Way back in 2012 or 2013 the problem of wasted time with back and forth emails to schedule a meeting with students was solved for me by a fairly in-depth Google search. For several years I have been allowing students to book themselves directly into designated times in my calendar – that is right – no back and forth emails!!! (Insert party dance)

Students go to a link and pick the best time for them. If they need to reschedule they can do so easily. I literally do nothing but set up my link and show up. On the extremely rare occasion that they cannot find a good time, they email me and we work something out. However, I have saved countless hours of pointless work over the last several years by using this system (and included the tip in EdTech presentations).

JuralMin / Pixabay

Over the past couple of months, many faculty have been asking me about it. I have not been promoting it as much as I should because it isn’t as simple to set up as it should be. Here the story of two technologies I have used to solve this problem.

Spoiler alert: What should be simple is way more complicated than it needs to be.

PS: I really hope that someone reading this blog points out that I am missing some kind of simple solution.

Youcanbook.me

I started using this beautiful system to solve my problem at the beginning and enjoyed their service until this last August. As one of their long-time users, I sing their praises. The web-based system integrates seamlessly with my Google calendar. It really was a dream come true. The personalised booking page is easy to set up and even the free version has a lot of customizability. I love it. While I was tempted to use the paid version I never needed to.

The problem

The video above suggests that it works with outlook, but I could not get it to work with my work calendar system (Outlook). I tried back when I first signed up with YouCanBook.me and again in August 2018.

The YouCanBook.me error message

The YouCanBook.me error message

Both times I got a hard NO from our IT department. Both times I tried to work around it but could not because the system is web-based and our IT department has blocked it for security reasons. The only thing I could do was see my Google calendar beside my Outlook calendar but that does not prevent double booking and causes problems. Below is one of several explanations I got from them:

… the current setup is to not allow external services like “you can book me” to access our mail servers (where everyone’s calendars are stored). So unfortunately we cannot set that up.  … (removed a misinformed section).

 

In the mean time we did setup your Google Calendar however there is a small hiccup I found out about adding a Google calendar to outlook, it will occasionally cause an in progress email to hiccup and be unable to send. This happens if when you are writing an email your google calendar updates. The only work around is copy and pasting the text from that email into a new one.

 

Under the assumption we cant currently link to you outlook what else would you like to try and setup to make this easier.

Note: I have experienced the above error on my home installation of Outlook.

Solution #1

For a long time that didn’t matter – I just lived in my Google calendar and manually blocked off times for any work meetings I was invited to. It was extremely rare that I had to contact students because a last-minute staff meeting conflicted with a time they booked. Now that I basically live out of my Outlook calendar I can’t do that anymore. My Outlook gets booked a lot by faculty who use Outlook’s busy search to book me.

A workaround to solve that issue is to limit student meeting times to a set timeframe and only show those times in the booking link. That works if you block your work calendar off for those same times. However, for me, I like allowing a lot of flexibility in my booking times for students. Blocking off an arbitrary time for office hours ultimately means I can be less productive – that doesn’t work for me. If you like setting aside a specific block of time for students (and sitting there alone if no-one books) this option may work well for you. For me it was painfully annoying – I just wanted my calendars to sync.

I tried syncing YouCanBook.me to my Google Calendar then syncing Google to Outlook. I tried adding my work email as a Google account – nope. I tried adding my Gmail address as a manager of my calendar, but work blocked that too. I tried several things and nothing worked.

Although adding an Internet calendar to Outlook Calendar view is possible, it is not a feature we support due to the myriad of issues this may cause with our end user Outlook experience.

You can continue to use Outlook to view your Internet Calendar resources, but we cannot help you with any issues it may cause.

… Supporting access to resources outside of our corporate offerings through Outlook is not on our roadmap.

This screenshot shows how I felt - Abandoned.

This screenshot shows how I felt – Abandoned.

Calendly

When I moved into a faculty support role I needed both my work and student booking systems to mesh. A colleague of my who was witnessing my pain, frustration and several discussions with IT directed me to a similar system: Calendly.

Solution #2

Since September I have been using this booking system because I was able to find a workaround to the IT department’s security measures. Personally, I found the set up of Calendly less intuitive – My home IT support (husband) helped me get it working. The booking process in the free version is less customizable than YouCanBook.me but I am dealing with it. Again, I am tempted to pay for the advanced features. They were tricky and gave me the use of the full version just enough for me to get hooked on their features.

Again, syncing the calendar was not as easy as it sounds. The IT department is fine with my solution that I found on my own by digging online. I am currently running Outlook on my home computer (it is not allowed on the work computers). I have also installed their plugin “calendly for outlook,” which is constantly running. Beware – outlook will not sync properly unless the plugin is running (click here for more details). This solution works because I am not risking the security of the work system yet students can book themselves into my calendar. So far so good.

The Dream

As I tell our IT department every time I get the chance, one day a booking link like this will be standard for educators. We should be able to have links to send students (or anyone) to that they can use to book themselves into our calendars without needing to jump all the technical hurdles. These links should have customizable options, which allow us to set parameters for when we can be booked and for what. Having different meeting duration options for different appointment types is a nice feature. For me, I want to have different meeting types for in-person or virtual meetings as well (I could do that if I paid).

Yes, I am aware of the option to have students do a busy search within our system. I have tried giving them directions to do so, even made instructional videos and showed them the process – way back before I started using online booking links and again this September. Unfortunately, that does not work! As much as the institution’s IT department wants everyone on their system the reality is that students use the system they like. Their calendars are not synced with the institution’s and even if they figure out how to book using our system the process is cumbersome.

Booking a meeting with any faculty member should be simple, straightforward and fast. It is what is best for the student experience.

Microsoft if you are reading this please consider buying-out one of these systems to make booking links standard in your products. To me it should be something that is standard in 2018 when we are all talking about the possibilities of AI and EdTech why can’t we figure out something as simple as booking meetings with ease?

 


NurseKillam

Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit http://nursekillam.com/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

css.php