A reliable warning that something is wrong with an institution’s approach to timetabling or use of CELCAT software is to find events without Event Categories. When opening a timetable just to see a grey box embedded over an event with or without descriptive text is not always useful. Event Categories fall under the heading of Classifications in CELCAT, and an extremely powerful tool to properly organise and manage a timetable.

Along with signalling to students and staff what type of event they will attend, Event Categories is extremely useful for timetablers. How?

The feature provides the most sensible way to visually distinguish different events on CELCAT’s user interface. Spending just a few minutes to assign pleasing (visually distinct) colours to Event Categories results in timetables that not only look good, but provide useful information at a glance.

Black blocks to show where staff are not available to teach, bright red for exams that take utmost priority, dark grey to show rooms unavailable due to maintenance, a distinct colour for ad-hoc bookings to differentiate from teaching events, etc. Proficient users of CELCAT will have their favourite ways of using colour to communicate and organise.

In addition to colours, Event Categories provides the option to toggle attendance monitoring requirements, and clever use of the Weighting feature can make time calculations more accurate and sensible.

Setting self-directed study events to a Category with zero weighting means you have the option to exclude those hours from reports on contact time, for instance. Alternatively, you could set full-day block bookings for presentations to fifty percent where you know the room is booked but staff will only be present for about half the day, to avoid counting all the day against their time.

It’s advisable to select a (short) list of Event Categories to use exclusively for teaching events. You should never assign these teaching Event Categories to ad-hoc meetings, staff training, conferences, etc. nor use a non-teaching Event Category for an event that involves teaching. This not only allows better reporting, but can be extremely useful to filter out your most important events for tools like the Event Wizard, Templatisation Wizard, or selective publishing of timetables via Web Publisher.

Finally, keep it short and simple. If information can be encoded using any other field available on the event, avoid creating complex naming conventions to encode it in Event Categories. There’s no real benefit (and a lot of confusion) in creating long lists of Categories that are difficult to distinguish conceptually. Unless there’s ever a real need to report in such minute detail, creating twenty Event Categories for every conceivable meeting type just clutters the interface and makes the action of picking a suitable category ambiguous and confusing for users.

Instead of scrolling through a long list and deciding whether to pick ‘External meeting’ or ‘Procurement meeting’ or ‘IT meeting’ for a meeting where they will be discussing the procurement of IT equipment with external partners, users would much rather just pick ‘Meeting’ as Event Category - and then move on.

There is also diminishing returns on reporting quality if you have too many Event Categories, and users end up just picking the first one they encounter on the lists - skewing reporting results.

Spending some time to pick a clear and unambiguous set of Event Categories, assigning colours, and setting an appropriate weighting are all ways to squeeze that extra bit of functionality out of CELCAT’s various display, reporting and publication tools.

The challenge is to enforce the consistent use of these Categories for each event, and it is always a good idea to switch on Incompleteness checks for events without Categories to make sure you have no actual and figurative ‘grey’ events on your timetable.