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Student-designed Schedule Planner aids MTSU priority registration

Through PipelineMT, an MTSU student utilizes Schedule Planner to map out her class availability and break times for the next semester. (MTSU photo)

Through PipelineMT, an MTSU student utilizes Schedule Planner to map out her class availability and break times for the next semester. (MTSU photo)

MTSU students wanted an online planning tool to assist with class scheduling. A trio of computer science majors not only conceived the idea, but they designed Schedule Planner for PipelineMT’s home page.

Registration begins Monday, April 7, for both summer terms and fall semester. For Schedule Planner, this marks its third major use since summer 2013 when it was unveiled during CUSTOMS orientation for new and transfer students.

Schedule Planner offers many features to help guide students in finding the schedule best suited for them. The planner lets users select upcoming terms, class times, days of the week, break times and lunch break; include course types, ranging from off-campus, Honors, distance learning, veterans and more; and review selections.

PipelineMT is found on the MTSU home page, http://mtsu.edu/, or visit http://scheduler.cs.mtsu.edu/sch/#/form.

The Schedule Planner site informs users it does not register them for classes. After finding a schedule, students should use PipelineMT to register for classes.

Graduate students Nathan Reale of Franklin, Tenn., and Anthony Mills of Murfreesboro and Alex Charles, a junior from Franklin, worked on the grant-driven project, which was sponsored by computer science professor Cen Li. Information Technology Department’s Lisa Rogers served as overall project leader.

“We all appreciate that the project is something that other people have taken an interest in and that it became something with worth,” Charles said. “The effort that everyone put toward it really made it work well and I’m glad I got to work alongside them.”

Reale, who will graduate in May and is a Windows systems administrator for the computer science department, said it was one of the best projects he has worked on as both an MTSU undergraduate and graduate student.

MTSU computer science professor Cen Li, second from right, is shown with junior Alex Charles, left, and graduate students Nathan Reale and Anthony Mills. They designed and built the Schedule Planner for PipelineMT. (Submitted photo)

MTSU computer science professor Cen Li, second from right, is shown with junior Alex Charles, left, and graduate students Nathan Reale and Anthony Mills. They designed and built the Schedule Planner for PipelineMT. (Submitted photo)

Reale said it marked the first time he had designed a significant application from the ground up.

“Most of the projects we do in class are much smaller, and we are given strict guidelines,” he said. “For this project, we had a lot of freedom and were able to experiment with different technologies. We made a lot of mistakes and had to spend extra time fixing them, but it was an amazing learning experience. And in the end, we created something that people actually use.”

Charles worked on the functionality and presentation of the web page, “helping to make sure that getting the user’s input and showing the results all worked well together.”

A computer science major and math minor, Charles said the scheduler saw thousands of uses during registration (for spring 2014), with more than 1,500 unique users Nov. 3-Nov. 12.

From a programming standpoint, Reale took the technical lead in that he had the most experience, designed most of the project architecture and built the foundation. By summer 2013, the trio collaborated and completely rewrote the entire project.

Mills said such teamwork was key.

“We worked individually on various components of the project, and consulted with each other when we knew our tasks would interfere with one another, but none of us ever really felt the need to assert leadership over the group, as we all were motivated enough to complete the project to the best of our abilities,” said Mills, who will graduate in May and is a computer science graduate teaching assistant.

All agreed it was an extremely successful project and communication amongst themselves and between them, information technology and the scheduling office led to the positive result.

Schedule Planner banner72“Without them, there would be a lot of ‘well, maybe it should be like this,’ and it would not have become a tool that students can really use,” Charles said. “We were also able to have students in CUSTOMS sessions try the scheduler during its development, so that feedback really helped us make it something that people would appreciate.”

Charles said the main issues they ran into were related “to getting our program to play nicely with the database containing all the information we needed to use to build the schedules, like classes and meeting times. Working directly with ITD helped to get these problems resolved and stopped them from being a progress-halting obstacle.”

Charles, a computer science student worker, thanks Li for the opportunity to work on the project.

“She has been the main reason I have work experience,” he said. “I am glad that I got to work with people with much more experience than myself because that exposure is very helpful and humbling.”

— Randy Weiler (Randy.Weiler@mtsu.edu)

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