major21-generic-85wx60h-thumb.png Efforts to reform, re-form, or just tweak the course schedule are frequently plagued with (perhaps innocent) self-serving motivations and then a mix of compromises and capitulations that leave a working majority of stakeholders at least willing to fold and get back to other things. It is rare that the outcome of the process is measure against any goals that the changes were supposed to accomplish. It is a policy-making 101 blunder, but common. An antidote is to lay out a description of what is wrong with the status quo and what one would hope to accomplish with a better system. There will be tradeoffs to be made among the benefits, but each proposal can be assessed in terms of its effects on these policy outcome variables.

We should also be mindful of policy input variables, that is, the things we can actually change. Our current schedule, for example, is built around MW, MWF, TTh, and MF and we might not realize we have the option to add MTh and TuFr to this mix.

Policy Outcome Variables

  • Space utilization and flexibility.
  • Parking.
  • Maximize size and shape of effective curriculum seen by students. This means the number of selection of courses students are excluded from due to scheduling issues.
  • Even out activity and presence levels across the week.
  • Capacity to build in reserved time for meetings, etc.
  • Possibility of optimizing with respect to featured curriculum offerings such as capstone seminars, large intro lectures, labs, etc.
  • Equitable distribution of convenience/preference across faculty.
  • Reduce awkward blocking of multiple slots by bad overlaps

Why Do We Care?

Inefficient scheduling reduces the "effective curriculum" - the actual options that students see when building their education. This means that students will end up in classes they don't particularly enjoy and miss out on courses they might prefer. This may mean they'll learn less, have lower grades, and evaluate the instructor more harshly. They will experience the curriculum as one that does not allow them to take what they want. In effect, we produce the same experience students at big schools have when they can't get the classes they want because they are full.

In the spring 2014 semester, for example, a course in the most popular slot (TuTh 11:00) knocked out 32 other courses in the same slot, about 10% of the semester's offerings. This amounts to a significant reduction in effective liberal arts curriculum available to students.

The problem is not slot overlap, it is the concentration of courses in a few popular slots. From 2009 to 2014 about one quarter 147/582 of all course offerings were concentrated in just a half dozen slots.
The problem is not slot overlap, it is failure of the registrar to enforce and faculty to respect established course time slots. From 2009-2014 about 45% of course offerings were in non-standard time slots that often cut across official slots.


Summary Numbers About half of all enrollments are concentrated in the most common dozen or so course slots. Almost a quarter of all enrollments appear to be in non-standard slots.


Visualizing Course Schedule Slots


The Shadow Course Schedule
What's Wrong with the status quo Course Schedule?
Why Not Choose First, Schedule Later?