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Managing Space and Time…and Money

Thanks to a customized approach to classroom management, two universities have discovered a new adage: ‘Space is money.'

Space is MoneyDIANA MARRS MANAGES a classroom schedule at The University of Kansas-Edwards campus that varies on a daily basis. Because the Edwards campus is a commuter school, the majority of classes begin after 4 in the afternoon. During the daytime hours, many of the university's classrooms are rented out to community organizations and corporations needing a place to conduct meetings or seminars.

For years Marrs, the university's associate director of instructional development, and her staff relied on Microsoft's Outlook calendar system to manage the daytime classroom schedule at her campus, inputting each occupant as an appointment in the calendar, and adding the facilities, A/V, and catering needs of each occupant into the comments section of the appointment. "As we expanded our services to the community, we outgrew Outlook," she says. "It just became too hard to read and to provide reports to our facilities and A/V departments."

Marrs wanted a system that allowed her staff to easily schedule events and enabled them to use check boxes for the various needs of the occupants, rather than typing those needs in manually. She also needed a system that could generate a daily report specific to each department involved in setting up the rooms. In 2002, she turned to NetSimplicity's Meeting Room Manager to address those needs, and she has never looked back.

Customizing & Supplementing

Never one to do things strictly by the book, Marrs customized the interface of Meeting Room Manager, a webbased program that runs on the university's existing SQL web server, creating a standard form that covered all of the options her campus provides to organizations that rent out classrooms. She also supplemented Meeting Room Manager with SAP's Crystal Reports, a piece of software that allows users to create customized reports linked to almost any data source, including Meeting Room Manager.

"We have very specific reporting needs, and the standard reports that come with the [NetSimplicity] package didn't produce what we needed," Marrs states. "Since I already had Crystal Reports experience, I was able to create the reports myself rather than purchase additional reports from NetSimplicity. Now, for example, I can run a report that just shows community events, or how much coffee we'll need within a specific date range."

Marrs and her team input each room on the Edwards campus as a "resource" in Meeting Room Manager, along with specific information on each resource. "Now when our reservation people get a call and click on the name of an available room," she says, "they can see a photo of the room or a floor plan, how many people the room seats, its equipment possibilities, and whether it has a phone or a satellite downlink available. It's all right there."

Marrs estimates that the fees generated by outside group room rentals have doubled almost every year since implementing Meeting Room Manager on her campus, allowing the university to pay down construction bonds ahead of schedule and increase investments in technology and staffing. "Meeting Room Manager has made it so much easier to ensure that we're using our space to capacity," she says. "It's been very, very helpful-- so helpful, in fact, that we now feel like we can't live without it!"

  • Meeting Room Manager, from NetSimplicity
  • Crystal Reports and Xcelsius, from SAP
  • Series 25 Scheduling Space & Analysis, from CollegeNet

A Dashboard Approach

Like their Kansan colleague to the north, Joe DeCristoforo and Don Swinson at the University of Texas at San Antonio were responsible for finding a solution to a very difficult classroom scheduling puzzle: in their case, how to provide data on the 144 classrooms available for the 3,000 classes offered to the university's 28,000 students, in a way that's visual and easy to understand.

Swinson, UTSA's academic scheduling coordinator, explains, "Dealing with classroom scheduling, I've always had a problem making my information visual. I can crank out reports that are pages long and show all the information, but the key managers who need that information don't have time to siphon though the paperwork."

Swinson and DeCristoforo, UTSA's assistant vice president and registrar, attended a presentation on dashboards by the University of Minnesota at the 2008 American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers conference in Orlando, FL, and walked away convinced that custom-built dashboards would allow them to visually represent classroom scheduling data in a way that met their standards.

Swinson linked SAP's Crystal Xcelsius dashboard and visualization software (now called Xcelsius Engage) to UTSA's existing CollegeNet Series 25 scheduling and space analysis software to build five web-based classroom scheduling dashboards: classroom and lab-use statistics; classroom and lab use by building; Texas coordinating board space utilization statistics; enrollment by campus/by day/by hour; and classroom availability by term. Each of these dashboards allows department chairs to view graphical data reflecting classroom availability.

Swinson researched other universities' dashboards while planning UTSA's classroom utilization dashboards, and while many were impressive, he felt they mostly represented historical data-- not helpful in pinpointing areas of underutilization in the here-and-now. "We can't afford to have [underutilized space], says Swinson, so he took a different tack.

Consolidating Schedules, Saving Space
AT THE NEW JERSEY INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY, Joseph Thompson, university registrar, and Monica O'Donnell, associate registrar, inadvertently solved their school's space problems by better managing its course scheduling process.With the help of Infosilem's schedule optimization software, NJIT analyzed its historical registration data to create course combinations and then built optimal academic blocks-- course groupings created from program content-- that address the curricular needs of its students. Before Infosilem, NJIT's 5,400 undergraduates had 4,500 unique course combinations. Many students were not following their designed curricula, which forced NJIT to offer almost all of its courses every semester. Since adopting Infosilem, those 4,500 unique course combinations have been consolidated and reduced to 1,800, and NJIT's room utilization has increased because classes are now being filled to capacity.

"I try to make the dashboards show current data, within a week or maybe within a month," he explains, "so you can see how the buildings are being populated with students, how many classrooms are inside the building, what the utilization of the classrooms is, what the utilization of the seats inside the classrooms is." That up-to-date information goes to the state provost, who then can utilize the most current data for his planning and assessment.

Swinson, an expert in space utilization but a tech novice, found Xcelsius very intuitive and easy to use. Remarks DeCristoforo, "The advantage of using a tool that's not designed specifically for tech experts is that you can have somebody with a firm grasp of space utilization issues spend a few weeks learning the software, and then take his expertise, knowledge base, and imagination and basically go wild with the data." He notes that the dashboards Swinson developed are easily understood by laypeople, "including myself and the department chairs who rely on the data." Jokes Swinson, "If I could figure out how to use the software, anyone could."

Before building the dashboards, UTSA typically would have between 150 to 200 class sections that couldn't be offered to students because of space restrictions. Since rolling out Swinson's dashboards in the fall of 2008, that number has dropped down to fewer than 20-- remarkable for a university with such a skewed ratio of students to classrooms.

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