CELCAT, though, is just one of dozens of vendors competing in the class scheduling software industry as well as many open sources options that are free of charge, and the thousands of colleges and universities that have undertaken the selection process have done so largely without the benefit of a set of best practices that can be used for this purpose. As a result, it is reasonable to suggest that many of these educational institutions failed to realize the full spectrum of benefits that can accrue to the effective use of class scheduling software applications based on an inappropriate selection or internal factors that constrained its implementation and use. Therefore, it just makes good business sense to identify how these educational institutions can approach the selection process and what factors need to be taken into account in identifying the most appropriate software choice.
Overview of Study
This study used a five-chapter format to develop informed and timely answers to the above-stated research questions. To this end, chapter one of the study provided an introduction to the issues under consideration, including a statement of the problem, the purpose and importance of the study, and its scope and rationale. Chapter two of the study was used to deliver a review of the relevant peer-reviewed, scholarly and organizational literature concerning class scheduling software, and chapter three describes more fully the studys methodology, including a description of the study approach, the data-gathering method and the database of study consulted. The penultimate chapter consists of the studys data analysis and findings and chapter five provides a summary of the research and conclusions.
This chapter provides a review of the relevant literature concerning current trends in course management systems in general and class scheduling software applications in particular, followed by an examination of the constraints that may hinder the deployment of class scheduling software. Finally, a discussion concerning the need to develop a consensus of user needs, wants and requirements in a class scheduling software solution and the results of the canvass of IT department respondents conducted for this study concludes this chapter.
Current Trends in Class Scheduling Software
Two distinct trends have come together today that facilitate the integration of class scheduling software applications in higher educational institutions. The first trend is that for the past several years, many colleges and universities across the country have already embraced information and communications technologies in major ways. For example, Fillion, Limayem, Laferriere and Mantha (2007) report that, “For the past two decades information and communication technologies (ICT) have transformed the ways professors teach and students learn” (p. 45). The second distinct trend that has helped fuel the growing interest in class scheduling software is the increasing number of software packages being developed, many for specialized purposes such as academic scheduling. For instance, a report from AMR Research indicated that the fastest-growing segment in human resource software is “workforce scheduling and optimization” applications, a category that includes class scheduling software; sales of these types of applications were expected to increase an average of 16% from 2006 per year to date, representing nearly a half-billion dollar industry that is expected to continue to grow in the future (Frauenheim, 2006).
Class scheduling software applications have been offered as part of a larger e-learning suite of applications that are increasingly based on user-defined needs rather than what is possible using existing technology (Liu & Cheng, 2008). According to Liu and Cheng, “Educators and software designers are trying to satisfy this need by using and designing Internet- and intranet-based tools that allow interaction. One widespread class of such tools is Course Management Systems (CMSs), which are used to manage web-learning in instructor-led environments” (p. 427). Although they are widely used in so-called e-learning environments, course management systems are also used in traditional face-to-face classrooms (Simonson, 2007). In this regard, Simonson notes that, “Course management systems, also called learning management systems or virtual learning environments, are software systems designed to assist in the management of educational courses for students, especially by helping teachers and learners with course administration” (p. 7).
Some of the more popular CMSs currently include eCollege, WebCT, Blackboard, Sakai, and Moodle, each of which has its respective advantages for certain settings and many offer functionalities that provide automated tools that support integration with student administration systems for class scheduling, class enrollment, synchronizing student information, and results tracking (Liu & Cheng, 2008).
Other vendors, though, offer specialized class scheduling software packages that provide a wider and more robust range of functionalities that can be used to fine-tune their use in a given college or university based on the needs of the educators and students involved (Shimazu, 2005).
While these software suites vary in their offerings, most course management systems include the following features:
1. Support for instructor management of courses including functionalities such as: dynamic revision of materials, assignment management, grade book, control over who can access the course, and so forth;
2. Assembly of course components into a curriculum with sequencing/navigation support;
3. Creation and delivery of assessments, surveys, and tests;
4. Electronic assignment management, submission, tracking, grading, and feedback;
5. Delivery of course content to the learner;
6. Integration of synchronous tools such as chat, whiteboard, screen sharing, audio conferencing, and video conferencing; and,
7. Integration of asynchronous tools such as discussion threads, moderated discussion, email group management, and document exchange (Liu & Cheng, 2008).
By contrast, specialized class scheduling software such as those considered herein is designed to facilitate the reservation of specific classrooms, avoid scheduling conflicts, and provide administrators, faculty and students alike with real-time information concerning the various aspects involved in assembling large numbers of people in a specific place at a specific time with the tools, resources and other information they need. In this regard, class scheduling software that generates automatic notices to students and faculty concerning schedule changes is an important feature based on the results of a study by Ramessur and Santally (2007) who emphasize, “Most students have designated SMS/email messages as very important for approaching deadlines of assignments, class scheduling and whenever the lecturer posts something online. The student community is also widely accustomed to these SMS messages. It is obvious that they would welcome such initiative” (p. 117). Indeed, students, administrators and faculty members alike will likely enjoy the benefits of class scheduling software that provides a mobile communication module that can keep all stakeholders apprised of scheduling decisions and changes.
Moreover, by making the effort to integrate new technologies in the higher educational setting, students may be more responsive to last-minute changes in classroom schedules with improved academic outcomes being the result. College or university students who have not struggled with finding a parking place, fought wind, rain, mud and snow to make their way to a classroom on the third floor (no elevators of course) of a university building, only to find a small hand-written sign stating that, “This class moved to building 3A room 12 or “class canceled” with no other explanation) are rare, and it is clear that the use of class scheduling software represents a “win-win” approach for many higher educational institutions today. As Ramessur and Santally (2007) also point out, “It is obvious that emphasizing flexibility brought about by new technology can become a means to redynamize the teaching and learning process through the provision of a permanent communication and coordination link for the student with his/her learning environment. This aspect can be seen as an enhancement to the learning support process” (p. 117).
Furthermore, although there are numerous commercial class selection software programs available for purchasing and licensing (sometimes on a recurring annual basis), there are some free alternatives available from open source scheduling providers. In this regard, Edyburn (2008) reports that, “Open source software refers to a movement whose proponents believe in releasing software code into the public domain for anyone to use, reuse, modify, and build upon. A core value of people who believe in open source software is that the user community will take responsibility for improving the code in ways that are more responsive and creative than for-profit corporations” (p. 62).
Notwithstanding the numerous benefits that can accrue to the use of class scheduling software, the selection, piloting, implementation and administration of these applications, though, is not necessarily a straightforward enterprise, and a number of constraints have been identified in the literature to date which are discussed further below.
Constraints to Deploying Class Scheduling Software
Humans tend to aggressively resist change in their daily work routine and educators are certainly no exception. According to Branch (2002), “The biggest hurdle in convincing a school to use [class scheduling] software is usually not the schools size. Its the internal politics that often rule the campus. It is a longstanding issue.