If we were to point out only one scheduling/timetabling tool, it would certainly be the ability to mark specific periods as forbidden, unwanted or mandatory for school resources and let the automatic generator do the magic and create a timetable that solves all constraints. In the screenshot below teacher is not allowed to have lessons on Day 1, Day 3 and Day 5.

Old way of defining time request for teacher, marking day 1, 3 and 5 as forbidden

However, there are problems here. We have collected and analyzed data from our application log and were surprised to find out that the time request is not widely used. Here is what we have also found out.

Drawbacks of time request implementation

Many of our users and even some of our customers are simply not aware that defining time request exists. The Time request button is buried bellow Add, Edit, Remove and Copy grid buttons and users somehow seem to overlook it. Furthermore, here are some additional drawbacks:

  • Time request can only be defined in the individual timetable view and only for one resource at a time.
  • No undo/redo is available when marking periods.
  • To change period constraints one more click on the same position is needed and it sort of complicates the workflow.
  • To specify a time request, the timetabler has to leave the main master timetable view and go to modal pop-up window.
  • Time request doesn’t play nice with our unique instant validation.
  • Already scheduled cards are not displayed while defining time requests.
  • It’s hard to see defined time request below the card in the timetable view, e.g. timetabler has to pick and drag a card to see the defined time request below (if any).
  • Less productive, e.g. you can’t easily mark a period for all resources as forbidden.

Well, you get it. We felt like we could do a much better job here and hopefully introduce a new timetabling/scheduling tool that would be a pleasure to use and understandable to all.

A better approach using interactive markers

All these drawbacks have inspired us to think about better approaches that would resolve listed issues. We thought that we should add a new interactive timetabling tool (similar to pin and sponge) that will allow marking positions directly in the master timetable view, but also in the individual and extra views. First we came up with a chalk or pen in different colors, but we also needed the ability to remove marks and for that we could reuse the sponge. But the sponge is already used for removing cards and we didn’t want to mix it and create confusion.

We ended up using markers in different colors (red , yellow and blue ) and the eraser which is a white marker . We have put markers on the school board so it is always at hand. Once a marker is selected, all timetable cards fade out and marks are filled with color (red, yellow and blue) making them prominent.

Although markers are fun and intuitive there are still benefits in the old way of defining time request. For instance, you can easily copy marks to other resources or you can define allowed number of unwanted or missed mandatory lessons. To resolve this, we have added a marker settings when you mouse over the first column with the marker selected.

Benefits of using markers for setting time request

Here are some of the benefits of using markers:

  • It’s much more fun to use the new interactive game-like tool providing overall better user experience.
  • More productive, e.g. with just one click on the period you can mark it as forbidden for all resources in the current timetable view.
  • Better discoverability – it’s on the school board.
  • Easy learning curve, as it’s working similar to other timetabling tools, such as pin Pin/unpin and sponge Sponge timetable tool. No more multiple clicks.
  • No need to leave the master timetable view.
  • Unlimited undo/redo works as expected.
  • It works great with instant validation as you get instant feedback on any change you make using the marker.
  • You can easily see and verify marks below the cards, because cards are becoming more transparent once the marker is selected.
  • You can see already scheduled cards while using the marker.
  • You can use markers in any view: master, individual or extra views. You can even switch views while using the marker to mark resources in other views.

For more information about markers refer to using markers to set time request in our help or read follow-up blog post introducing a new scheduling tool – the marker.