experienced subjectively by you, our members.

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