Faculties withholding centralized scheduling support from instructors

Here’s the good news: After much discussion at Senate and behind-the-scenes lobbying, the Registrar’s Office is now scheduling synchronous meet times for fall 2020, as they normally would. 

Synchronous = students and instructor interact online in real time.
Asynchronous = weekly tasks and deadlines exist but there is no set class time.

The bad news is that at least one Faculty (maybe more) has opted not to use the Registrar’s Office (RO) to schedule synchronous activities, without appropriately engaging collegial bodies such as faculty council. FAUW believes this needs to change. 

Why not scheduling synchronous activities centrally is a problem 

  1. It’s bad for students. When scheduling synchronous activities is left to individual instructors (as in at least one Faculty), it’s very easy to create conflicts for students. That’s one big reason we have centralized scheduling in the first place. In an already confusing, difficult time, it is also unfair to expect students who are enrolled in more than one Faculty to navigate different scheduling processes. Further, instructors surveying students about their availability may inadvertently violate student privacy and confidentiality in a way that the RO won’t because the RO has existing systems in place to optimize scheduling without compromising student privacy. 
  2. It’s more work for instructors. Instructors are already working as hard as they can so let’s not ask them to do scheduling work that others normally do on their behalf (and are still employed to do).  
  3. It violates academic freedom. We are concerned that withholding central supports from instructors with the aim of constraining their pedagogical choices sets a worrisome precedent and risks violating instructors’ academic freedom to teach as they judge fit using the resources that are available.  
  4. It undermines collegial governance. Academic decisions of this type need to be made collegially through bodies established for such deliberation and decision-making. This circumvention of collegial governance is even more concerning given the substantial debate that colleagues had about this matter at Senate—the University’s highest collegial body and indeed the body charged in the University of Waterloo Act with making academic decisions.  
Continue reading “Faculties withholding centralized scheduling support from instructors”

News From Your Board: May 24 Meeting Recap

Returning from the Victoria Day long weekend, a rowdy and energized board assembled to review many in-progress issues. We began with the implementation of the President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH) report, specifically how FAUW can support the recommendations on training for faculty. The Board expressed support for these recommendations, and suggests that faculty voluntarily engage in additional mental health training as provided on campus. We’ll have more on this in another post soon.

The second issue brought to us directly from members is the lack of secure bicycle parking on campus. The Board wants to support improved bike parking and hopes to see Parking Services commit more resources to this in the future. Discussions will continue on this topic.

Next, everyone’s favourite topic—the Fall Break pilot—made a reappearance, specifically preferred semester start dates after Labour day, and how changes would affect faculty who teach in the spring term and sessional or contract faculty who are only paid as of the first day of class.

On a related note: We recently sent a reminder to our members that the Registrar’s Office will schedule exams earlier in the spring block for faculty who teach in both the spring and fall terms, in order to provide adequate time between terms. The response was positive (mostly), and we hope that those of you teaching in both of these terms take advantage of this scheduling flexibility in the future.

We have been hearing from members whose professional expense (FPER) claims have been rejected despite meeting the April 30 submission deadline. From FAUW’s perspective, these claims should be reimbursed to our members as soon as possible. This position has been brought to the administration and more information is coming!

Members in Applied Health Sciences will be happy to hear that they now have a representative on the Board for the 2018–19 year. While the position was vacant following our elections in March, Clark Dickerson from Kinesiology has since stepped up to the plate and was appointed by the Board for a one-year term (as per the FAUW constitution).

Lastly, the Board passed terms of reference for the newly renamed Equity Committee. Information about all of our committees is available on our website.

—Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment

News From Your Board: February 1 Meeting Recap

—Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment

This mid-winter Board meeting kicked off with a discussion with the negotiating team about the details of the memorandum of salary settlement. As you have no doubt seen, this settlement shows evidence of the strong productive and collegial relationship between FAUW and the administration, and sets a positive foundation for future salary settlements. A well-deserved note of appreciation to the entire negotiating team for their tireless work on our collective behalf.

In addition to concluding salary negotiations, we are now entering a busy FAUW events season, with many exciting workshops, panels, and meetings over the remainder of the winter term. Of particular note are the upcoming Hagey Lecture, workshops on Navigating University Governance and Writing University Policy, the President’s Luncheon on Academic Freedom, and, looking further ahead, the Spring General Meeting and Tenure & Promotion workshops in April.

