Central Timetabling Unit: Overview
The Overview (pdf) shows the yearly cycle of CTU's processes and how they map with the calendar year and the academic year. It also shows all of the procedures (both inputs and outputs) that need to take place in order for a timetable to be created.
Viewing Timetables at the University of Portsmouth
All students and staff at the University of Portsmouth receive individual timetables showing all of their scheduled teaching activities.
- Students can access their personalised timetable through MyPort, which requires the user to sign in with their Google email address and password. Click on ‘My Timetable’
- Staff can access their personalised timetable via the Staff Portal, which requires the user to login with their UoP username and password.
- Both staff and students can also subscribe to their timetable via Google and add it as a secondary calendar - just go to the timetable page on your portal and press the ‘Add to Google Calendar’ button then follow the instructions (Please note that it can take up to 8 hours for Google to synchronise a new secondary calendar or any timetabling changes to an existing secondary calendar. This secondary calendar is view only and any changes made to it will be overwritten during each regular update).
- All formats of the timetable are smart-device friendly.
CTU are responsible for producing the following:
→ Teaching Timetable
The process of producing the timetables is undertaken by the Central Timetabling Unit (CTU) in liaison with academic departments and starts at the beginning of the calendar year. The stages are:
The structure of a course must first be added to the UoP’S Student Records system. This tells the system all of the units that a student on a certain course MUST take (compulsory units) and CAN take (optional units). It allows administrators within academic departments to then add the correct units to a student’s curriculum. If a unit isn’t attached to a course as an approved unit then it cannot be added to a student’s record.
This information is then passed over to the timetabling system so that, during scheduling, it knows that students on course ‘A’ need to be able to take units 1, 2, 3 etc. It will then ensure that none of these units are scheduled at the same time (though on rare occasions, this can happen due to some courses having many options and sharing units with several other courses).
Based on the above, academic departments inform CTU which units are to run that year and how they are to be delivered by giving the following information:
- The name and code of the unit (module)
- Type of event (e.g. lecture, seminar etc.)
- How many of each type of event (e.g. 1 x lecture then 10 x seminar groups)
- Which week(s) the event is to run in
- Length of event
- Size of event (for L1 units this is estimated based on previous years and on which courses the units are offered to)
- Who is teaching on each event and availability of that lecturer
- What type of room is needed (classroom, lab etc.)
There can be dozens of events for one unit depending on how often factors like lecturers, room types and event lengths vary over the year.
♦ FEBRUARY / MARCH
CTU then input all of these events on to the timetabling system – there are around 30,000 timetabling events each year and the way in which they need to be added to the system is extremely complex as there can be many different requests as to how a unit should be delivered (particular orderings, different rooms, lecturers, event lengths each week, students split into groups in different ways etc.)
The inputting is completed by a team of experienced Timetablers who have all been trained in how to interpret the data and how to add it to the timetabling system. Each Timetabler looks after 4-5 of the university's departments and deals with all aspects of their departments' timetabling.
♦ APRIL / MAY
CTU then schedule all of these events to create a working timetable, ensuring (as much as possible) that:
- all events have a day & time and take place in the correct weeks
- all events have a room of the correct type and size with the necessary facilities / equipment
- all events have a lecturer and the events are not scheduled at a day/time when the lecturer is not available
- all events are scheduled in such a way that students on a course can attend all necessary events for that course
- all events are scheduled in such a way that minimises the amount of travel the students on any given course need to undertake
- all events are scheduled in such a way that students on a course won't have more than 4 consecutive hours of classes to attend
♦ MAY / JUNE
CTU release draft individual timetables to all academics, which they can view via the Staff Portal. Academic timetable contacts within departments are also provided with draft staff, course and unit timetables for checking to ensure that all units have the correct events, all events have the correct rooms and lecturers etc. They then liaise with CTU to request any amendments. Changes are then made to events, wherever possible.
♦ AUGUST / SEPTEMBER
CTU then have the mammoth task of fitting around 20,000 students into the 30,000 events to create individual timetables. This is so that students don’t need to ‘work out’ what events they must attend for each of their units, they simply log in to their timetable and attend what they see. In order to do this, CTU must ensure that all students are attached to all necessary events - so, for one unit, they need to be able to see whatever events are running and have been allocated to at least one of them - e.g. lecture, seminar, lab, computer practical etc. After doing this, CTU then:
- ensure there are no clashes for students
- ensure, as much as possible, that there are no travel violations for students (with such a widespread, city campus, this is very difficult and not always possible)
- ensure there are no teaching blocks of more than 4 consecutive hours (in January, academic departments can request teaching events ranging from one hour right up to all-day sessions for certain units, making this difficult to achieve)
- ensure that all events fit into the rooms allocated
- ensure that all groups for units are evenly filled with students (e.g. if a unit has 100 students and there are 4 seminar groups to split the students into, the ideal is 4 x 25, not 3 x 30 and 1 x 10)
CTU release individual timetables to students as follows:
- Returning students - 2 weeks before teaching starts
- New students - during induction week (this is later because information for new students doesn’t reach the UoP systems until mid-late August due to A-level results, Confirmation & Clearing etc.) and, when it does, student numbers fluctuate greatly
For Health and safety reasons it is essential that students only attend the teaching events shown on their individual timetables on the portal.
