Anyone who has studied at a university will know the anxiety of trying to lock in their preferred class selections when they first enrolled. For staff on the other side of that experience, dealing with confused students trying to navigate a complex system for the first time can be fraught with difficulty.

That’s the problem ACU’s Auto-generated Class Selection team was hoping to address when they set out create a system to automatically generate a complete timetable for every commencing student as part of their enrolment process.

They have been awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award for Excellence in Student Experience for this impressive work.

The multidisciplinary team included Coordinator (Timetabling and Room Bookings) Mr Adin Beresford, Change Manager Dr Sue Cole, Project Manager Ms Ann Emms, Business Analyst Ms Brandi Johnson, Project Manager (Student Administration Projects) Mr Nik Linnell, Associate Director (Administrative Services) Mrs Helen Murnane and Business Analyst Mr Dennis Williams.

“We’ve taken the stress out of timetabling for new ACU students,” said Helen.

“We’ve created a software system that means, by the time they’ve finished their simple onboarding steps, their timetable is ready and waiting for them in the Student Portal. They’ve got no new system to learn, no agonising over which class is right or where their friends will be. Just a complete timetable ready and waiting for them.”

Putting students first

Market research into students’ experiences of class selection prior to the project backed up the anecdotal evidence that improvements were needed.

“We saw that they were agonising over their choices when they come into the university,” said Nik. “Choice can overwhelm commencing students, and what we wanted to do was provide them with something that was simple, straightforward and made those complex decisions for them.”

Improving this process for students was the project’s primary objective.

“The main consideration by far was making the students happy, because we knew from student feedback that they weren’t happy with the way that the timetabling system was working for them,” said Helen.

While the project has radically simplified the class selection experience for new students, Helen said it wasn’t easy to create a new system that enabled this seamless process.

“This is the culmination of two years of market research, planning and great teamwork,” she said. “The work is an industry first. It makes ACU a leader in the timetabling field.”

To make the project possible, the team asked ACU’s timetabling software vendor to build an entirely new system.

“They invested a lot of time and effort into it, and we are reaping the rewards of that work, ” Nik said.

Pragmatic and practical project management focused on achievable outcomes made delivering the project’s multiple elements possible. The IT component was one of the most challenging aspects to deliver.

“When you’re creating a system that no one else has and no one else has thought about before, it could lead to a mess, but it didn’t because of the great hands of Ann Emms, who kept everything on track, and her fantastic business analysts, Brandi and Dennis,” Helen said.

While the goal of the project was an auto-generated class selection process, it was important that students didn’t lose the option to adjust their timetable to meet their needs.

“We build their timetable around their lectures, so the fixed points within their timetable,” Nik said.

Students then have the flexibility to adjust the other aspects of their timetable if they wish.

Results that count

Helen said improving the students’ experience remained central to the project, from its inception right through to delivery.

“At the core of all of this work – as sophisticated as the technology is and as ground-breaking as the solution is – at the very heart of that is to make the students happy,” she explained. “That’s why, through the whole process, we kept checking in with our stakeholders to make sure that we were going through the right steps to get to an outcome that they were happy with.

“The project has streamlined processes for staff and, really importantly, reduced calls to AskACU by commencing students about their timetables by up to 90 per cent each semester.

“Most importantly, it ensures that all commencing students can receive a timetable with ease as early as October. That allows them to plan their living, their work and their accommodation needs around their classes really early in the cycle of getting ready to go to university.”

Helen said administrative functions like timetabling rely on being invisible to prove how well they’re working.

“It’s the silence from the staff and students that lets us know that we’ve been really successful,” she said.

Being recognised publicly with a Vice-Chancellor’s Staff Excellence Award was therefore particularly sweet for the team.

“This recognition for being the team that conceived the idea and brought it to reality on time and under budget is a really important reward,” said Helen.

 Adin Beresford Dr Sue Cole Ann Emms Brandi JohnsonNik Linnell Helen Murnane  Dennis Williams
Page last updated on 22/11/2021

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