We're finally hitting the home stretch on scheduling our students for next year. I have a so-called "Master Schedule" that I'm pretty happy with and I'm loading students into it to see just how well it works. If any of my favorite students get bumped out of the classes they want, I'll rework it.
Just kidding, of course, but it it something of a trial and error process. This trial and error process used to involve a giant board constructed by our former woodshop teacher with little tags representing teachers and classes. While we still use this board for reference and big picture (literally) visualization, our guidance counselors and administrators are amazed that our student information system software can build a remarkably fine master schedule without any long nights of moving little tags back and forth.
In fact, there was quite a bit of resistance to moving to a fully computerized scheduling model. For years, we did what was called "arena scheduling." We would use the big board to create a master schedule based on student requests (i.e., students signed up in advance for the classes they wanted to take and we allocated teachers and time accordingly). Then the students would enter the auditorium and collect cards for the classes they were actually going to take. When a given class ran out of cards, students could no longer take the class.
It actually wasn't a bad system and allowed students to solve scheduling problems on the spot. However, it took a lot of time and preparation and was highly disruptive to teaching schedules. However, student information systems have come a long ways, and now most schools allow the software to schedule students. Although the last student information system we used (which goes dark August 1!!!) did a terrible job of solving conflicts and generating useful schedules, the new software we're adopting this summer is actually pretty smart about it.
I've made a few runs through and, although it certainly can't replace an experienced guidance counselor or scheduler, it certainly gives us a great start. The role of guidance is now troubleshooting and recognizing potential problems unique to our school and student body rather than scheduling by hand.
It's certainly a shift and it has taken some convincing to get everyone on board. However, it appears that most people are coming to understand that their time is better spent guiding and administering and leaving computer algorithms up to the computer folks (and better yet, up to the computer).