In a recent newsletter, I wrote about using Adobe Connect Pro web conferencing software to hold conferences with students in my online classes. One burden in this practice is scheduling. I started this summer with 60 students in my online classes and scheduling and managing that many conferences became a chore. I used FerrisConnect’s Groups tool to set up one-person groups with a sign-up sheet. I’d start by creating 75 slots and then manually typing in the time and date for each. It would take a good twenty to thirty minutes or more each time to set up, and it was also time consuming to add more conferences slots later.
What’s Out There
For this semester, I researched several online scheduling services to see if there was some way to make scheduling more efficient.
For my choice, the system had to meet most of these criteria:
- Free or inexpensive
- Easy for students to use
- Easy to set up many one-person time slots
- Easy to vary the schedule from week to week
- Output to a conference list I can follow when I am holding conferences
- Allows students to reschedule
A lot of the systems I eliminated for complexity. Most of those were for business and assumed multiple “resources” (i.e. staff) on a regular 9-5 schedule. My schedule changes every week due to meetings and kids in school, etc., and I do conferences with classes every other week. Some systems were for medical practices and had the look, feel, and text of a doctor’s office. And a lot were set up for group meetings instead. After looking at a lot of systems, a couple stood out: Schedule Thing (http://www.schedulething.com/) and Schedule Once (http://www.scheduleonce.com/).
Both Schedule Once and Schedule Thing are easy to set up and have a simple interface. Schedule Once is ad supported and Schedule Thing is free for one resource (me). Schedule Thing was originally written for restaurants, so the students would be signing up for “reservations.” Table for one, I guess.
Using Schedule Once
Although I liked the cleaner interface and lack of ads better in Schedule Thing, I ultimately picked Schedule Once for one reason: setting up my schedule is much easier. In Schedule Thing, you have to set up regular hours and then block out the time you’re not available. Schedule Once links to Google Calendar; when I want to set up availability, it loads the calendar and I draw my availability on the calendar with a virtual highlighter pen, so I’m setting up the time I am available rather than setting up the time I’m “not unavailable.” In other words, I set up my specific availability rather than start with a general schedule.
Here’s how Schedule Once works:
- I set up my availability
- I make the link available to students in my course
- They visit the web site and pick times from a calendar
- The student and I both get a confirmation email
- Schedule Once creates an appointment on my Google Calendar
Some of the nice features: the web address for students is short (http://meetme.so/%5Busername%5D). After I set up availability, if I later block out unavailable time on Google Calendar, Schedule Once will schedule around it.
In order for it to work as I need it, I have to use Schedule Once in “appointment mode” rather than “meeting mode,” which is for coordinating a meeting with multiple people. Also I set up a rule in Lotus Notes to automatically send the email confirmations to a folder so they don’t clog my inbox.
There are a couple of drawbacks to Schedule Once. There are ads on the student page (though they are unobtrusive). There’s no way for students to cancel their conferences, although they can just sign up for another one. By using this site, I’m adding an external product to my process as well, so there’s no University tech support. Also, even though I start conferences on the half hour and tell it to schedule 30 minute conferences, it offers students some time slots on the quarter hour, so there will be occasional 15 minute gaps. I guess it thinks I need more breaks!
These are minor drawbacks, though, and so far I am pleased with the system. It has made scheduling conferences so much easier that I’m using it for my face-to-face classes as well.