We all know a timetabler’s job is never done and the only constant is change, but do you actually measure just how much is changing, and make any formal efforts to reduce this? While you may not be surprised, those outside of the timetabling team are unlikely to appreciate the scale of the problem unless there is a proper business process for logging, classifying and reporting on timetable changes, which could then also make it easier to put in place measures to improve the situation.

We know from comments on the National Student Survey (and others) that the issue of changing timetables is a serious one for students, and it stands to reason that this must be so. Even if you are able to communicate changes effectively and far in advance, students – like everyone else – have lives outside of classes, and changes to otherwise stable and recurring events will be a source of frustration, and complaints are likely to end up being directed at whoever is perceived to be responsible for the timetable, even though chances are that the reasons for those changes are outside the control of the timetabling team.

The first thing to do is to start logging timetable changes. The easiest way to do this is to officially stop taking ad hoc verbal or email requests for timetable changes, and use some sort of electronic form to capture timetable change requests. The following template shows how such a form could be structured for staff making timetable change requests:

Question and description Answer format and options

Name, Department, Submission Date
Basic information to help reporting based on department, and identify peak times for change requests.

  • Fields to capture this

Change delivery pattern(s)?
Will the change make new events appear on student timetables in certain weeks or slots, remove events from student timetables, or change the weeks, patterns and.or duration of existing events?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Unknown

Request description
Please include all relevant module codes, course codes, week numbers and staff names, where relevant.

  • Free text

Reason(s) for change
What changed that prompted the need for this request?

  • Free text
Was the need for the change apparent on the draft timetable?
  • Yes - missed on draft
  • Yes - did not check draft
  • No - completely unforeseen and unavailable change in circumstances

How urgent is the request?

  • Very high - students will attend affected event(s) later today or tomorrow
  • High - students will attend affected event(s) after tomorrow, but still in this week
  • Medium - students will attend affected event(s) in the next week
  • Low - students will attend affected event(s) after next week
  • Very low - code of name changes that do not affect the delivery of the event(s)

By selecting 'Yes' you confirm that this change request complies with the Academic Timetable Policy, and that you understand that the request may be denied or escalated to appropriate management if it does not.

  • Yes
  • No

At the same time, you should also be capturing how (and if) the change was implemented. The following table shows a template for how timetablers can then measure how they completed a change request:

Question and description Answer format and options
Solution description
  • Free text giving a short description
Affect modules/programmes
  • List which modules and/or programmes were affected by the change
Impact on student contact time
  • No change
  • Decreased
  • Increased

Impact on delivery patterns
For a change to multiple module(s) or event(s), select all that apply.

  • No change
  • Changed slot(s)
  • Changed week(s)
  • Pending
  • Rejected
  • Completed
Completion date
  • Date

Having the above information stored for each change request will provide you with a lot of good data to create reports on the frequency of changes, measuring different departments against each other, average time to complete changes, and the overall effect of changes on students. Reports like these could go a long way helping your institution address the underlying reasons for change requests and to ensure they only happen when necessary.