Benefits: Administrative Staff

Behind the academic side of the University lies an army of support and administrative staff. It’s their job to look after the bits and pieces which let the University actually function, and Total ReCal was built not only to help students and academic staff get on with their life but also to make the business of supporting them easier.

First of all, Total ReCal helps staff by making any updates to calendar information replicate around the system as rapidly as possible. Since our Nucleus events platform serves as a single source of information any updates directly on Nucleus are instantaneously reflected in views on the data, and even changes to imported data such as timetables and assessments are shown a lot faster than before. A reduced lag time between making a change and systems updating means that it’s easier to make changes and cancellations to events, and that more people are likely to be informed of those changes. For some alterations we even have change detection which can be hooked into notification systems such as text, making cancelling a lecture and notifying students a simple operation.

There’s also a related benefit to the rapid updating of information in that Total ReCal (or, more accurately, Nucleus) represents a single location for calendaring data, meaning that it’s a lot easier to draw on collated data. This may initially seem like a somewhat ‘fluffy’ feature which will never be used, but with a little bit of thought it’s easy to see how it can help drive decisions. For example, we can draw pretty graphs of room usage over time and spot peaks and troughs, enabling smarter timetabling. We can detect collisions across disparate systems, reducing confusion over resource allocation. We can monitor assessment ‘pile-up’ to help spread the workload of students more evenly. In short we gain the ability to draw up reports on just about anything in real-time.

Finally – and most importantly – Total ReCal will make it easier to do things the ‘right’ way (ie by managing events centrally) rather than by groups or departments going off and doing their own thing. Where in the past things such as induction timetables were managed by departments and distributed (literally) as a gigantic Word document it’s now easier for everybody involved to just use Total ReCal and to distribute the result over My Calendar. Students can be forcibly added to calendars such as induction or exams, and our code takes care of all the hard work of making sure your events don’t collide with another. Even better, there’s no real deadline for content creation because there’s no publishing deadline. Change the event centrally and the change ripples out to all the users and other systems relying on calendar data within minutes.

We hope that within a year Total ReCal will have prompted students to demand that their departments use centralised timetabling and assessment deadline management, leading to a more unified, reliable, easy to use and just better looking life.

Benefits: Academic Staff

Total ReCal is aimed most directly at the students, there’s no denying it. However, universities are complex places with more special interest groups than you can shake a stick at. We affectionately refer to these people as “academics”, and this blog post is about how Total ReCal and My Calendar will help them.

One of the main activities of academics is often teaching, be it lectures, seminars or smaller groups. At the moment we have a staff timetable which can be used to see where teaching happens, but My Calendar provides a much smoother interface to the same data. Once we’re sure the basic functionality is in place we can then go a step further, giving the academic access to information such as attendee lists directly from within the application. It’s a small thing, but we think it’s helpful.

Another big thing that we’ve heard time and time again from academics is that they very easily forget to return library books. In an ideal world everybody would jot down due dates in their calendar, but when you’re trying to manage everything else it just isn’t practical. My Calendar will solve this by making book due dates seamlessly available from the same place, automatically taking into account renewals. We’ll even put a ‘renew it now’ button straight in the calendar for the times when you just can’t be bothered walking to the library to return a text.

“But wait,” I hear you cry. “Academics don’t have time to visit yet another website to see things, otherwise these problems wouldn’t exist.” Well, we’ve solved that as well. My Calendar also sports industry-standard iCalendar outputs for everything, making it a breeze to load information straight into the calendaring tool of your choice and keep it updated with zero effort. Almost all smartphones support it, and the vast majority of desktop calendaring applications do as well. We’ll be providing in-depth instructions on how to get yourself synchronised at launch time.

Benefits: The Student Side

As Total ReCal nears completion, we’re preparing to open the beta to our pilot group and I’m starting to throw together our promotional materials it’s time to start writing up bits and pieces of our analysis. Contrary to popular belief this isn’t an incredibly dry, boring process which will make you all want to cry but a chance to show you just how damn cool this is going to be, how it will make life easier, and how the work we’ve done can help other institutions up and down the country to drag themselves out of the mire of multiple calendaring systems. First in line: how Total ReCal will benefit students at the University of Lincoln.

In the past, students at Lincoln have used a wide variety of different systems to organise their lives. It’s not uncommon throughout the course of a year to have an induction/reinduction timetable, your academic timetable (which changes regularly), an exam timetable (or two), a list of assessment deadlines, a calendar of meetings with seminar groups or tutors, book due dates, club or society events you want to attend, guest lectures, skills training timetables, a list of gigs you want to see at the Engine Shed and a personal calendar on top of all that. With tens of different systems all trying to tell you when and where you need to be it’s far to easy to miss something or double book yourself. The consequences of mucking up your calendar can range from the mildly annoying through to putting your degree at risk.

Total ReCal (or, as we’re naming it for Lincoln, My Calendar) is the first step towards tidying up some of this mess by dragging as many of these systems as we can together into one. The benefits of this unification are readily apparent, when the University moved exam timetables from a single massive schedule into personal timetables the response was overwhelmingly positive. Even small reductions in the number of disparate systems which are required are welcomed with open arms by a student body who are increasingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information they are presented with. The reasoning why is simple – it’s a lot harder to miss something important if everything is kept in one place.

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