Are you new to Room Optimization and want to understand the process a bit more? Or are you an optimization junkie that needs a refresher? This article will cover the cycle of optimization from import to export to make sure you know the steps you need to take to get room assignments for your sections back into your Student Information System (SIS).
Step 1: Import Sections from SIS into Astra Schedule
Importing sections from your SIS into Astra Schedule is something you’re most likely already doing. These sections need to be in Astra Schedule so you can look for different room assignments and schedule events around them.
- If an import runs after you have optimized but before you have published the optimized sections (e.g., optimize on Monday, import on Tuesday, and publish on Wednesday), you may receive an error when publishing if the sections’ day and time have changed. To prevent this from happening, remove the term from your current import or turn off the job schedule for the section import job. Make this change for both the batch and real-time imports.
- Only sections that have valid meeting patterns will be optimized. Sections such as online sections, independent studies, and internships that do not have meeting patterns will not be assigned a section.
- If some of your sections already have room assignments that you'd like to keep, you can choose to keep those in your optimization settings.
Step 2: Create/Review Scheduling Preferences
Scheduling preferences are a list of rules that you create to determine which rooms should be considered for a section during optimization. If you are a new client or simply new to the optimizer, you’ll need to build these before Step 3, otherwise, the sections will go into any room that is the right size. Existing clients using the optimizer can skip this step because you already have scheduling preferences built.
- You will create scheduling preferences based on data that is currently in Astra Schedule. Therefore, if you have a new course that will be offered in your upcoming term that has not been imported yet, the course will not be available for you to create a rule for. That’s why we have this step after importing sections. You’ll want to make note of any new courses being offered in the term so you can create rules for them.
- Have your rooms on campus changed a bit? Did the teaching requirements for some courses change? This is information that you should update during this time, whether it be in the room records themselves or within the scheduling preferences. For example, if MATH 101 went from needing a lecture classroom to a computer classroom, you’ll want to update this in your scheduling preferences set that you use during optimization.
Step 3: Optimize Sections
Running the optimizer will bulk assign rooms to your sections for the term you select. This is a great time saver and tool to use for optimal utilization of your rooms on campus.
- Whether you are running the optimizer once or layering twenty times, you’ll want to make sure you do this in a timely fashion. We do not recommend running the optimizer and then continuing the process three weeks later with the existing sandbox runs as the import will cause the section to change. Therefore, it’s best practice to set aside a specific chunk of time, depending on how large your institution is, to run the optimizer.
- When reviewing your results, you have the option to make changes within the sandbox or to make changes from the section list after publishing. Sections that do not have rooms assigned, either bottlenecks or infeasibles, will need to be resolved. They can often be resolved in the same way by either lowering the seat fill percentage or assigning them manually. Bottlenecks may cause a change in the SIS if there are too many sections offered at a certain time, and infeasibles may bring up a discussion of room capacity vs. course capacity.
Have your room list open in a different tab in your browser to check on room sizes when reviewing your infeasibles.
- When reviewing your results, we recommend using the optimization reports available in the Reporting tab. They are great for sharing results with departments!
Step 4: Publish Final Optimizer Run to Astra Schedule Section List
Publishing room assignments from your sandbox runs pushes the room assignments from the optimizer to the section list in Astra Schedule. Publishing does not push the room assignments into your SIS. That step is completed in Step 5: Exporting the Room Assignments To the SIS.
- If you are layering your optimization runs, you only need to publish the final sandbox run. When you run the optimizer from a previous sandbox, the new sandbox holds onto the original room assignments if you check the Keep Existing Room Assignments box. Therefore, when you publish the final run, you are publishing every sandbox that was in the layering sequence.
- If you need to update a room assignment for a section after optimizing and publishing, you do not need to run the optimizer again. Once you publish, you’ll make edits in the section list.
Step 5: Export Room Assignments from Astra Schedule into SIS
Exporting the room assignments from the section list is the final step in the process. This is done via the Import/Export Management page, just like importing sections. You’ll run a Batch section export for the term you optimized, which will push those room assignments from the section list into your SIS.
- If you plan to continue making room assignment changes in Astra Schedule after the initial 5 step process, it’s recommended to set up a real time export to push room assignment changes made for that term in real time back to the SIS.
- As students register and changes are made in the SIS, there are two reports that work well together that we suggest running. These reports can help you find underutilized rooms and overbooked rooms that will need to be addressed before students start class!
- Low Enrollment Sections by Subject for Selected Term
- Overbooked Sections for Selected Term
Congratulations, you completed the optimization cycle for a term! You can run this process over and over again per term to bulk assign rooms to each of your terms.
DoNotOverwriteAstraRoomAssignments System Settings
After you have published your optimized sections, you can turn on your imports so that day and time changes can flow freely from your SIS to Astra Schedule. However, in order to keep your room assignments that you made with the optimizer from being overwritten, we have a system setting called DoNotOverwriteAstraRoomAssignments that will keep room assignments (or blank room assignments) in the SIS from overwriting your Astra Schedule created room assignments until you export. By default, this system setting is set to TRUE, which we highly recommend.
So, let’s talk through an example.
- MATH 101 was assigned to Adams Hall 101 by the optimizer. The sandbox containing this assignment has been published to Astra Schedule production data, but that term has not yet been exported to the SIS.
- An import runs the next morning and MATH 101 does not have a room assignment in your SIS.
- If DoNotOverwriteAstraRoomAssignments is set to FALSE, the Adams Hall 101 room assignment will be removed, as the system thinks that no room assignment is correct.
- If DoNotOverwriteAstraRoomAssignments is set to TRUE, the room assignment will remain as Adams Hall 101.
- Export your room assignments. Once the export is complete, MATH 101 is assigned to Adams Hall 101 in both Astra Schedule and the SIS.
- Once an export for a term has run, a user can make a room assignment change in the SIS and have it import correctly, overwriting the Astra Schedule room assignment (Adams Hall 101 for MATH 101). The system setting DoNotOverwriteAstraRoomAssignments flags a section on the database with a room assignment that has not yet been published so it will not be overwritten. Once the room assignment is exported, the flag is removed, allowing an import to bring in a room assignment change. However, if a room assignment change is made in Astra Schedule again, the system setting will flag the section again until the export.
- You do not need to change the system setting in-between times when you run the sandbox term over term or afterward when manually assigning rooms. We recommend it is always set to TRUE. It’s there to help you as you make your changes and keep the room assignment integrity intact during the room scheduling process
Troubleshooting long run times
Optimization runs should take a few minutes to complete. If you notice that they are consistently taking longer than 5 minutes, there are a couple things to try:
- Delete any old terms that are no longer needed on the terms list page (Academics - Terms)
- Delete any old optimizer runs that are no longer needed
If you have further optimization questions or issues, please submit a support ticket and we can assist you.