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MIS Systems Thread, TimeTabler and SIMS in Technical; Is anyone out there using Keith Johnson's 'TimeTabler', instead of Nova-T, with SIMS.net? If so, what's the verdict? How does ...
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    Top_Cat's Avatar
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    TimeTabler and SIMS

    Is anyone out there using Keith Johnson's 'TimeTabler', instead of Nova-T, with SIMS.net? If so, what's the verdict? How does the upload to SIMS.net compare for example?

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    I've never actually used TimeTabler myself but have supported quite a few schools who do in transferring their timetable which was created in TimeTabler into SIMS.net. It uses the same curriculum matching wizard as Nova T6 so the export of the timetable into SIMS.net looks virtually the same, I've never had any problems with it and niether have the schools who use it.

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    Keith-Johnson (26th April 2010), Top_Cat (26th April 2010)

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    TimeTabler exporting to SIMS .net

    There's more on this topic in the following 2 threads:

    - Nova T6 or Keith Johnson's Timetabler???

    - SIMS.Net & Timetable planning
    Last edited by Keith-Johnson; 26th April 2010 at 09:16 PM.

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    OK Keith. You wrote this package which our new timetabler is quite keen on switching to. He doesn't like the look of Nova-T and doesn't think we should spend a shedload on a four-day training course when he can teach himself Timetabler in an hour or two online (I have to say I find this a totally unbelievable claim but then I'm not a timetabler!)

    Now, I don't care if the timetable is drafted on the back of a beer-mat and shoved into our network via a floppy-disk drive (if you can find one!) However, I carry the can for everything that happens from the Timetable-SIMS interface onwards. It has been working perfectly with Nova for the last two-and-a-half years since I've been here and I don't want to see the slightest difference with things such as curriculum assignments, room and staff management, assessment management or profiling. In short, the timetable has to upload into SIMS perfectly and must behave exactly the same as it used to!

    Can I expect this?

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    I don't think I can add much more than has been said by Sarconia above, and by others in the comments shown in the links listed above.

    We [October Resolutions Ltd] are an official Capita-SIMS Partner; TimeTabler has an official export-import link to SIMS .net, and it uses exactly the same curriculum matching wizard as Nova T6 to transfer the completed timetable into SIMS .net.

    For the Export stage of the process [within TimeTabler] we provide full step-by-step documentation for the timetabler [and yourself if you are sitting alongside during this stage].

    For the Import stage, because it uses exactly the same wizard as Nova T6, the screens will be familar to you.

    I hope that helps.

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    I'm still a bit confused by this 'export' and 'import' wizard stuff. Nova-T6 has a routine called 'Export Curriculum and Timetable to SQL' which is a one-stop shop. A single wizard does the whole thing: it exports the timetable from Nova-T6 and imports it into SIMS in one neat process.

    It sounds like Timetabler only exports the timetable (to where?) How does it then get imported into SIMS (from where?)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Top_Cat View Post
    He doesn't like the look of Nova-T and doesn't think we should spend a shedload on a four-day training course when he can teach himself Timetabler in an hour or two online.
    I think you might be slightly exaggerating what I said! Having spent several hours reading books on the general approach to timetabling including the Timetabler's Cookbook; and being a through and through mathematician I found the process in Timetabler more transparent and appeared more logical to me (very much my personal opinion). When I said I could teach it to myself how to use the software I had in mind a figure a bit larger than 2hours!!

    Quote Originally Posted by Top_Cat View Post
    Now, I don't care if the timetable is drafted on the back of a beer-mat and shoved into our network via a floppy-disk drive (if you can find one!)
    If I can find a large enough beer mat, I'd be quite up for this approach... Maybe someone should work on a import routine for SIMS!!

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    Top_Cat : you query my use of the terms 'Export and 'Import'. It simply refers to the two halves of the process, part of which takes place in TimeTabler (exporting) and part of which takes place in SIMS .net (importing). That's all.

