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Google Calendar cancels appointment slots: implications for scheduling office hours

Google Calendar Here at ProfHacker we love us some online scheduling of office hours, with posts going back to 2009 on the topic. Over the years we have covered tools like Tungle, Acuity, Jiffle, Doodle, and perhaps the most-widely used, Google Calendar Appointments. But Friday, a little seemingly innocuous “winter cleaning” post came out from Google, with information on tools they are phasing out. When the post came through my RSS reader I dutifully checked in to see if any of my favorites were on the list, although usually they aren’t. But there was the big one:

On January 4, 2013, we’ll be shutting down several less popular Google Calendar features. You’ll be unable to create new reservable times on your Calendar through Appointment slots, but existing Appointment slots will continue working for one year.

I will admit, an audible gasp escaped my lips. I, and several other faculty I know, on my campus and elsewhere, depend upon Google Calendar Appointment slots, especially after the demise of Tungle. Yes, there are a few other options scattered around, but it is hard to find a scheduling option that (1) integrates easily with a currently used calendaring program, like Google Calendar and (2) lets you set ranges of time from which appointments can be chosen, instead of showing as available every slot for which you don’t have something currently scheduled (ahem, Doodle). So what’s a faculty member to do? Time is short: Google Calendar Appointments will stop taking new appointments on January 4. That’s really soon. Here are a few options.

1. Stop taking online appointments for office hours. Moving on…

2. Try something simpler. My Wheaton colleague Alan Jacobs sets up a basic Google Document with a table of open slots (in his choice of ten minute increments, but you could choose something else) for a two week period, and then shares the document with his students, who can sign themselves up for a slot.

3. Look for an alternative. As I mentioned above, Doodle has an option, called MeetMe, that allows you to set up a page that shows your availability, and from which others can request appointments. But despite my best efforts to convince a Doodle staffer over email about how important this is to faculty, you just simply cannot set limited availability: anything that is not currently booked in your Google Calendar shows up. But here are some alternatives. Google’s horrible timing of this announcement leaves me unable to test out the sites in real in-semester conditions, but perhaps this list will get you started. All of them have Google Calendar integration, dedicated sign up pages for students to choose office hours slots, cancellation links in emails sent to appointment requesters, and the ability to set specific hours of availability by day of the week.

  • Youcanbook.me:  For $10/month, you can add on some additional useful features such as the ability to create reports or to send reminder emails/texts. But I imagine that most ProfHacker readers will get by just fine with the basics. And if you have a Tungle account, you can get six months of premium use of Youcanbook.me for free. Potential downsides are the look of the sign-up page (if you’re obsessed with aesthetics, as I am) and lack of clear information on setting up one-time ranges of availability, which I find useful during a crunch time when students need to meet with me more than usual. (HT to my Wheaton colleague Tiffany Kriner for introducing me to this one.)
  • ScheduleOnce.com: ScheduleOnce.com has a wide range of pricing options, and it’s unfortunate that I cannot figure out how to try the most basic level from the beginning (you start out at the Professional Level for 14 days.) Educational pricing is available, around 20-25% starting at the Premium level, and in January 2013 they will have a special promotion that increases this discount. (HT to my physics Twitter colleague Jenny Hampton for the tip on this one.)
  • Appointlet.com: If you have tried out more than one scheduling site, you will know the drill: Appointlet.com has similar features to all the ones mentioned above. It is heavily targeted towards users such as stylists, counselors, massage therapists, etc.: all people who are scheduling fee-based meetings. For this reason, that language is pervasive through the set-up process, which could lead to some confusion (or at least more thinking about the process than you want to do.) There is also a bit of weirdness about setting up your hours: the site advises you that if you want your availability period to end at time x, and you want your appointments to last for a time y, then you set the end of your availability period to be x-y. It makes sense once you set it up, but feels a little strange.

I’ll be using ScheduleOnce.com in the near future, and will report back in the spring semester on how it has gone. What implications does Google’s announcement have on your appointment scheduling workflow? Any other tools that are helping you? Let us know in the comments. 

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