INDUCTION WEEK TIMETABLE
All departments must get their induction week room requests to CTU by the beginning of May, the information needed is:
- The day, start time and finish time of the event
- The type of room that is needed (lecture theatre, seminar room, computer lab etc.)
- The size of event (this is estimated for induction events that involve new students as numbers are not yet known)
- The details of the event (e.g. L4 International Students, Introduction and Welcome)
There are usually around 2000+ induction events taking place around the university during the week before teaching.
♦ MAY / JUNE
CTU then input all of these events on to the timetabling system and room them – this can be quite a challenge as most departments, for obvious reasons, want to hold large introductory lectures at the beginning of the week and the university, being a city-based campus, is limited in large space! There is often negotiation with departments at this stage and compromise & flexibility is a must so that all events can be roomed.
Draft timetables are distributed to departments for checking at the beginning of July and all changes must be back to CTU within a few weeks so that the changes can be made and a finalised timetable can be given to departments by the end of July, ready to be sent out to students.
(changes are still necessary over the next month or so as numbers of new students fluctuate and departments find themselves needing larger rooms to hold their induction events)
1ST ATTEMPT ASSESSMENTS TIMETABLE (EXAMS)
All departments must pass their exam event requests to CTU by mid-November, the information needed is:
- The unit name and code that the exam is for
- The length of the exam
- The type of room that is needed (seminar room, computer lab, specialised spaces etc. - lecture theatres are not used for exams)
- The size of event (this should be known as it is the number of students enrolled to the unit)
- Any other specific requests (e.g. must not be in week 3 due to DL students not being available)
There are usually around 1000 exam events in total for the 1st Attempt Assessment Period.
♦ DECEMBER / JANUARY
CTU then input all of these events on to the timetabling system and schedule / room them - a few points to note about scheduling exams:
- There can be more than one exam in the same room at the same time, even from different departments, providing that it is the same type of room and the exam is the same length.
- Rooms are set up in exam format during the exam weeks, which means that they have around half the capacity of their 'normal' teaching layout
- The exams are scheduled looking at actual student availability - course structures are not factored in
- In order that students get the correct gaps between exams and that departments are allowed time to collect papers / set up, there are set times for exams - information on these times can be seen in the 'exam' section of the Timetable Policy, found here.
♦ JANUARY / FEBRUARY
Draft exam timetables are distributed to departments for checking at the end of January and all changes must be back with CTU by mid-February.
Requested changes are made to the events and a final timetable is displayed to students via MyPort early to mid March.
2ND ATTEMPT ASSESSMENTS TIMETABLE (REFERRALS / DEFERRALS)
The 2nd Attempt Assessment timetable is, as much as possible, a copy of the 1st Attempt Assessment timetable. This is so that students are given as much warning as possible as to when their exam might take place, should they fail the first attempt. Some changes between the two timetables are necessary though, for the following reasons:
- The two periods are different in length, the 1st AA is 4 weeks and the 2nd AA is only 3 weeks so any exams that fall in week 4 of the 1st AA need to be moved and rescheduled around the exams that fall in the first 3 weeks
- The lengths of the exams may differ between the 2 exam periods
- The assessment type may differ between the 2 periods, it may be that there was no exam for the 1st AA but there is for the 2nd or vice versa
- The type of room needed might change - it could be that it was a written paper for the 1st AA but a computer practical for the 2nd AA
- Specific day/time/week requests may change (e.g. for availability of DL students)
- It may be that there were 2 groups needed for the 1st AA for a particular unit due to the huge number of students taking the unit. Obviously, the number having to sit again will be much smaller so only 1 group will be needed
CTU send a copy of the 1st Attempt Assessment timetable to departments for checking and ask for the following changes:
- Any exams that need deleting (many 2nd AA change from exam to coursework)
- Any exams that need adding
- Any changes in length
- Any changes in room type
- Any necessary changes to day/time/week
- If 2 groups were needed in the 1st AA period and only 1 is needed in the 2nd AA period, the department's preference for the one that is kept
Departments have until the beginning of May to get any changes back to CTU.
The 2nd Attempt Assessment timetable is shown to students via MyPort at the beginning of June (as soon as the 1st Attempt Assessment period is finished)
POINTS TO NOTE:
As soon as the 1st Attempt Assessment period has finished, students will see exams for ALL units that they are taking that have an 'exam' as the 2nd Attempt Assessment. This can be alarming for students but it doesn't mean they have failed! There is a very short turnaround between the 1st Attempt Assessment period, the marking of assessments, the boards being held (this is where marks are confirmed) and the results being added to the Student Records system. It is not until the results have been added to the Student Records system that the information will transfer over to the timetabling system. As soon as it has been confirmed that a student has passed a unit, the 2nd Attempt Assessment exam will disappear from the portal for that student. Boards are still taking place right until the week before the 2nd AA period begins so students should rely on information given to them by their department - if they have been told they have passed a unit but still see a 2nd AA exam for that unit then it is likely that the processes on all of the systems have not yet finished.