Classroom Task Force (2010)

While classroom resources have always been critical to the university’s academic mission, the V2C’s increase in enrollment mandates the effective use and utilization of classroom space. For these and other reasons, the Provost established an advisory Classroom Task Force that met for two years, completing its charge in Spring 2010.

The Task Force was charged with evaluating classroom use and quality, and making formal recommendations to the Provost on such matters as:

  • Prioritizing classroom improvement projects and allocating budget resources
  • Recommending policy on classroom scheduling matters
  • Investigating methods for distributing classroom usage throughout the day/week

The Task Force met monthly during the academic year, for a period of two years.

The faculty, student, and staff members appointed to serve on the Task Force, and their areas of representation, were:

  • Carol Quillen, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs (Provost's Office and School of Humanities)
  • Bart Sinclair, Associate Dean (Brown School of Engineering)
  • Yousif Shamoo, Director of Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering (Wiess School of Natural Sciences)
  • Ric Stoll, Political Science Professor (School of Social Sciences)
  • Varun Rajan, student representative
  • Pat Dwyer, Sr. Project Manager (Facilities, Engineering, and Planning)
  • Hannes Hofer, Facilities Project Manager (Facilities, Engineering, and Planning)
  • Gary Kidney, Director of Academic and Research Computing (Information Technology)
  • David Tenney, Registrar (Office of the Registrar)
  • Chris Higgins, Classroom and Scheduling Manager (Office of the Registrar)

The Task Force fulfilled its charter to enable Rice University to address critical classroom issues. However, most of these issues concern a matter much larger than optimum use and utilization of classrooms. The bigger issue is that of course scheduling and its effect on a student's ability to progress toward degree completion in a logical and timely manner. The Classroom Task Force recommended that the Provost endorse the following items not only to improve classroom use but to increase student success and retention:

Use of Standard Time Blocks

Departments should strive to maximize the number of courses convening in Standard Time Blocks. A course with an “irregular” meeting pattern overlaps many other courses, which reduces the number of course options for students and makes it difficult to provide a classroom.

Establishment of "Anchor Courses"

A rational approach to space allocation calls first for assignment of space for very large courses, followed by assignment of space for all other courses. Most of the largest courses Rice offers are "service" courses in CHEM, MATH, PHYS, BIOS, and STAT. These service courses should be “anchored” with unchanged day/time meeting patterns. Fixing the schedules of these anchor courses provides a stable base around which the schedule for all other Rice courses can be built.

Establishment of a " Rule" for Maximum Number of Courses Offered During Prime Time

Departments should be required to improve the distribution of their courses throughout all time periods in the day, to improve the number of options available to students and to prevent the exhausting of the classroom supply during the prime time periods. Prime Time is 10:00-11:50am and 1:00-1:50pm on Mon/Wed/Fri; and 9:25am-12:05pm and 1:00-2:15pm on Tue/Thu.

Development of a Web Application for Departmental Submission of Course Catalog Offerings

Rice should develop and implement a web-based application to be used in the submission of departments’ course offering sets each semester. This web application will do the following:

  • reduce the possibility of errors (for example, by using drop-down boxes for data selection)
  • enforce data integrity rules
  • enforce time-distribution rules (such as the " Rule")
  • encourage the use of standard time blocks
  • save paper and time

Temporary Removal of Classrooms from Usable Inventory for Renovation

Rice should make it a priority to plan for several classrooms (perhaps a set percentage of the classroom inventory) to be unused each semester. This will enable classroom maintenance and renovation work to occur throughout the year instead of only during the summer. The establishment of department course distribution rules will help the Office of the Registrar take several classrooms “offline” each semester.