How SingleStone helped Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Nursing design and build a software product to plan course schedules and manage faculty work assignments.
VCU’s School of Nursing is ranked one of the nation’s top 50 graduate nursing schools by U.S. News and World Report. The School of Nursing educates nurses from entry-level practice through to the doctorate level. As part of an urban, comprehensive academic medical center, the school emphasizes community engagement and collaboration with students and faculty from the university’s other health sciences schools and academic units.
VCU School of Nursing had been relying upon a number of spreadsheets, manual processes and basic knowledge to plan both short and long-term course schedules, attempting to align courses, enrollment, faculty members, and available teaching locations. While information on teaching assignments was readily available, it was difficult to capture and measure data in other areas of faculty member responsibility. In addition, The School of Nursing needed a way to capture and visualize service-related work, committee work, clinical practice, and research-related activities to help with schedule planning and better manage faculty members.
In order to devise a method for intuitively planning schedules and managing faculty member work allocation and activities, we started out with a series of design thinking workshops with a focus on clearly articulating the problem, desired outcomes and the needs and wants of each group of stakeholders. The team then sought to understand current state process and plan out the future state via several story mapping sessions. We entered the implementation phase with a solid understanding of the stakeholders’ interests and the issues at hand, as well as a plan to develop the product. Without this foundation, the team could not have succeeded with implementation.
After several requirements and design iterations, the team landed on a collection of features that enabled VCU to predictably document program curriculum in a way that facilitated course schedule planning. Plans of study, or course cadence for a program, can be defined as templates and then applied to student groups. This combination of data supports a projection of future schedules and allows for easy changes over time. Stakeholders can see what courses need to be offered in each semester, and to how many students across programs.
Although an automated process pre-populates a baseline schedule, planning users are able to easily edit the schedule, assigning the appropriate day and time, locations and faculty members for courses in each semester. Intuitive warnings and errors are built in, preventing critical mistakes and creating transparency of outstanding action items.
Connecting course scheduling activities to faculty member work assignments was a key component of the process. Without this connection, leaders within The School of Nursing are unable to effectively plan faculty activities beyond those that are teaching-related, including research, nursing practice and service activities. This product allows leaders to plan faculty members work allocation and activities, ensuring they’re distributed appropriately across the intended areas.
Part of the vision and rationale behind investing in this product was for VCU to be able to license the product to other schools and universities. In order to do so, a scalable, cost-effective and secure architecture was critical. After assessing the functional and non-functional requirements, SingleStone recommended and implemented a serverless architecture that utilizes several of AWS’ managed services (API Gateway, Lambda, RDS, Cognito, etc.). This architecture is well-suited for the ebbs and flows of usage, which is heavy during some parts of the year but light during others. Utilizing managed services allowed SingleStone to quickly spin up resources and solve standard problems quickly. This allowed the team to focus on business value-added features instead of getting bogged down with standard features that each custom software product requires.
By leveraging design thinking principles, agile product development practices, and a serverless application model that utilizes AWS-managed services, VCU and SingleStone have implemented coursfacts, a custom software product that enables The School of Nursing to plan schedules well in advance, support faculty in their work activities and better serve in the educational community.