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Scheduling 101: Appointment Slots in Google Calendar

Calendar*Tools and tricks for scheduling appointments have gotten a lot of coverage here on ProfHacker. We’ve posted previously about Tungle, Doodle, Jiffle, and Acuity, along with a few mentions of possibilities for Google Calendar and updates (1 and 2) on all of these tools.

And it’s no wonder: the ability to schedule appointments, whether it be with students for office hours or with colleagues for meetings, with a central tool is extremely useful. Personally, I’ve been using Tungle for at least a year. My students have commented, anonymously and unprompted on midterm and end-of-year-evaluations, that they appreciate the flexibility of being able to set appointments with me through a webpage, instead of having to come by my office to sign up on a sheet of paper. While I do accept drop-ins when a slot is not reserved by a student, I find that the practice of encouraging students to reserve a time leads to them coming to see me better prepared, having thought through their questions ahead of time. Our time together is more productive when they schedule slots.

Now Google Calendar has jumped into the pool with their own appointment scheduler. You can read about it in the official Gmail blog, and this post with a screencast gives good details on how to implement it.

Because the screencast is so thorough, I think a better use of this post is to detail some comparisons to other programs. Since I’m most familiar with Tungle, I’ll compare Google Calendar Appointments to it.

  • Both you and your meeting requester must be using Google calendar. This isn’t a problem for me, since our students are using Gmail for their college email system, and they have access to the calendar option whether they’re using it already or not. However, with Tungle, this restriction is not present. Frankly, I’m okay with forcing them to use their Google calendar a bit. Learning how to manage digital information, share calendars, etc. is an important skill that they should be picking up in the process of working with others, whether it be me or their peers. And if any of them use other digital calendaring options, I’ll be ready to help with getting everything connected.
  • Appointment slot lengths can differ on a given day and on different days. For example, you might want to have your Tuesday office hours slots to be 15 minutes each, but perhaps you arrange for quick five-minute meetings on Thursdays. You can set up this difference in appointment time using this system. You could also set morning slots to be shorter in duration than afternoon slots for the same day. In Tungle, you can set an administrative option that restricts the number of minutes meeting requesters can choose; when I’ve used Tungle in the past I’ve given students the choice of 15 to 60 minutes in 15 minute intervals.  You can set this to have only one option (for example, 15 minutes), but that option would apply to everything in your weekly template of appointment openings. On the flip side, with Tungle I’ve enjoyed giving students the option of asking for longer appointment times. With the Google implementation, I’ll advise them to select multiple consecutive appointments. If anything this will help with a conundrum I’ve had of students choosing appointment slots that are way too long for their needs. If they want to book up an hour but I know that many students will need to meet with me, I can approve just one of their selections and send a nice note explaining that we need to leave slots open for others, I’ll contact them if no one uses the others, etc.
  • You can add one-time slots for your availability. This feature is important to me especially when deadlines for student projects are arising. I like being able to add these when needed, and it should be noted that you can do this with Tungle as well.
  • You have the ability to approve appointments via an email notification to your inbox. In the trials I’ve done this summer, the email will show your agenda for that day and how the appointment will fit in. You can choose to approve the appointment request, choose to not approve it, or propose an alternate time. In Tungle, you do have the ability to approve or not approve appointments.
  • You can choose a length of time for the availability of a certain appointment block. I love this option because my office hours change from semester to semester (and don’t really exist in the summer.) When you set the repeatability of a block, you can set an option for it to end after so many iterations or after a certain date, just like you can for a Google Calendar entry.  This option is not available in Tungle, as far as I can tell. In fact, my office hours from the spring are still up and available if a student were to try the link to my appointments page right now.
  • Getting a brief link to your calendar availability page takes an extra step. Tungle gives you a dedicated URL for others to access your meeting slots and make requests. The Google Calendar URL is long and fumbly, but you can get around this by making a dedicated URL through a link shortening service, like bit.ly (which is extremely helpful for putting your link into your syllabus, for example).
  • When you set up office hour blocks, these automatically show up in your Google calendar as a grayed-out block. I find this helpful to remind me that I’ve blocked that out as office hours. In Tungle, I had to create a workaround for that, which involved setting up a separate calendar so that the Tungle program didn’t interpret that I’d made an appointment for my block of time.

After my trial with Appointments for Google Calendar, I’ve decided to switch over to it for this upcoming school year. The variety of options for calendaring makes it a competitive tech field that is constantly undergoing upgrades and additions in features, and everyone wins. What appointment scheduling tools are you using? Have you made a switch? Let us know in the comments.

[Image Creative Commons licensed / Flickr user dafnecholet]

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