Microsoft Bookings: Parent-Teacher Conferences with social isolating… what to use?

Ramblings of an IT Guy in Education

Microsoft Bookings: Parent-Teacher Conferences with social isolating… what to use?

May 22, 2020 Education IT Microsoft Remote Learning 0

… plus a benefit for another department

While Central Coast Grammar School didn’t officially close, we did on the 23rd of March go to remote learning until this week. As of social distancing and remote learning, we ended up having to postpone our Parent-Teacher Conferences. Though our Head of Senior College wanted to have Parent-Teacher Conferences work at least for Year 12. So last Thursday we had a quick round table discussion, and then on Monday, we launched a solution… IT at warp speed.

During the round table with key stakeholders, we decided we would attempt to run this with Microsoft Booking since our A3 licences bundled Microsoft Bookings for us it seemed the perfect fit. And if you have read some of my other posts, I am always a fan of saving money.

Over the weekend I set all the Year 12 Teachers up in the system so that parents could Start booking from Monday… the biggest hurdle is that I couldn’t figure out how to organise a 2 day only booking period. Regardless we pushed on… and it was 90% success. We had a few issues… though you can see in this image that we had a large number of bookings for what was 2 sessions on Wednesday and Thursdays from 1:45 to 4:00 pm.

A series of screenshots showing the amount of bookings we got over 2 days.

Now here are some… I wouldn’t call them issues, but learning curves I found while using Microsoft Bookings.

1 – I mistakenly thought that 5 attendees for each booking meant that 5 people could attend each booked event. And since counting it as 1 teacher, 2 parents and a 1 student I thought 5 attendees sounded great. Allowing for 1 stuck user who could rejoin. The time we were running this, I was catering for they could all be at different places.

Well, it turns out that means 5 groups booked on the same session, suddenly teachers had 5 parents all set to talk to them at the same time. An honest mistake, a quick cancellation of those meetings fixed that with an apology to parents explaining there had been a double-booking and we needed them to book again.

Oops!

2 – I had unticked ‘availability based off Outlook calendar’ as I was given a bunch of availability for staff and manually set it. This then conflicted with staff who had set up some breaks in their calendar for them. Not really an issue, just something to remember next time

3 – If someone won’t stop talking… we had set out meetings to be 5 minutes with a 2 minutes buffer. So the meetings could be scheduled for every 7 minutes, which was great. However, in some instances, we noticed that people forgot that the time was up and with no indication that it had passed the 5 minutes it meant people were late for the next session. It would be great if Microsoft Bookings sessions had a countdown timer and even an alarm to remind customers their time is up.

4 – I need to figure out a power-shell/excel import of ‘staff’ to the system. I created the staff in the system manually. Into the Staff field, this meant it took me a few hours to set up the staff and create their individual hour’s settings. I will be looking at a way to automate this process… I meant to speak to those lovely people at Identity1 (see more about our success with Identity1 here) to see if they can do anything about automating it.

5 – I had a great Head of Senior College helping here. From the get-go, there was an opinion that ‘If this works great, if it doesn’t work, well great we tried.’ This took the pressure off getting something done in 5 days and wanting it to be 100% success.

I label it a success. We had around 50% uptake by parents, though we also sent out communications 2 days before it was due to start and some parents responded saying they couldn’t do it that quickly or during business hours. Though it has brought up the question… or do we need ‘Parent-Teacher Nights’ all the time, or can we have it more spread out maybe we have a parent-teacher week or month where it uses the staff members outlook calendar and times to determine a time that works for everyone?

In the end… all that a teacher needs is a laptop and a microphone.

Despite the horror of COVID-19… as I said in a previous post. It has caused a massive change in at least Australia schools about how we can use technology better for not just class teaching but all aspects of education.

And as we start to bring ‘normal’ back into our classrooms I hope that the technology advances we undertook are reviewed, and those with an ongoing benefit are kept around.

Microsoft Bookings… one success to another!

I had originally finished this post with the last paragraph, though discussion with our Enrolments office this week brought Microsoft Bookings back to the forefront. Their challenge, giving parents starting in 2021 away to book an appointment over a few days that they could then assign who would be speaking with which parent. This was again very easy.

We created a phantom staff member called ‘Enrolment meetings’, and allowed them to have 2 attendees per meeting. We did not give parents the ability to select who they were meeting with and launched the site.

This was really easy for us, because even though I hadn’t actually linked it to the real teachers/staff who would be in those interviews, it gave parents a way to book their preferred time from the available slots. Then once done we will take the TSV file that can be exported and manually assign them to Staff Member 1 or Staff Member 2.

Unlike the parent-teacher conferences, these ones are being conducted face to face with very strict health and safety checks in place. So no online booking was needed. We were worried how parents would go because we couldn’t figure out how to get Bookings to default to a certain month instead of just allowing them to the current month and search forward for the 3-day window. Within a few hours of the email being sent 70% of the slots were booked, and within a day only 2 slots remained.

The end benefit of Bookings here is almost no administration work for us to get the bookings organised. I have a feeling CCGS will continue using Microsoft Bookings!

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