Ongoing topics included exam scheduling, specifically discussions with the Registrar’s Office to better understand the current timing of the release of the exam schedule, and the possibility of moving it earlier in the term. We feel that early release of this schedule will be a positive support for both student and instructor mental health.

The recently revealed ‘bug’ in Evaluate, the online course evaluation software used by the University to collect student course perceptions (which are in turn used to evaluate faculty for merit pay), caused much discussion. Though we applaud how the discovery of the bug was handled, there is much work to be done to develop a system of governance to guide the Evaluate project. We look forward to discussing how Evaluate will be used and its governance structure with the University and IST in the future.

News From Your Board: January 4 Meeting Recap

Peter Johnson, director for the Faculty of Environment

The boardroom was full of post-holiday/return-to-campus energy as the FAUW board sat down for the first meeting of 2018. A brief update on negotiations noted that a number of January dates have been set for the bargaining teams to meet.

We discussed the issue of equity among Canada Research Chair appointments across campus, with numerous comments on the Equity Action Plan released in December. If you have feedback, please comment below or email Bryan Tolson.

We also discussed the perpetual question of whether there is an optimal way to schedule final exams that better supports student mental health, and to have final exam schedules prepared earlier in the term. Discussions with the Registrar’s Office is ongoing and we hope to have an update in the spring term.

Additional conversations focused on the extent to which individuals on health leave are able to access on-campus resources and activities, for example faculty members continuing to supervise students while on health leave, or access to the Physical Activities Complex for graduate students on leave. This has been an issue in the past and has become relevant yet again. If you have feedback on this topic, please contact Paul Ward or Brent Matheson.

The Scheduling Memo – 2016 Reboot

By Bryan Tolson, FAUW Vice President

By now, you should have heard about – and hopefully read – the memo regarding the Fall 2016 changes to the scheduling system. With these substantial changes now officially announced, it seems an appropriate time for another blog post about scheduling.

The point of this post is to give you my thoughts, as FAUW’s representative on PACT (the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Timetabling), on the scheduling system and in particular the most recent memo from PACT addressing the system of constraints. I will close with some essential facts and recommendations about how you can get what you need under the revised system.

If you have not read the memo (PDF), I suggest you do so before continuing below. FAUW has posted scheduling system-related blog posts in the past few years. For a refresher on the ongoing debate around scheduling, read:

It is both my and the Board’s basic premise that the new scheduling system is here to stay and that our goal is to work with it and the Administration to get the best for FAUW members. That said, we must also realize that it is a centralized scheduling system in which every unit and every faculty member must share finite space and, thus, lecture times. Equity and fairness are a big concern for all on PACT (including me), as well as for FAUW. Any accommodation made for one faculty member will impact another so these cannot be made lightly.

Let me provide a concrete example. If you attempt to “game” the system so that you avoid teaching Friday afternoons, you are effectively sentencing a colleague to teach in that time slot. (So please keep your colleagues in mind as you attempt to define a teaching schedule that works for you.) Negotiating this balancing act is not a simple exercise and this newest memo is another attempt to strike that balance.

What I like in the memo

There is much to like about this latest iteration of PACT’s attempt to identify acceptable constraints on timetabling. First of all, many people are working very hard to try and make real improvements to the scheduling system. The changes in the memo are a “net positive” in terms of achieving equity and fairness across the campus.

Second, like it or not, it appears that future provincial funding for new teaching space on campus will require a clear demonstration that we are utilizing our current teaching space at something approaching full capacity. Hence, setting targets for the ratio of 3×1-hr courses to 2×1.5-hr courses to maximize room use efficiency is sensible from this perspective.

Third, the idea of giving every faculty member on campus—our childless, parentless, or partnerless colleagues included—the opportunity to specify a seven-hour teaching block in which all their teaching will occur is also a good one. Lastly, the changes to the system introduce more predictability for instructors, something many of us appreciate.

