Web-Based Scheduling Reduces CDL's Expenses

Scheduling appointments for thousands of students is a daunting task faced by many colleges and universities. Depending on your institution, activities such as student advisement sessions, proctored exams, campus recruitment interviews, special events and others may require appointments. The City Colleges of Chicago's (CCC) Center for Distance Learning (CDL) offers affordable, quality education in 70 courses to more than 3,000 students. Since 2000, CDL has used the Internet to reduce the logistical burden of scheduling thousands of exam appointments each semester, improving service and reducing its annual expenses by $100,000.

To complete studies at CDL successfully, students must pass periodic proctored exams administered on personal computers at one of seven colleges. Prior to 2000, CDL administrators manually scheduled exams for students via telephone, which was a laborious, time-consuming and error-prone process. Using a largely paper-based system, CDL staff had to schedule exam dates and times, while simultaneously managing room capacity, proctors and computers over the telephone. The system was becoming increasingly unwieldy as enrollments increased. Recognizing the Internet's power to wring efficiencies from business processes, Pam Lattimore, the center's dean, and her staff began looking for Web-based scheduling solutions. After meeting with representatives from several software vendors, the school chose TimeTrade from Massachusetts-based TimeTrade Systems Inc.

Performance and Scalability

TimeTrade is a Web-based solution that is important to Lattimore's staff at CDL. The application is available as a hosted service or as a packaged application for universities that want to host it themselves. In the case of CDL, administrators did not have to buy servers or other hardware for TimeTrade, nor did they have to install any software. The administrators required only a Web-connected PC to set up and manage TimeTrade. Similarly, students need only have access to the Web to book appointments. TimeTrade's user interface lets students book appointments for exams in four simple steps. After logging onto the system through CDL's Web site, students select their course, exam, campus and desired exam date. TimeTrade then displays current availability in intuitive daily, weekly and monthly views.

Scalability and performance are critical factors for any Web-based application. To help ensure performance and scalability, TimeTrade's application was developed in server-side Java, and relies on standard relational database technology. TimeTrade features a tightly integrated reporting module and a comprehensive suite of reports, which can be run as needed or scheduled to run periodically. Report-based data can also be downloaded into third-party applications such as Excel. In addition, TimeTrade features application programming interfaces for moving data to and from the application.

Innovative Internet Technology

At the start of the project, TimeTrade helped CDL define available resources, including rooms, personal computers and proctors. After initializing a resource database with this information, administrators defined and associated exams with dependent resources. Next, exam dates, start times and durations were loaded into the system. Students were then given access to the system, which operates in real time. This makes double-bookings impossible, because as soon as an appointment is booked, that time slot is removed from the inventory of available time slots. And as students register for exams, TimeTrade tracks roomcapacities and other resources, automatically closing exams that become fully enrolled. In addition, the system sends automatic confirmations and reminders to students via e-mail. These messages can be tailored to include additional information, such as directions to the campus, reminders to bring proper identification, etc.

CDL's innovative use of Internet technology has had many benefits. To date, nearly 85 percent of students opt to book exam appointments online, dramatically reducing phone traffic. Students can also instantly register for exams at any time, instead of being placed on hold during peak booking hours. And students can now view exam availability across multiple days and times, allowing them to book appointments faster than was possible via the telephone. TimeTrade has also reduced missed exam appointments with an e-mail that is sent to students immediately after booking for confirmation and as a reminder 24 hours before each appointment. Finally, TimeTrade's reporting module lets administrators monitor exam activities and measure resource utilization in real time, across all seven colleges. With the manual system, such statistics were virtually impossible to obtain and analyze.

Contact Information

TimeTrade Systems Inc.
Waltham, MA
(781) 890-4808

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2002 issue of THE Journal.