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MIS Systems Thread, Nova T6 or Keith Johnson's Timetabler??? in Technical; I cannot really comment on T6 for the simple reason that I don't use it, but I can say that ...
  1. #16

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    Timetabler

    I cannot really comment on T6 for the simple reason that I don't use it, but I can say that Keith Johnson's TImetabler program has proved a real boon for us over the past 6 years. Its scheduling capabilities are excellent, and we generally use it to schedule our final timetable. We've used it since 2003 and it handled, effortlessly, our change to a two-week timetable in September. We still use Nova T4 because it has useful printout routines, but the "smart thinking" is entirely handled by Timetabler.

    Our MIS is iSAMS and there are useful import and export routines between this and Timetabler.

    Ian

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    Timetabler does what I want it to do

    I have been reading these posts with interest. I am the timetabler in an independent secondary school with a rather complicated curriculum plan. My principal requirement in a timetable package is that it does what I want it to do in the way that I want it done, and it lets me stay in control at all times. Keith Johnson's Timetabler does just that, and does it elegantly and intuitively. I really wouldn't use anything else.

    I was appointed timetabler three years ago at the time when my school was moving from Phoenix to SIMS.net. Naturally I considered T6, and took advantage of four days of training. However it was clear that T6 found our curriculum plan difficult to encode. Three different people told me that it must be possible to encode the plan (the Capita rep amongst them) but nobody could come up with a solution. Meanwhile Timetabler coped easily. I encoded all the data into Timetabler myself, and needed no training apart from reading the manual.

    I have now used Timetabler to produce three timetables. All were produced on time and the feedback from colleagues was positive and encouraging each time. The import into SIMS did run into a couple of problems in 2007 but the Timetabler helpline at the time was superb, and they improved the import file in 2008 and again in 2009.

    David Hayton
    King Henry VIII School, Coventry

  3. Thanks to DavidHayton from:

    Keith-Johnson (2nd May 2010)

  4. #18
    User3204's Avatar
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    Oh look, someone with a low post count asks a question of how good X vs Y products, and suddenly a bunch of people register to say how good product Y is...

    Hmm, what an amazing coincidence...

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    I was starting to think that, still, to be fair, he does like the product... TimeTabler Testimonials - Full versions

  6. Thanks to matt40k from:

    DavidHayton (30th October 2009)

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    Quote Originally Posted by matt40k View Post
    I was starting to think that, still, to be fair, he does like the product... TimeTabler Testimonials - Full versions
    Thanks Matt! I am a genuine timetabler in a genuine school (that's why I'm happy to give my school name), and I have no connection with Keith Johnson apart from the fact that I bought his software. As a timetabler I appreciate the way in which I am allowed to choose the tools that I need in order to do my job. Timetabling isn't an admin task, it is an intellectual activity that involves finding the best solution to a huge number of simultaneous equations. Once it is all solved, I can get the whole solution onto four sides of A3.
    I would still use Timetabler even if I then had to type this 4-page solution into T6 because Timetabler allows me to build the timetable in exactly the same way as I would do it manually on a pin-board. I make all the decisions. Timetabler merely prioritises the activities, helps me out when activities won't fit, and keeps me from making any mistakes. Colleagues do query the timetable (no solution can ever please everybody all of the time), but I have always been able to explain the reason why things were as they were.
    My impression of T6 is that more goes on behind the scenes. However, as I said in an earlier posting my experience of T6 is limited because when I wanted to use it, nobody could tell me how I could encode what was a fiendishly complicated curriculum plan into T6. The plan is now simpler but I still go nowhere near T6 because Timetabler uses the same import wizard into SIMS.net, so it would be a pointless activity typing everything into T6.

    David Hayton
    King Henry VIII School, Coventry

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    Sivadam's Avatar
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    Wow! I go away to Italy for a week and look what happens:-
    1) I get a challenge! If I had the time then I really would like to accept that - maybe in 3 years when I may well be ready for the timetabling rest home.
    2) People saying that Timetabler does what NT6 cannot do! I would like to see some of that!
    3) Somebody still wants to build a timetable like they used to do with pen and paper! Thank goodness Nova appeared many years ago (in DOS when I first used it!) - I spent enough years using paper and pencil before that!

    To paraphrase somebody or other ..............
    ...................... 'I do not believe it!'