What I do not like in the memo

The devil is really in the details and I am concerned about certain aspects of the new definition of constraints, concerns I have raised on the faculty members’ behalf at least once, sometimes multiple times, in PACT discussions, with little impact. Chief among those are:

  • Regular research commitments such as remote field-work or off-campus meetings with research partners (these can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reschedule) are not explicitly listed as a Level 2 constraint. To be clear, they potentially are allowable Level 2 constraints, but only at the discretion of the Chair. So ask for these if they are needed.
  • All faculty who teach a 1×3-hr lecture to more than 80 students are now forced to either teach in the 2:30-5:30 p.m. time slot or in the evening (there are no other options). This is not fair. Unless the campus is ready to decide that no class should be delivered in one 3-hour block during the daytime, our colleagues who, for pedagogical reasons, choose to teach this way deserve more flexibility in potential teaching times during the day. (If you teach a course like this and share my concern, please email me: btolson@uwaterloo.ca.)
  • In this first iteration of the “teaching window” model, Chairs are being asked to ensure that their unit has “spread their teaching window requests evenly over the three start times (8:30am, 9:30am and 10:30am).” I firmly believe that the natural distribution of requested start times across the available options will be such that the resulting schedule’s integrity will not be compromised.
  • There are scheduling software defaults that are not yet known to all instructors. It is unclear in the current documentation, for example, how early a faculty member can be scheduled to teach the day after delivering a night class that ends at 10:00 pm.

The memo is a living document and so I believe the above concerns can be easily dealt with in the next revision or even earlier when supporting documentation is posted on the new scheduling website.

What you need to know when submitting teaching availability constraints

The list below highlights things you need to know that are not clear from the scheduling memo, or things I think need to be emphasized. The memo contains many other things you also need to know so please do also read the memo (PDF) if you haven’t yet!

  • You cannot be required to teach after 5:30 pm. 
  • Chairs have been instructed in the memo to ensure that instructors have spread their teaching window requests evenly over the three start times. While some of us may be able to be flexible, others may not. My recommendation is that those who cannot change their teaching window for personal or professional reasons should simply refuse to do so.
  • Due to time constraints, PACT was unable to completely standardize the way instructor availability constraints are collected. As far as I can tell, your department will collect these in one of the following ways:
  1. A slick web-based collection form. I have seen the test website for this form but if you wish to learn more, you will have to ask for details from your Faculty-level PACT Representative. Make sure your scheduling representative is aware of this option.
  2. A more clunky Word-based option using the template file provided by the RO to scheduling reps (see form here).
  3. Some sort of variation to what your department has done in past terms to collect instructor constraints.

For anyone in category #3, you should check that your departmental approach is essentially consistent with the instructions you see in the link in #2 above. If you have concerns about inconsistencies which may lead to inequities, please share them with your scheduling rep, your Faculty PACT Representative and me (btolson@uwaterloo.ca).

  • You are not limited to submitting only two teaching availability constraints even though collection methods #1 and #2 in the above bullet imply this. If you have valid constraint requests, you are allowed to submit more. Simply add the additional required constraints in your submission to your scheduling representative (include them in an email if necessary). However, please do not attempt to craft a complex and numerous set of constraints that precisely defines your perfect/ideal lecture schedule. This will be counter-productive.
  • You are not required to submit ANY documentation to either your Chair or to your departmental scheduling representative to support medical- or human rights-related constraints (these are Level 1 constraints). For a constraint based on medical reasons, you should communicate directly with the university’s Occupational Health Nurse, Linda Brogden (lbrogden@uwaterloo.ca). For a constraint based on human rights issues, contact the Equity Office. If they approve the constraint, they will provide confirmation to your Chair without releasing details.
  • The memo makes clear that, if it is necessary for a department to reduce the number of 2×1.5-hr course offerings, achieving the required reduction is the responsibility of the Chair and instructors within the department. It is also clear from the memo that PACT recognizes that all the necessary reductions of 2×1.5-hr course offerings will be gradual and will certainly not be completely achieved in Fall 2016. My hope is that departmental members will be able to work together collegially to determine how best to meet the target ratios specified in the memo (e.g., 9 classes of 3×1-hr MWF : 6 classes of 2×1.5-hr TR). Thus, it is important to realize that you should not be forced to switch multiple courses in one term from one meet time pattern to another, or to switch all your courses in the 2016 academic year to a completely new meet time pattern (e.g., from all 1.5-hr meets to all 1-hr meets).
  • Your Chair has been instructed to inform you in a timely manner of any teaching availability selection or constraint that s/he has chosen not to approve.
  • Several early-March “Question and Answer” sessions have already been arranged with chairs/directors and their scheduling representatives to discuss how to set department/school goals. You should pass questions/concerns through these channels initially.