    About learning to use the software : we provide a range of learning & support materials for TimeTabler, including:
    --A library of HelpMovies (video tutorials),
    --interactive HelpScreens, via Help buttons on the screens,
    --a fully-illustrated printed Manual, with dozens of Worked Examples,
    --a QuickStart Guide,
    --a KnowledgeBase of articles in the 24/7 Support Centre,
    --a HelpLine provided by experienced timetablers,
    and
    --(on timetabling principles) 'The Timetabler's CookBook'.

    These allow Timetablers to learn at their own pace, without needing to leave school to attend an expensive 4-day course.
    How long it takes will vary from timetabler to timetabler, ...but certainly no-one else offers such in-depth and expert support.


    .
    Last edited by Keith-Johnson; 29th April 2010 at 11:24 PM.

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    keith

    I'm sorry, but I don't know what you mean by 'the two halves of the process'. I can find nothing in SIMS.net which allows me to import a timetable. Both export and import is combined in a single process within Nova-T, there is no separate timetable import process in SIMS.net. Are you suggesting that the timetable is exported from Timetabler into Nova-T and then into SIMS.net?

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    I think you might be slightly exaggerating what I said!
    Sorry, Andy - no offence intended! You pointed out that the training can be done online - Keith Johnson's website clearly indicates that this takes between one-and-a-quarter and one-and-a-half hours - it is this claim I find unbelievable.

    If you've been following the thread, I'm sure you'll agree that I'm being given the run-around here. It's emminently possible that there's a timetable import route in SIMS which I haven't found yet, but I've been looking really hard, time may be running out and I'm getting the jitters because nobody is answering my specific questions. All I'm getting is sales-talk from Keith Johnson and some second-hand opinions from Sarconia.

    I spoke to someone yesterday, at a SIMS software consultation group, who had used Timetabler with SIMS - he liked Timetabler very much, echoing many of the positive comments I've read elsewhere. He didn't describe the exact process for getting the timetable into SIMS but did warn me it wasn't easy and would need some intervention and tweaking once it was in SIMS to make it work. This doesn't ease my anxiety!

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    Top_Cat : Please read what is being written rather than jumping to conclusions.

    Taking your points in order:

    1. You say "I don't know what you mean by 'the two halves of the process". Conceptually there are two halves (see above) ...'Exporting' from TimeTabler and 'Importing' into SIMS .net.
    Reason :
    (a) In TimeTabler you naturally have to choose which timetable to export [of the several experiments that you might have done], and you need to add the dates for which the timetable is valid, etc, etc. You can also choose the format/style of the TeachingGroup Names [eg. 7A/Ma1, etc]. This 'export' step takes place in TimeTabler, after the timetabler has completed the timetable, usually after colleagues have commented on it. After it has been approved and accepted, the timetabler decides when to click on the Export button.
    (b) At the end of that part of the process, TimeTabler fires up the usual SIMS Import Wizard [it's called currmatch.exe by Capita] and the import starts. You will recognise this part, with the usual SIMS matching screen if there has been a previous import, etc.

    2. You say "Keith Johnson's website clearly indicates that this takes between one-and-a-quarter and one-and-a-half hours - it is this claim I find unbelievable." Please read the web-site carefully ...it is referring to the free Tutorial (demo) version of TimeTabler which shows you the main features. Naturally this Tutorial version doesn't show you in detail how to schedule your complicated Sixth Form Option Blocks etc ...these are explained in the separate HelpMovies (video tutorials) as and when and if you need them.

    3. You say "It's emminently possible that there's a timetable import route in SIMS which I haven't found yet, but I've been looking really hard,". The timetable import is the one used by Nova-T6 ...it is called currmatch.exe ...it is run automatically by T6 and by TimeTabler when it is needed.

    I hope things are clearer now.



