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Scheduling 101: Using Acuity for Student Appointments

[Ed. note: This contribution to our scheduling series is by Todd Stanfield, Associate Professor of Social Work at Union University. -- GHW]

For years I detested the marked up, scratched out, and downright ugly pieces of paper taped to my office door during the biannual advising season. They were as unruly as they were unsightly, and worst of all, they could only be accessed from one location – my office door.

I felt guilty every time I called the departmental secretary to ask her to check my schedule, especially since it was on the other side of the building. I kept thinking there had to be a better way.

Then I discovered Acuity Scheduling, which offers simplified scheduling over the internet.

Customization: The service allows you to select a customized URL (stanfield.acuityscheduling.com), which makes it easier for students to locate, and you can embed the form into your own website (stanfield.pbworks.com). After signing up for a free account, you select which times you wish to make available for appointments, how long you want the appointments to last, and any information you want to collect from students when they schedule the appointment. I ask students for their cell phone number so I can call them or text them (via Google Voice) if I need to reschedule at the last minute. It also keeps a contact list for those students that have scheduled an appointment in the past. You can also set a buffer that prevents appointments from being scheduled within the next 24 hours.

Simple interface and alerts: The interface for students is very clean and simple. It presents them with a calendar and available times on their selected day. Then it confirms the time they selected and asks them for any additional information you want to collect.

Once the student has scheduled an appointment, you get an alert email and the student gets a confirmation via the website and via an email. The emails contain a link back to the appointment so it can easily be canceled or rescheduled.

Works with my calendar and my phone: The appointment also gets pushed out as an iCal or Outlook update, so you can subscribe to the feed in the desktop or mobile calendar of your choice (Mac and iPhone for me). They also have a nice web app interface on the iPhone which allows you to quickly look at your schedule and any information the student entered when they scheduled the appointment.

The regular website also features a nice calendar interface where you can quickly glance and see how many appointments are scheduled for each day.

Cost: The basic version, which is free, only allows you to offer one range of times on each day of the week. The $10 per month account allows you more customization options, including the ability to add multiple available/unavailable times on specific days. I don’t mind paying $10 a month for a little extra sanity. I use Acuity Scheduling throughout the semester for general appointments, and come advising time, instead of those ugly sign up sheets, I put one sign on my office door with little pieces of paper with my Acuity web address so students can take it with them and schedule an appointment.

Compared to Tungle: Upon George’s recommendation, I gave Tungle.me a try, and I liked how easy it is to click and drag to select your available times. I also like how it offers two-way synchronization with your existing calendar system. However, I found that requesting an appointment required too many steps. The most annoying of these was having the student verify their email address, and waiting for you to respond to their request before actually scheduling the appointment. Many of my adult students are intimidated by computers, so the simpler interface means less headaches for me. I am also not interested in trying to schedule appointments among multiple colleagues, because I just can’t get them to use web services like this. So for now, Acuity Scheduling is working wonderfully for me.

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