    As a Timetable with over a quarter of century experience (actually it is now probably closer to a third of a century) I have no time for anything not connected to Nova. What can any other system have that NT6 does not have? And as for not being able to model a structure in NT6 - then I would suggest that the model is just not possible else NT6 would cope with it. Yes - you will get that in Timetable planning - you have to adapt and/or compromise if too many constraints cause unsolvable clashes. I simple do not believe that NT6 will not handle it! If it is possible then it can be done in NT6! Yes that is a challenge isn't it?

    And those that say Timetabler is easier to use maybe do not quite understand some of the complexities that NT6 uses, which would explain the lack of understanding. Yes it can be difficult, especially for novices, but that is the nature of the Timetable process and NT6 is built to handle extremely complex structures. And the choice is yours as to how much you plan and build yourself and how much you ask NT6 to schedule for you.

    David - I think you really should look into NT6 a little more deeply. Four sides of A3 sounds a little too large for my liking!!!! Then again - I prefer as few A4 Sheets as possible. I suppose it depends on what you term 'the whole solution'.

    I won't repeat these comments in the other thread. I reckon I have said enough!

    Topic closed for me now!
    Last edited by Sivadam; 30th October 2009 at 10:33 PM.

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    Main reason why Nova isn't .net, it's sooo complex. Poor Capita person who has to do that!! I do wonder if they have already tried and failed.

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    NT6 complicated?
    Of course it is - it is there to produce Timetables as efficiently as possible and, by there very nature, that is exctly what Timetables are!
    Nova DOS seemed complicated at the time.
    Nova Windows (eventually NT4) seemed very complicated after DOS - but it had no idea of concepts such as Facilities, Date-Stamping, etc which are now just normal features within NT6. One wonders how we coped before!

  11. #24

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    Wow - even George Michael can use it:




    Well - you've gotta have Faith.

    GJE

  12. Thanks to garethedmondson from:

    MattMitchell (31st October 2009)

  13. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sivadam View Post
    Wow! I go away to Italy for a week and look what happens:-
    1) I get a challenge! If I had the time then I really would like to accept that - maybe in 3 years when I may well be ready for the timetabling rest home.
    2) People saying that Timetabler does what NT6 cannot do! I would like to see some of that!
    3) Somebody still wants to build a timetable like they used to do with pen and paper! Thank goodness Nova appeared many years ago (in DOS when I first used it!) - I spent enough years using paper and pencil before that!
    Thank you for your reply, Sivadam. You are now the fourth Nova devotee to tell me that it must have been possible to encode the curriculum plan, but then left me to my own devices. The first was the Capita trainer. There was also a Nova user in another school who sent it to his LEA Capita-SIMS support line (who never replied). The problem is now hypothetical as it occurred in a Year 11 scheme that my predecessor had implemented for Year 10 the previous year. I have since simplified the KS4 plan so this would no longer prevent me from using Nova.

    However, since Timetabler solved the problem easily I stuck with it and I have got used to its functions. There are things that I can do in Timetabler (such as the a-la-carte arrangements for sixth form maths and double maths lessons that the head of maths requests. e.g, the two lessons taught by ABC must be at the same time as any two of the four lessons taught by DEF, whilst at least two of the three lessons taught by GHI and JKL must be at different times ... it goes on! It all tailors the maths provision to the students and enables individuals to study units relevant to their interests.) Timetabler allows me to create and use "dummy" teachers to act as team-teachers, in order to maintain maximum flexibility. I presume that there is a similar mechanism in T6 but it would take me ages to become proficient.

    There is one big advantage to using pencil and paper - when a colleague presents an "observation" or "comment" on the finished product. Having used pencil and paper, you could explain exactly why the situation has arisen, what your thinking was, what the alternatives were and why you had to do what you had to do. Timetabler enables me to do just that whilst sweeping away the disadvantages that are so obvious with paper based methods. My predecessor used another package and he would generally resort to comments such as "that is what the computer came up with". No doubt it is possible to follow the reasoning and steps taken by T6, but it wasn't obvious to me.

    I'm not sure that we will convince each other that "my Vic-20" is better than your "ZX80" but I do enjoy the debate. What has alarmed me on this board, however, is the perception that anything other than T6 should be "disallowed" or "not supported". Timetabler is a Capita partner and their product is equivalent to T6. It dumps the entire timetable into SIMS.net and from there the timetable can be accessed across the school just like a timetable from T6. As a timetabler, I want to choose the tools that I use in my work, just like as a Head of Department I choose the textbooks and equipment used in my department.

