Inside Rensselaer
Student Scheduler Software Created

Students at universities around the country are in the midst of a frenzy to register for courses to take next semester. For undergraduates, this process can include a puzzling array of lab sections, elaborate prerequisites, tight timeframes before a popular course is filled, and the strong desire not to get up for an 8 a.m. class every morning. Students and staff at Rensselaer have come together to develop an open source software called the Rensselaer Open Course Scheduler that will help students more easily plan their upcoming semester.

Because the software is also open source, the developers would like other universities to benefit from their programming and use the code that they have written for Rensselaer.

“The Institute really needed software that would help our students, particularly freshmen and sophomores who often have many course sections to choose from, better plan for the registration process,” said Registrar Sharon Kunkel. “We looked for commercial software to do this job, but none of them exactly fit our needs. The new scheduler is truly a collaboration that can quickly respond to student needs and provides frequent updates to the course catalog as courses open and close.”

The scheduler was developed by a collaborative mix of students, faculty, staff, and even alumni at Rensselaer. Students from the Rensselaer honor society Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE), as well as faculty and students involved in the Center for Open Source, worked with staff from the Division of the Chief Information Officer (DotCIO) and the Office of the Registrar to develop the application.

The new application replaces the “unofficial” Rensselaer scheduler that was developed by a Rensselaer alumnus and widely used for years by Rensselaer students.

“The previous scheduler wasn’t updated as quickly as students needed. By the time it was updated, a course may have already been closed,” said one of the main student developers and UPE member Evan Patton. “We wanted to see if we could work with the university to get something that responded more quickly to the needs of students.”

What the group created was a website application that pulls course timing directly from the Rensselaer course catalog. The information is updated every five minutes, providing up-to-date information to students looking to track how courses are filling up or see if new seats or classes have been added. Students select the courses, sections, and professors they would like for the upcoming semester and can then generate a color-coded schedule to see what a week in their next semester will look like — a virtual day planner. Students can also reserve blocks of time on the proposed schedule to show where they need to avoid scheduling course work for athletics practice, study time, or some well-deserved sleeping in.

Kunkel noted that academic counselors are already utilizing the application in advising sessions with students. “Our advisers have started to use the scheduler to help students who are having trouble with time management or major requirements during advising sessions,” Kunkel said. “They log on to the system and help the student better plan for a manageable next semester. Having the visual aid can really help some students.”

In the future, they are looking at ways for students to be able to export their schedules to their main online calendars. They are also looking into ways for students to import other schedules such as athletics practices and ways for students to share course timing with each other or with parents.

Because the software is also open source, the developers would like other universities to benefit from their programming and use the code that they have written for Rensselaer. The developers have already been approached by several other universities looking for similar scheduling software for their students.

“One of our duties as champions for Rensselaer is to promote the excellent work of our faculty, staff, and students, and spread the Rensselaer name. Projects such as this make it easy, serving not only our own campus but potentially the larger higher education community,” said Arlen Johnson, senior web producer in DotCIO. “From the beginning, the team has been easy to work with and receptive to input; I’d like to see more projects of this kind.”

Students can access the system with their Rensselaer log in information at http://coursescheduler.rpi.edu.

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Inside Rensselaer, Strategic Communications and External Relations
1000 Troy Building, 110 Eighth Street, Troy, N.Y. 12180 or to leibat@rpi.edu.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 5, Number 7, April 15, 2011
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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