Please feel free to bring concerns to me through your department’s representative on the FAUW Council of Representatives, as scheduling is a topic of discussion at the March 23rd Council meeting this term. You can also email me directly at btolson@uwaterloo.ca.

The Scheduling Office has a new website with news and resources.


FAUW Scheduling Survey Results

by: Bryan Tolson, FAUW Vice President 

The Provost’s Advisory Committee on Timetabling is considering a list of principles that will govern the functioning of the new scheduling system going forward. FAUW recently conducted a survey on timetabling and more than 200 members responded!  Here are the overall results: 

Question 1:

Question 2:
  • For Q2, we had 57 responses suggesting concerns missing in the principles.

Question 3:

Note: PACT Principle 2 wording is currently as follows:
“Foster an environment where faculty members can harmonize their teaching, research, service, and non-university activities”. 

Scheduling Systems: Same Old Tune

by: David Porreca, FAUW President
This blog post represents a synthesis of my own experience with scheduling systems over my 22 years of involvement with the University of Waterloo, along with the sharp observations of a more senior colleague. (h/t to BC)
Over my time at Waterloo, I reckon I’ve been through at least three (if not four) changes in timetabling systems, and all have followed a recognizable and consistent pattern in their deployment:
1- Disaster is widely predicted.
2- Disaster does not occur but there are numerous problems.
3- People responsible for the new system deny that any problems are real: they will disappear when the system is fully implemented.
4- Departmental administrators gradually discover the levers that control the system and devise workarounds and local optimizations that mitigate the problems.
5- Four or five years later the system has returned to what it was before the change, in terms of functionality.
6- The Registrar discovers that they still have the same problems they had before the change.
7- Acquiring a new system commences.
The current iteration of the scheduling cycle is sitting somewhere between points 2 and 4, with some units working with the system, and others working the system to their advantage – and it’s unclear whether the latter represents a disadvantage to other units.  Any complex system can be gamed to the advantage of certain participants, but not all such systems are zero-sum games. 
The extent to which the InfoSilem system and its attendant procedures amount to zero-sum is still unclear to me.  The number of potentially competing factors is substantial: does one prioritize student completion times, student conflict-free schedules, room usage, professors’ optimal performance in the classroom, efficiency of the process of timetabling itself, pedagogical considerations for individual courses and for programs, or any number of other factors that one could devise?

The issue is as confounding as it is important to our working lives as faculty members.  According to the scheme outlined above, we still have a couple of years to go before the current system is made to work well.  Will it work well enough to (gasp!) break the cycle?  
To include your input on the issue, take part in the FAUW scheduling survey before Friday, March 13. 

FAUW Updates Fall 2014 (Part 1 of 2)

David Porreca, FAUW President

Welcome back! Although this blog went dormant over the summer months, this does not mean that FAUW has been idle. In fact, so many things have kept us busy of the past couple of months that this inaugural 2014-15 update blog post needs to be divided in two. The first five of the following topics are posted today, while the rest will be posted on Monday.

The topics:

  1. Continuity in UW administration
  2. Meeting with lecturers
  3. Negotiations
  4. Scheduling
  5. Electronic expense claims
  6. Pharmacy Building
  7. Fall Break?
  8. FAUW Staffing
  9. Re-vamped Course Evaluations
  10. FAUW Retreat and Priorities for 2014-15
Continue reading “FAUW Updates Fall 2014 (Part 1 of 2)”

New Scheduling System: What You Need to Get What You Want

by David Porreca and Bryan Tolson

This week’s blog post intends to inform UW faculty about the nitty-gritty details of the new scheduling system.  Here are a series of useful tips that should help colleagues navigate the new Infosilem scheduling system.

The results of the survey related to Simulation 3 of the new scheduling system were presented for consideration at the Faculty Relations Committee simultaneously with the university’s decision to go ahead with the implementation of the software system for the Spring term of 2014.  The results of the survey were lukewarm. The responses were averaged out so as to dissimulate any extraordinary schedules, good or bad.  These averaged results were not so bad as to justify a concerted attempt to stop the implementation of the system, while not being so good as to justify cheering its arrival.  Conclusion: we must live with it for better or for worse, with a view to making the best of a sub-optimal situation.  Here are some tips for faculty members:

Tip 1: Identify your departmental time tabling representative (in some departments also known as the scheduling officer).  Make sure that your department has implemented a transparent procedure for requesting accommodation in your schedule.