    .
    Last edited by Keith-Johnson; 30th April 2010 at 12:04 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Top_Cat View Post
    ... which our new timetabler is quite keen on switching to. He doesn't like the look of Nova-T ...
    One wonders why this 'new' timetabler doesn't like the look of Nova-T.
    Is it because it looks complicated or what?
    Timetabling in itself is complicated art anyway............
    I know that Timetabler has a good repututation - but then so does Nova. And as a Nova User for over a quarter of a century I can guarantee that it is a brilliant solution and, after all, is packaged as part of the SIMS Curriculum suite anyway. Why on earth would (s)he want to look elsewhere when you already have the ideal solution? I would at least suggest the new timetabler looks at a school using NT6, if (s)he has not already done so!
    Last edited by Sivadam; 30th April 2010 at 01:49 PM.

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    Many thanks to Keith Johnson for clarifying that the SIMS.net wizard is called from within Timetabler. That's what I hoped to hear.

    Thanks also to Silvadam for your comments. I will leave it to Andykemp, our timetabler, who is following this thread, to detail - if he wishes - his concerns about Nova-T. These appear to me to be perfectly valid, but then, I'm not a timetabler so I have to rely on the advice from colleagues such as Andy who know more about the subject. I'm only concerned about the Timetabler to SIMS interface, if we choose to switch products. This exchange of views and comments has - at last - gone a long way towards re-assuring me.

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    Just to pitch in we're very proud of NOVA but Timetabler is a worthy competitor. Timetabler uses the same links as NOVA so this should not be a problem. If you don't know NOVA you might find it cheaper to buy Timetabler than do the training. Obviously we will try to make NOVA the best

  18. 4 Thanks to PhilNeal:

    andykemp (2nd May 2010), Keith-Johnson (2nd May 2010), NickBryson (5th May 2010), vikpaw (2nd May 2010)

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    Just to explain to Sivadam why I am considering an alternative package to NovaT. As I am coming in fresh to timetabling, I have no experience with any particular package and whatever I do I will need to learn something. I am well aware of the complex (dark-art) that is timetabling and have already read several books on the theory of timetabling including Keith's book the Timetabler's Cookbook which I found very useful (and would encourage anyone new to timetabling to read as it gives an excellent overview of the theory from a mostly platform agnostic point of view).

    So at this stage I have to choose between NovaT which we already have (but hasn't been hugely successful these last few years since we added IB alongside A-levels making the process more complex). I am not saying that is the fault of NovaT, it may well be that we just don't know how to use it to its best. However as the basic introductory course for NovaT would cost us over £1K (including VAT and travel), it seemed prudent to see if there were alternatives out there that might do the job for us...

    My concern with NovaT, is having had a tour of the software from the current timetabler and having read 'Making the most of SIMS.net - Timetabling for School Effectiveness'; and skimmed a few hundred pages of the manual I'm still finding it hard to see how it all fits together, and what it all does. That's not to say that it isn't a very powerful solution merely that I find it's approach more difficult to comprehend.

    I think part of it is being a Mathematician (and Head of Maths) I quite enjoy the puzzle of doing the timetable manually, which is how I do the departmental allocations which are very complex. I'm certainly not saying I would want to do the whole timetable with a peg-board; but I like following the logic of the decisions and I found it hard to see why NovaT made some of the decisions it made - which in turn would make it difficult for me to explain to staff why I made those compromises rather than other ones... (Again I am happy to say that this might be because I don't know NovaT well enough)

    Whereas when I worked through the demo version of Timetabler, I found the process very clear, logical and intuitive. It felt much more to me like an automated version of a manual approach - all be it with a lot more sophistication than that - but this meant that I felt more in control of the situation, and felt like I was making the decisions not the software. Having spoken to several other timetablers, at other independent schools they have also found Timetabler to be an excellent solution for their needs. And all of them highly rate the support that Keith provides; which I find highly appealing as being an independent school we don't have any support from the LEA, and Capita support can be quite costly.

    Our timetable structure isn't ridiculously complicated; but like any school it has it's complications and knowing there is someone I can phone/email to ask advice from is an important safety-net when you are new to the process.

    Given that the cost of Timetabler is less than the cost of just the basic NovaT course, it seemed like it would be silly for us to not at least consider it as an alternative solution.

    Sivadam - If you think I have misjudged the situation, and can advise why I should rethink NovaT, I would be happy to hear it...

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