#SUC18 Conference Report | Day 1
In many ways, it seems like just yesterday that we were reviewing the 2017 Scientia User Conference. And yet here we are, fully 12-months later, looking back on what was, again, a record-breaking event: 208 delegates from across the EMEA region; over 20 user-led presentations; and more than a dozen Scientia presentations and workshops – many about Syllabus Plus Anywhere, our ground-breaking cloud scheduling platform.
That feeling of time flying between Conferences is rooted in a number of factors: the familiarity of the venue, now the home of the Scientia User Conference for five years; the familiarity of many delegates, some of whom have been coming for nearly 20 years; and the familiarity of the structure: a series of plenaries, smaller group sessions and hands-on workshops, and the now-legendary evening entertainment – essential ‘group therapy’ time for the much-misunderstood timetabling fraternity.
Functional aspects of the Conference were improved over previous years: a dedicated check-in desk for delegates made for quick and easy access to rooms; the new layout at the venue – requested by us due to ever-increasing numbers – significantly increased space in the main room whilst also improving visibility, being wider rather than deeper; and the updated AV set-up, with more screens and speakers out to the back of the room, also enhanced delegates’ experience during plenaries.
As ever, our tech was at the heart of the organisation and management of the Conference. Delegates used Student Allocator to book their elective sessions, Resource Booker to book rooms and Scientia staff for meetings, and received their personalised Conference schedule via Publish.
The wider landscape
Day 1 kicked off with the usual Scientia welcome, swiftly followed by an outstanding, interactive keynote from Professor Susannah Quinsee – City, University of London’s Professor of Learning Development. In Turning the (Time)tables: Designing Solutions for the Changing Needs of University Staff and Students, Susannah asked us to consider how technology has changed learning and campus management over the past 20 years – and what the landscape might look like in 2038.
She highlighted how important the physical campus remains despite our ability to deliver courses remotely, or via catch-up ‘lecture capture’ videos. The campus is an intrinsic part of students’ schema of higher education, Susannah said, and incentivising them stay there between lectures can improve the university experience and the feeling they are getting value for money. This was the first of many references over the Conference to the ‘sticky campus’ – and the role effective timetabling and student self-service (e.g. the ability to find and book rooms and resources) can play in giving students reasons to stay between taught activities.
Up next, Jack Grove, Times Higher Education reporter on employment, careers, PhDs, ECRs & Europe, delivered an engaging presentation on how we measure value for money in higher education. UK students are rightly asking if £9,000 a year is a price worth paying for an undergraduate degree. And if they are willing to pay it, what should they expect back? Jack wondered whether universities do enough to communicate their value proposition and the hidden costs in keeping a university running: administration, staff costs, wide-ranging facilities and so on. You might not use the running track, but its upkeep still has to be paid for.
A lot’s happened in the two years since we announced the development of Syllabus Plus Anywhere. We’ve undertaken what we believe is an industry-leading programme of customer engagement, mapping the user journeys of some 50 institutions worldwide. That insight has enabled us to develop a cloud-based scheduling platform which goes way beyond putting students and staff in a room together. So it was a pleasure to be able to demo some key elements of the software, such as our new, highly efficient change management process, live at the opening plenary.
Darren Woodward, Head of Product Management, described Syllabus Plus Anywhere as “a radical rethink of university timetable planning and delivery which will drive massive improvements in everything from space utilisation to student satisfaction.” He demonstrated how the platform provides a range of core services to all the applications it serves: a comprehensive audit tool, flexible reporting and granular permissions, amongst others. Around 30 institutions are currently testing the software through our Syllabus Plus Anywhere Reference Group. The first full release, including autoscheduling, will be available in Q4 2018. And all this before the first refreshment break of the day!
Time to choose
Recharged with coffee and mini-muffins, delegates dived into the first and only elective sessions of the day.
Our furthest-travelled guests, staff from the University of British Columbia in Canada, delivered a great session on how smart scheduling has enabled them to grow their intake significantly with only a small increase in capacity over the same period. Furthermore, by using Web Data Collector and Enterprise Foundation, their whole scheduling process has reduced from 5-6 months to as many weeks. Not bad, considering they were very new users when they last visited in 2016 – listen below.
Edinburgh’s presentation looked at how its centralised Timetabling Unit successfully launched a new service for managing students’ requests for group change – a process previously thought only manageable at School level.
In Ok, Computer, the University of Manchester’s Paul Brierley put forward a compelling case for using messaging apps to communicate timetable information to students. He demonstrated how they’re using automated Facebook Messenger chatbot and Telegram messages to respond to timetable and location information requests. This is particularly useful as it can be independent of the university’s IT, and therefore helpful if systems go down.
Elsewhere, the first of five ‘Bring Your Own Device’ guided demos for Syllabus Plus Anywhere was underway – one of many interactive workshops in what was an overwhelmingly hands-on Conference.
Day 1 closed with a left-field-but-much-enjoyed presentation by JISC’s Martin Hamilton. The Wind from Nowhere – horizon-scanning in an uncertain age looked at what the impact of technologies and trends like blockchain, artificial intelligence and Brexit will have on further and higher education. Martin posited that there are huge opportunities emerging for our sector, from the ‘intelligent campus’ to the delivery of truly personalised learning. Watch it here.
The day ended with the now-famous Scientia Quiz, in memory of former colleague Dinesh Vaswani. Thanks to the generosity of delegates and staff, we raised £770 for Jimmy’s – a charity which supports homeless people in Cambridge.