Background

Keele University

Keele University (KU) was originally the University College of North Staffordshire founded in 1949. In 1962, it received its Charter as the University of Keele. The out-of-town campus is nestled in 600 acres of countryside in the heart of the UK. Many of Keele’s students and some staff live, study and work on campus providing opportunity to enjoy the woodlands, arboretum and world class facilities.

Keele University Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences

The Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) at Keele was established over ten years ago and is now one of the UK’s leading centres of applied research in primary care and a national centre for studying musculoskeletal disorders. The faculty comprises a number of schools - Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing & Midwifery and Health & Rehabilitation. Students benefit from the latest technology and facilities, as well as partnerships with NHS organisations across Staffordshire and Shropshire, including University Hospitals of the North Midlands.

Having relatively small cohorts of students allows the schools to focus on high quality education and training allied to a sector-leading student experience. Programmes are underpinned by research-led teaching and delivered by dedicated staff working in modern, purpose-built facilities. The quality of training is reflected in feedback from the professional bodies responsible for validating degree courses and in the top-ten rankings enjoyed by all four schools in disciplinary league tables and the National Student Survey. 

Project Summary

Prior to 2006, CELCAT Timetabler was used in a distributed fashion. Each school had its own local CELCAT installation and used the software in different ways (some simply using it to record room bookings). This caused issues for the faculty, as resources such as staff and rooms were shared across the schools.

From 2006, the School of Medicine started to use Timetabler to schedule clinical courses for years 1 and 2 with years 3 to 5 being added later.

In 2009, the decision was taken to install the Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy and Health databases all on the same server, but still to allow variation in configuration and data architecture. In the same year, a mini pilot for CELCAT Attendance was run.

At the start of 2013, a series of meetings were held between senior members of the faculty and CELCAT Account Manager Adrian Gough. FMHS identified a number of goals to move forward with CELCAT software:

  • Upgrade to the latest version of Timetabler
  • Integrate with Student Course Information Management System (SCIMS)*
  • Merge the separate school databases into one
  • Provide external access to users via web Record student attendance onsite and on placement
  • Publish timetables to staff and students via web & iCal
  • Feed student absence data back to SCIMS
  • Train staff to get more from the software

* SCIMS is the local term for the Tribal SITS Student Records System 

Drivers for Change

Timetabling

The process of creating timetables and managing room bookings was laborious. Timetabling and Room Booking was done on complex spreadsheets meaning it was almost impossible for administrators to get a ‘handle’ on resource utilisation. This impacted the administrator’s ability to improve utilisation or even the quality of the timetable.

The use of spreadsheets also meant it was a challenge when rolling the timetable over from one year to the next. The ability to select which resources and parts of the timetable were to be carried across into the new timetable was absent, adding time and a significant workload to this process.

Students were on the periphery of the timetable process. It wasn’t easy to provide them with an up-to-date timetable as hard copies expired quickly due to changes, and it was almost impossible to inform students in a timely manner about the changes. This should not be underestimated; students are now asked specific questions about their timetable within the National Student Surveys (NSS). Such improvements add to an enhanced student experience.

Student Attendance Monitoring

As the project developed, requirements from central government have increased with the introduction of Tier 4 visas for overseas students. Universities have also become more aware of the correlation between attendance and success. In response to this, most universities are introducing initiatives to encourage and record student attendance.

An important by-product of such systems is the ability to interrogate utilisation from planned activity (timetabled events) and actual (marked registers) perspectives. Keele University FMHS has a legal obligation (due to the nature of its courses) to confirm that students have attended those parts of the course delivered in the normal teaching environment as well as in placement scenarios.

To do this manually through pen and paper methods or even Excel spreadsheets has proved to be labour intensive, erroneous and adds to the risk that paper documents go missing or get lost.

Collecting Attendance Data

FMHS has come up with an ingenious way to collect attendance data when students are attending at the faculty itself. They have designed and built their own data collectors and dashboard. The data collectors gather swipe-card data and report this back to a central database from where the swipes are transformed into marks on registers.

The dashboard system is used to monitor the status of collectors and resolves issues between identifying a student and swipes.

The system also interacts with other systems to print certificates automatically confirming that the student has attended a mandatory first aid course.

Absence information is fed back to SCIMS. The staff responsible for students’ welfare have access to the dashboard to allow pastoral care to be activated. They make sure that the student is retained on the course and there are no underlying difficulties.

This has led to FMHS making significant savings over ‘off-the-shelf’ systems.

Attendance Project

Facts & Figures
  • Attendance recording for 4,297 students
  • Since 2015, 230,000+ attendances have been recorded SCIMS integration facilitates the automatic creation of placement events and registers
  • Placement event detail includes start/end time, location and students
  • Automatic register marking using data collectors
Benefits
  • Saved time and reduced the effort and stress creating complex timetables. One administrator said, “…the work had decreased by 70% a day”
  • Improved student experience - their personalised timetable on their mobile device
  • Student kept in the picture - alerted in a timely way about changes
  • Improved student engagement - students will often say when their timetable is wrong
  • Enhanced reputation for FMHS - students want to study there based on the success of others
  • FMHS can identify attendance offenders quickly and act to retain them
Future Development

The data collector functionality will be extended further to include the ability to record offline attendance when not connected to the network. This will allow data collectors to be placed at all placements sites and efficiently track students’ attendance.