Okay, so I haven’t written anything in a week or so. I’ve been doing scheduling.
I teach Computer Science at a private high school. Last year, the person who’s handled the task of creating the schedule for the 900 or so students each year asked for some help, and since I have industry software engineering skills, I got picked. (Somewhere along the line I fear they may try to hoist the task on me alone, but that will only come after significant negotiations, but I digress.)
We have a software tool that is supposed to facilitate the scheduling process (900 kids, 7 sections per semester, each kid therefore gets 8 to 12 course selections, etc.), but it still involves a fair amount of scrutinizing, beyond checking that students don’t sign up for Spanish IV before they take Spanish III, etc. Things like you have to make sure that the gym is available for the PE class, or that teachers get a break now and then, or that you can’t fit 25 kids in a lab that has only 24 computers, etc.
This year they rolled out a brand new version of the scheduling software. It is supposed to make life so easy people will WANT to do scheduling. Sometimes I wish reality would catch up with hype. It took a while (a week?) to figure out all of the super-intelligent switches (and many calls to the program’s support line), so that it wouldn’t assign all 62 students to one section of a three-section course, but today we managed to crank through all classes in about three hours. THEN we started analyzing what it gave us:
- Some sections of a course were larger than others: one course had enrollments ranging from 3 to 50.
- It seemed to disregard the computer lab size limitations, putting 48 in one class (as stated above, the max is 24)
- One teacher is set up for three sections one semester, 7 the other
As they say, "Not ready for prime time." (Put another way, as another teacher I know puts it, "In theory, theory is the same as practice; in practice, it isn’t.") So, it’s back to the manual "find a time slot and see how many students we can schedule." By the end of today we got all the singletons (courses with single sections) through the "quints" (courses with five sections), with only three kids who didn’t get everything. Tomorrow I hope to get the six’s through 10’s, and over the weekend we’ll push through up to the 12’s.
The problem is, we know that soon we’ll start getting more and more missed schedules. The imagination aspect requires that we try to massage the schedules to minimize those kinds of hits. Ideally, we’d like to have about a dozen "can’t fit"s when we’re done. Unfortunately, it gets tedious from here on out.