Squelching scheduling nightmares!

May 1, 2009

Kettering University Senior Michael Reinhold uses open source software to write a computer course scheduler program, which provides students a quick, efficient way to secure the class schedule they need for each term.

It’s unquestionable: Kettering students often dread the course sign-up period.

Some liken it to a shooting gallery of sorts. As soon as registration opens, students, armed with several pre-selected schedules, punch in their desired course schedules to Banner Web, wait for the program to spit out rejections of those schedules, and quickly do it again until a schedule they can live with meets acceptance.

Unfortunately, most students are dissatisfied with the process and material they must examine and input into the BannerWeb system before the system chugs out a final schedule. They must consult representative course schedules from degree departments, the CAPP evaluation, the undergraduate course catalog and the course offering list for the specific term.

And since these resources are not integrated into one single, computerized system to make examination efficient and easy, compiling several possible schedules is daunting and time consuming.

But there is a resource that should help resolve these issues. 

Michael Reinhold, a senior II Computer Engineering major from Rochester Hills, Mich., is the latest author of a computer program called the Kettering Course Scheduler that reduces problems experienced by students when registering for classes. This program works by helping students comprehensively create schedule combinations and then select the schedule that suits them best.

Students typically examine the representative schedules and undergraduate catalog of classes offered, and then input this information into the program. The program processes this information along with the current course offerings for that specific term, then “chugs” out possible class schedule combinations, from which the student makes a choice.

In a nutshell, the Scheduler, which interfaces with Kettering’s BannerWeb system, orders the possible course schedules of a student based on their preferences and finds options much more swiftly and more accurately than manually checking course start and end times.

Aside from the benefits of creating a paperless system that can provide onscreen information regarding potential class schedules, the Course Scheduler can also help other departments by verifying the available course plans for each semester, scheduling professors for the courses they will teach and for assisting students in finding all possible schedule options during the advising period.

“In the future, I would like to see the Scheduler bring all resource information—course schedules, CAPP evaluation information, course semester list and undergraduate catalog course descriptions—together,” Reinhold said.

The software is open-source, which means it’s free for students to use and they can also offer suggestions on how to make it better. Reinhold also wrote the program in Java, which means virtually any computer or operating system can run the program. Additionally, the program is hosted on SourceForge.net, the world’s largest open source software development site.

For the past several years, a number of students worked on this Scheduler. Additionally, since Reinhold is the current lead developer, friends Phil DeMonaco, Ryan Murphy and Alex Thompson (current Kettering students) also assisted in testing and debugging the Scheduler. Previously, another former student (Jeff Plotzke) developed a version of the Scheduler for students to use.

However, with the release of Windows Vista, students were unable to run this version efficiently. But to make the Scheduler more efficient and smoother in terms of operation, Reinhold wrote his own software. All Kettering students and departments can use the resources for scheduling in both undergraduate and graduate programs.

Dr. Jim Huggins, associate professor of Computer Science, is very pleased with Reinhold’s version.

“It’s a very well-written piece of software,” he said, adding that students in ORTN-101 view the software during their orientation class. “It’s becoming a must-have tool for navigating the Kettering world. It’s also a great example of students building a great piece of software to help other students and highlight the CE and CS programs as good community citizens, too,” Huggins concluded.

Dr. Jim McDonald, associate professor and interim head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, agrees with Huggins. “I can testify to the quality of the software and the professional way that Mike has worked on this effort. I was very excited when I first found out about this project. As a result, I recruited Mike for an independent study to add features that might be useful to me as a department head in scheduling courses,” he said.

Thus far, student users of the program report positive results, Reinhold said. Although he admits the software is not perfect, most users say it is of significant help and Reinhold has had a few offer suggestions to make the system more usable. Between August 2008 and March 2009, Reinhold estimates there have been 1,500 to 2,000 downloads of the Scheduler.

For more information about the Kettering Course Scheduler or to download the software, visit http://coursescheduler.sourceforge.net/.

Written by Gary J. Erwin