Due to the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, CELCAT recently announced that we were investigating the possibility of integrating CELCAT Timetabler with video conferencing systems. With universities and colleges looking to move more teaching provision online, a seamless way to integrate a timetabled event with an online session has become highly desirable. Since the announcement we have been inundated with questions so, rather than answer them all individually, we are providing this update.
Initially, our focus will be on integrating with Microsoft Teams with the intention of looking at others, such as Zoom, in due time. We are pleased to report that good progress is being made. A proof-of-concept application integrated with Microsoft Teams to generate meeting links has been developed and this will form the core of a new fully-blown product.
To develop and release the product while supporting as many customers as possible, several key decisions have been taken concerning its design –
- The new application will be a standalone product that communicates directly to the database without relying on the CELCAT Timetabler Server. Customers using Timetabler v8.0 and above will not need to upgrade their CELCAT installation.
- The application is designed to automatically generate online meeting links from the Microsoft (MS) platform and appends the URL to the Event’s Notes field.
- The Event’s Notes field has been chosen due to it having an unlimited length, unlike the custom fields which are restricted and would struggle to accommodate a typical MS Teams link. It also negates the need for institutions to upgrade their database prior to using the new tool.
- Any MS Team links in the Event’s Notes field will be hyperlinked when published through CELCAT’s Publication applications, this includes Calendar 2 and 3, AutoCal Ex, iCalendar Feed (with Outlook), and SSP.
- A refined level of control is required to enable the user to select the appropriate events that require meeting links. So that users can generate meeting links for a specific type of event or for particular modules in a batch, we have decided to utilise the Event Wizard which, with its powerful event selection and filtering abilities, is able to identify the appropriate events and isolate them in an Event Store.
To give you an idea of how it will work, here is a typical workflow –
- Step 1 - Timetabler Client users can use either the Event Wizard, or the Event Store operations supported on the grid, to populate Event Stores with the events that require the online meeting links.
Note: Timetabler Live users will use the normal Event Store operations.
- Step 2 - The application then connects to the Event Stores to generate a link for each event in the Event Stores and appends the URL to the Event Notes field of each event.
The application is designed as a Console Application to be run in the background, via Windows Task Scheduler, on a server so that Timetablers will only need to create and populate the Event Stores.
A decision has yet to be taken on how to pass the Event Store names to the application and we will issue a further update on that point once it has been decided.
We expect to licence the application separately and it will be a chargeable option within the CELCAT Timetabler product suite.
Our aim is to have an initial build ready for internal testing in June with the goal of releasing it in September at the latest. There is still much work to do and we will try and keep you posted of developments, including when we expect to release it.