Tip 2: The Registrar’s Office maintains a list of examples of the sorts of accommodations can be requested.
Do not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunities for accommodation that are allowed within this framework.

Tip 3: Do not hesitate to contact the Registrar’s Office and the Faculty Association (president: David Porreca; administrative officer: Pat Moore) with any problems you face with the new system.  We shall be compiling these to help make the implementation of the new system as beneficent to faculty colleagues as possible.

FAUW Pushing for Scenario Analysis: Spring Term

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest at least 99% of instructors and 100% of students do not want a Friday afternoon class scheduled later than 4:30 pm in the Spring term.  So I would love to see the Registrar’s Office (RO) schedule the Spring term with no classes after 4:30 on Fridays.  That should be extremely easy to input in Infosilem software and I strongly suspect it would yield no noticeable degradation in the quality of the scheduling objectives (elective satisfaction rate or others).  In fact, I would hope the RO is capable of running two simulations (Fridays end at 4:30 vs Fridays end at 5:30) to evaluate if an early end to Friday classes does in fact notably degrade the schedule quality.

The above paragraph is a simple example of a useful exercise in modelling called scenario analysis.  Understandably, the RO is still learning and developing skills needed to run the Infosilem software and as such they have yet to do any types of scenario analysis FAUW is aware of (i.e., build multiple schedules under alternative inputs).  However, I’m sure most readers as well as RO staff can think of very important and useful scenarios that should be evaluated.  As such, FAUW will continue asking the RO to build their capacity so that they can evaluate alternative scenarios.  You could help by asking a Provost’s Advisory Committee for Timetabling (PACT) representative or your timetabling representative to request that the RO commit to evaluating alternative scenarios and thus plan to build multiple schedules with Infosilem every term.

Questions? Comments? Please respond below or to the FAUW President, David Porreca.

Welcome Back!

David Porreca, FAUW President
Happy New Year to All!
This blog post marks the first anniversary of the FAUW Blog!  Two red-hot items for everyone’s consideration: the Strategic Mandate Agreement & Scheduling Feedback

Special Meeting of Senate re: Strategic Mandate Agreement (SMA)

14:30 TODAY
The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU) has requested that all Ontario universities update and re-submit their Strategic Mandate Agreement. For reference, the original 2012 draft (PDF) and the current draft (PDF).
The deadlines imposed by the MTCU have left only just enough time for consultation with faculty members, with the latest draft of UW’s SMA submission being discussed at a special meeting of UW’s Senate this afternoon. 
Although at times jargon-heavy – “intrapreneurship” left this francophone and latinist baffled and scurrying for an etymological dictionary – the draft does a good job of selling UW’s strengths, borrowing heavily from the recent Strategic Plan.   In this context, I note in particular the wording “including, but not limited to, quantum science, water and aging” (emphasis mine) in a crucial passage under the heading “Transformational Research”.  This welcome modification to the controversial original formulation brings the document closer to embracing the full variety of research that is done on our campus, but members in certain disciplines will still find themselves searching for their proper place within the vision of UW described in this SMA. 
Finally, the MTCU imposed strict length limits on these SMAs, which limits the depth of the proposals.  With one’s expectations adjusted accordingly, it represents a palatable and at times even eloquent expression of what makes UW different, clearly destined for a political audience.

Scheduling Feedback

Please send your feedback to the Registrar’s Office on the simulated schedule that was distributed via e-mail in the waning days of last term.  You may do this in three principal ways:

  1. Fill in the survey that was distributed along with the simulated schedule materials.
  2. Send an e-mail directly to the Registrar’s Office regarding the simulation: regstep@uwaterloo.ca
  3. Contact the scheduling representative of your department.
The new extended deadline for feedback is 13 January. 
That’s all for now!  In the upcoming weeks, we will feature more fulsome assessments of the new scheduling system, the results of the Digital Privacy Colloquium held on 4 December, and other news, as it always arises.
With best wishes for happiness and productivity for 2014!

See you next week!