    By the way my full solution is what I consider the minimum information needed to recreate the entire timetable with no further calculation or appendices. It is a big table with 40 periods along the top and 91 teachers down the side. In each of the 3640 boxes I print the teaching group, subject and room. In 8-point font, this fits on four landscape A3 sheets. It can reduce onto A4 but in middle age I find my arms are getting shorter than they used to be.

    Anyhow teaching is beckoning on Monday. I obviously have too much time to post messages as long as this.

    David Hayton
    King Henry VIII School, Coventry

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    Sounds like pretty standard stuff to me David. Just normal procedures that you would expect any Timetable package to have. What you can't do of course is submit the dummy staff etc. to SIMS without corrupting P7, by creating dummy staff there too. But, if you really did want to do that (and obviously have to exclude them from SWC), then Nova would obviously do this too. Tell me - how does Timetable cope with date-stamping of Maintenance Datasets so that SIMS can hold different versions of the timetable for different points in the year? Or doesn't it? And how does it cope with the concept of 'facilities'? You don't have to answer these questions as I won't be continuing with this thread. I have said enough already!

    As for leaving you in the lurch - we are all busy as timetablers and with whatever other roles we also have and, in any case, I have not even seen the model you wished to reproduce! I must apologise for one thing though - I do use pencil and paper as well, but obviously in conjunction with paper produced via Nova. When I am building the timetable I produce many, many Selection Printouts which I edit in pencil to ensure that all Groups/Staff/Rooms have an optimum fit. We all know that those last few groups will often not fit according to the wishes of HODs etc. and giving them copies of these draft timetables helps in discussion in resolving the issues.

    My print-outs from Nova have 35 Periods and 86 Classroom Staff. This all fits into just 2.5 pages of A4. I have some different fonts and font sizes (with a minimum of 8 Point) for each of the Classes, Staff and Rooms in each cell. I also have different colours defined for each of these categories, just in case I want to produce a colour copy!

    I can think of no reason whatsoever to consider using any other timetable program than the best - which is, of course, Nova.

    End of topic for me now! We will all always have out own opinions and people who know me will appreciate how strong-willed I am anyway!

    And before you ask - No! I don't not have any tie up with Capita other than using their, quite superb, software.

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    RKW
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    In support of Timetabler

    I am a reasonably experienced timetabler at a school operating the full range of Sims applications including Staff Cover, Lesson Monitor (linked to the school timetable), printing of individual pupil timetables etc.

    However, I use Timetabler to construct the school timetable - as I have done over the past 13 years -and then transfer the completed schedule through to Sims.net where it takes on all of the functionality of a comparable transfer a timetable from Nova T. This Summer I was able to fully utilise the electronic transfer facility within Timetabler to seamlessly export to Sims.net.

    My reply to this thread is not intended with like comparison between Timetabler and NovaT as I have not used NovaT to construct a school timetable. The fact is that I am able to use Timetabler to do everything that I need in timetabling and still provide all that is necessary for the school to run its Sims applications.

    The support provided by Chris and Keith Johnson is second to none - they are available throughout the timetabling season to advise on timetabling issues right through to the final transfer to the school's MIS system. The most impressive feature to support the first-rate ,intuitive Timetabler software is the commitment and imagination of the software team to respond to the wish-list of school timetablers and to continuously evolve and develop Timetabler to provide new features.

    This level of support and expertise provides me with welcome reassurance and much-needed flexibility when tackling my next school timetable.

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    Hi Sivadam,
    I'm sorry, I know you have had enough of our little debate but I did want to pick up on one or two comments that you brought up in your last post.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sivadam View Post
    ... Tell me - how does Timetable cope with date-stamping of Maintenance Datasets so that SIMS can hold different versions of the timetable for different points in the year? Or doesn't it? And how does it cope with the concept of 'facilities'?
    I've not had a problem with timetable changes during the year. I indicate the start and end dates of a timetable during the import into SIMS. So putting two or more timetables in for different portions of the year isn't a problem. But, to be honest, we have few changes during the year and I have not found it a problem to edit staff and rooms within SIMS.net. I will however, ask Keith Johnson to take a look at what Nova can do is this respect. Timetabler is improved every year in response to users' feedback.

