Over the last ten years we have seen a greater focus on “Student Experience”; what this means is very personal to each student, whilst what we as providers/suppliers can do to make a difference is hard at best to say.

When working for Cornwall College, I recall visiting another college and on my return my manager asked what my first impressions were. I said that compared to our own the buildings were new, clean and shiny; the students wanted to be there and they dressed well to suit the surroundings. I was then asked what we could we to improve. Short of rebuilding the whole campus “not much” was my response. We must live within our means and look for other ways.

This became a bit of an obsession for me. One of my key responsibilities was timetabling and attendance; making sure the systems worked and coordinating policies and day to day management. How on earth could either of these do anything? Sure, I could help with pointers to poor attendance, group sizes dropping below what was viable and staff and room costings, but student experience?

Personally, I hate catchphrases like “think outside the box” and “blue sky thinking”, but that’s what it took.

First of all, I looked at the requests people had been making in terms of improvement. One that stood out was students being able to see their timetable. I had been putting this off as I didn’t think the accuracy was good enough. We had talked about pushing the timetable into Outlook, as a way of encouraging the students to use Outlook and maybe check their emails.

Yes, there was a system that could do that, but realistically the students wouldn’t use it. It was another thing to remember to do, and complex; open Outlook, login, ignore emails, go to Calendar view, see Timetable. Too many steps.

About that time I had been experimenting with a Calendar tool, and it struck me I could put together a web application which showed the students’ calendar; more than that, it could show rooms, groups and lots more. four hours later I had something, I put it on the Intranet and left for the day.

A few days later I was in a meeting and someone said something about viewing timetables. Before I could step in and say “Hey, I wrote this thing”, someone else said “Where have you been, there’s a tool for that on the Intranet, been there ages”. Three days to be exact!

Not only had I forgotten to tell anyone I had done something, I had also forgotten the accuracy problem. Later that day I saw some of the timetablers; they talked about my new tool, and that they had each had students come and see them to tell them what was wrong. They were happy, but above all else they wanted an accurate timetable.

Over the next few months one of my biggest problems, attendance tracking, took a turn for the better. For so long I had hammered on about the importance of taking registers, I had established that the timetable accuracy was the main problem; people won’t mark a register that’s for the wrong time and place, even if they know it’s the right register. The improvement in the timetable accuracy meant that people simply took the registers.

A year later my application was singled out as having a major impact on student experience. Wow!

I do a talk about register marks which can take anywhere from twenty minutes to six hours. I start with the simple question, “Why do we take registers?”; there are loads of answers, but never all the ones I can come up with. “Funding”, “Fire”, “Because we have to”, “So we know who’s there” … What about student experience? What about showing the student their attendance? Simple red and green boxes on a timetable have a very profound effect. For instance, a particular history shows us a student with that pattern of attendance on that course can lead to problems.

A simple example of the power of the timetable for student experience is this. We had a building which was falling apart. One of the timetablers took it upon herself to see if she could move all the classes from that building immediately without changing times, etc. Against all the odds she did it; they closed the building, resulting in happy students and cost savings galore.

As a Principal once told me, “Go back to your desk and think what can I do to change the student experience”. Each of us can make a difference; whether small or large, they all count.