New class scheduling system raises concerns of students, profs

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Graphic by Joshua Awolade

The new process for scheduling classes at Wilfrid Laurier University was intended to optimize space and make scheduling easier, but has resulted in students and faculty alike expressing concerns over the changes it has produced.

“It seems like they really didn’t think about how it would affect their students or even their profs,” said Ivana Ivankovic, a fourth-year Laurier student.

The process, which is now automated and involves a computer crafting the schedule, created more Monday/Wednesday/Friday classes than in other years to ensure there are no gaps in the schedule.

Ivankovic started a petition at the end of the winter term to discourage these 50 minute classes. Her main concern is the problems they cause for commuters.
“What I try to do is get all my classes down to two or three days a week so I’m not wasting my money on gas and my time,” she said.

But with classes three times a week that last 50 minutes, her commute will be more frequent and take longer than the actual class.

Now that the dynamic schedule has been posted, Ivankovic said she isn’t sure she’ll be submitting the petition and will instead “have to try to make it work.”

Tom Buckley, assistant vice president of academic services, emphasized that it’s a different scheduling process they’re using, rather than a completely new system. Previously, departments provided the registrar’s office with a list of classes and times. The office would then manually schedule all 1,500 course sections in the 60 available classrooms.

A draft schedule would be published and faculty would communicate conflicts to the registrar, who would then correct them.

“We’d get all these requests from the faculty and then have to change 40 per cent of them because they were developed in isolation,” Buckley explained.

In an effort to resolve this first round of conflicts, the registrar’s office decided to use an automated system, inputting information such as courses, class size, teaching assignments and technology requirements into the system.

They also created standardized start times for classes.

“This was really about optimizing space,” Buckley continued.

From here, any conflicts that were realized were attempted to first be resolved within departments and then with the assistance of the registrar’s office.

“It’s fair to say a lesson learned for us was [when] we developed the draft schedule, in some instances we didn’t have a full set of requirements defined.”

Buckley explained that if teaching assignments weren’t provided prior to the scheduling, the system couldn’t avoid certain conflicts.

This also resulted in some faculty being scheduled to teach five days week – a violation of the full-time faculty contract which stipulates they receive one day free of teaching per week. The university has now entered into arbitration with Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association to discuss the contract violation.

And while the opening of the Global Innovation Exchange building next year will create more space, Buckley said they will continue to use the automated system.

“If we don’t optimize the use of space then we won’t realize utilization outside of scheduled classes.”

The optimization of space, in other words, means there is more room available for student groups and speakers, for example, to use classrooms.

“Laurier is tight for space – we recognize that,” Markus Poetzsch, an associate professor in the English department, said. “But we also recognize that human beings in many ways make more nuanced and better decisions than computer algorithms.”

He continued to say he believes the change was “rolled out too fast” and there was not enough collaboration behind it. As a result, Poetzsch explained, he and his colleagues feel frustrated.

WLUFA president Robert Kristofferson believes the automated system “gives no opportunity for faculty members or chairs of departments to consider the best interests of their students or their own faculty members.”

“What we don’t understand is why the administration would insist on using a system that prioritizes software over the experience and expertise of our faculty members,” Kristofferson said.

Pat Rogers, associate vice-president of teaching and learning, said of faculty members who are concerned about the learning outcomes associated with 50 minute classes, “I don’t know of any research that says one hour classes are better than one and a half hours or that three hours are better. It really comes down to how your design that period of instruction.”

Jeanette McDonald, manager of educational development, agreed with Rogers that no one timeslot is better.

“I’m just being very realistic that there are pros and cons to each timeslot and part of it is just thinking very purposefully about what you can achieve in that time timeframe, how you can best use … contact time with students,” she said.

McDonald continued that she hopes professors see the changes as an opportunity to re-evaluate their courses and teaching.

“Sometimes having a push that comes externally, even though you don’t at the time appreciate it, hopefully it leads to something more positive.”

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