    Timetabler doesn't have a problem with what you call "facilities"; it calls them "special resources". Different name - same thing as far as I can see. But can't every timetabling package do this sort of thing by using dummy teachers? For example the Music Room can be encoded as (ficticious) teacher ZMU who "team-teaches" with real teachers.

    What I suspect is happenning is that you and I are coming to timetabling from different perspectives. Judging by your use of jargon, you are coming from an admin/IT side (apologies if I have misjudged this) and to you dummy teachers could risk upsetting the data base if they ended up in SIMS.net. I come into timetabling as a teacher and for me the experience of teachers and children is paramount. That said, even if I use dummy teachers, Timetabler whips them out at the export-import stage so SIMS doesn't get upset with me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sivadam View Post
    ... As for leaving you in the lurch - we are all busy as timetablers and with whatever other roles we also have and, in any case, I have not even seen the model you wished to reproduce!
    This is one of the reasons that I use Timetabler. Their helpline is superb and they have never left me in the lurch (unlike the Capita trainer whose job it was to help me.)

    Quote Originally Posted by Sivadam View Post
    ... When I am building the timetable I produce many, many Selection Printouts which I edit in pencil to ensure that all Groups/Staff/Rooms have an optimum fit. We all know that those last few groups will often not fit according to the wishes of HODs etc. and giving them copies of these draft timetables helps in discussion in resolving the issues.
    I think that there is a key difference here between Timetabler and Nova. Timetabler's priority list (means that the difficult pieces are always brought to the top of the pile) and fit algorithm (moving already-fitted lessons around in order to fit subsequent lessons) mean that - for me - the last few groups do fit according to the wishes of HoDs. I am often working at the level of ensuring the best possible pattern and spread of lessons throughout the week (e.g, trying to avoid 2 lessons on adjacent days when the allocation was 2ppw). I must admit though to doing a significant amount of pre-planning with combing charts and conflict matrices (timetabler does all this) before I start scheduling. Even Timetabler would fail me if I tried to get it to do the equivalent of making two parallel lines meet.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sivadam View Post
    ... I can think of no reason whatsoever to consider using any other timetable program than the best - which is, of course, Nova. End of topic for me now! We will all always have out own opinions and people who know me will appreciate how strong-willed I am anyway!
    I can't see us coming to an agreement on this point, but I do think every school should look at a range of packages (including Nova and timetabler) before deciding which is better for their school - whereas at the moment there seem to be too many people who just assume Nova is best, without ever looking at what else is available. I think that they owe it to the teachers and children in their school to find the best software, and you can' do that by only looking at one program (Nova) and then declaring that 'the winner'! That said, I do agree with you that we have probably spent enough time cluttering up this board. If you want to take our debate any further, maybe better if I bought you a beer sometime and we talked properly.

    Best wishes,
    David

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    Sivadam's Avatar
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    Just to clarify one point for you David:-
    I was in Teaching for a Total of 29 years and have been doing 'Admin/IT', as you put it, for a further 12 Years.
    My Timetabling experience dates back just under 30 Years!
    So please don't place inappropriate labels on me! I think that my record and the reputation that I have on SupportNet speak for themselves!

    But, as I intimated in my 'Final Post' on this topic - I have finished discussing the original post.

    As for the beer - I may see you at a SIMS meeting sometime, be it a UAT Session, a Software Consultation Group meeting, a Field Trial meeting etc. etc. I regularly contribute to these! I can't remember if your school is listed as one of the SIMS Partnership Schools but, if it is, then I could well meet you at the Partnership Schools Conference next week ....
    Last edited by Sivadam; 2nd November 2009 at 10:36 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sivadam View Post
    Just to clarify one point for you David:-
    I was in Teaching for a Total of 29 years and have been doing 'Admin', as you put it, for a further 12 Years.
    My Timetabling experience dates back just under 30 Years!
    So please don't place inappropriate labels on me!

    But, as I intimated in my 'Final Post' on this topic - I have finished discussing the original post.
    Sivadam,
    I am sorry to have upset you. All I had to go on was your very impressive grasp of the relevant jargon. I worried at the time that I was making a misjudgment - hence my qualified apology in the previous posting.
    David

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