Compare Systems as an IT Manager


The biggest issue to consider though, is the type of scheduling method, not the technology used to support it. Batch processing or book specific times?


Booking System Interface

EdvalPTN supports fully web, fully local software (parents phone prefs in), or paper submission (preferences require no time negotiation). This ensures a highly flexible deployment environment, that suits the needs of any school, or any parent population demographic.

Solely time-booking systems are unsuitable for paper based form submissions, as parents are unable to book times without a centralised system managing a live schedule database. A batch processed system needs no negotiation of times, and is thus far more flexible in deployment approaches, as well as being more efficient.

System integration
Some PTN system providers are not so directly involved in schools. Edval provides a completely dedicated timetabling and resource scheduling platform. EdvalPTN is part of this wider platform. The benefit of adopting a system which is directly integrated with the timetable system is many, with reduced data management, higher accuracy, more current data, and more specific data fields managed such as parent/child/sibling/step-child links.

Schools which do not use Edval for core timetabling still benefit as the EdvalPTN application is designed by timetabling system professionals, and there is an extremely wide range of third party timetabling systems that Edval is already integrated with, so managing data from these foreign systems is still very easy and highly supported.

As a company, Edval is regularly involved in system integration work, and also works collaboratively with schools in a very direct manner, meaning that integrating with any other system is very easy, from a technological aspect, as well as a human support aspect. EdvalPTN can easily draw data from iWise, Edumate, MAZE, The Timetabler, Time Chart, First Class, OASIS, Synergetic, Sentral using dedicated import functions, and also import from many other systems using very flexible data import functions that allow user drag and drop control on field mappings, or merge (update) imports, validation rules and more.

Event updates
Not all systems allow instant update of events as things change or mistakes are made. EdvalPTN supports instant updates very easily in a variety of ways, allowing users to modify staff availability, class lists, new / old teachers, changes of names, family links and many more aspects very easily and simply.

This is distinctly different from more basic PTN systems that do not have dedicated ‘event update’ features, or who require the event to be uploaded and not subsequently modified without difficulty or data loss. An example is that EdvalPTN allows an administrator to instantly create a new non-custodial parent record online, and issue a login code, and the parent can book – with the students existing class lists fully linked.

Any changes on an event update are fully reported to the end user in either the online or the local application, allowing instant visibility of previously booked interviews which are now ‘defunct’ or deleted, as a result of the change to class lists. This allows users the ability to verify the updated data is correct, and also provides a receipt of changes which may need to be notified to parents. An example is modifying the start or end times of the event, which EdvalPTN supports ‘on the fly’ if necessary. Any booked interviews which now fall outside the new time range will automatically be reported as dropped, and a list clearly provided, to allow the user to follow up the few odd parents who need to reschedule their interviews accordingly.

Data accuracy
A parent teacher interview event is created and electronically published and then actually conducted in a very short time frame, such as two weeks. This may lead people to expect that there would not need to be any facility to ‘update’ events, as the data such as class lists would not be expected to change in such a short time frame.

Experience shows however, that the process of moving interview bookings to an electronic system often highlights inaccuracies in the timetable data. These inaccuracies are not an issue with the traditional paper system, as the individual teachers know what is going on with their own class lists, and this knowledge can be different to what the school formally has recorded in electronic records.

The data may show for example that student “Mary Smith” is in Mr Jones’s Biology class, when in fact she was moved to Mrs Bertram’s class in the previous semester. The data may look correct in that she is ‘in’ Biology, but this data anomaly may cause angst, confusion and loss of confidence in the school records, as the parent and student will both know that the booking system information is ‘wrong’. There is also effort to rectify this anomaly, and not all systems allow event updates on-the-fly.

Data validation
Not all PTN booking systems validate the data provided. EdvalPTN provides several methods to validate data, including providing teachers with online visibility to their own class lists, allowing ready access to the number of possible interviews for each student (verifying class list gaps), to more advanced data validation such as lack of teacher link to class or duplication of interview entries through common data anomalies in class lists.

Data validation is conducted both off-line in software, and also on upload of events to the website, ensuring there is confidence in the event information managed by the system.

Class list data verification
The ability by teachers to verify the event information prior to publishing is important, but not something that all PTN systems support. EdvalPTN provides total visibility of class list and name and non-custodial records for all teachers, and this information is available online and highly accessible. This allows administrators to ask teachers to verify the data accuracy of the event, prior to it going live.

Ensuring data accuracy in class lists is important in a system that uses and exposes this data (and any errors in it) to students and parents, who will look poorly on the school if there are any errors, or who may have difficulty booking interviews if the linked teachers are incorrect.

Even if the class list data provided to the event is wrong, EdvalPTN allows parents to request special interviews with teachers who are not currently listed (or incorrectly listed) as the students current teacher. This allows parents the ability to proceed with the booking system regardless of any data anomalies in class lists.

Family link data
Managing family data is critical to efficient scheduling of parent teacher interviews, otherwise interviews for one child will be time separated from other children in the one family, and cause a lot of time waste for the parents.

Not all PTN systems manage family links, or manage them fully. EdvalPTN manages linked children, non-custodial parents, and step-children of parents who may be linked to ONE but not the other parent.

Family links can be initially specified easily by parents online in seconds, or modified if needed. These links can be populated initially by the school, and import / exported for re-use, thus ensuring a high accessibility and flexibility in this more complex data field.

Export to Excel
EdvalPTN allows a very large degree of tables to be instantly exported to Excel, including event statistics, the schedule itself, teacher availability lists, parent quality tables and in fact every item of data can be exported to Excel extremely easily. This allows end users to have full control over the data, as opposed to PTN systems that have more restrictive, custom data or file formats, or who provide an online system that does not readily export data except in the (possibly more limited) way the system was designed.

Event versioning & file format
More basic PTN systems provide a single web based database for the event, and do not provide off-line access or local file access to the event. EdvalPTN provides a fully integrated off-line access module, and a common file format that allows administrators to take snapshots of the entire event at any time, for any reason.

This allows for example, a snapshot of the event to be stored historically at the point of batch processing and publishing, and a second event snapshot file taken just prior to the start of the event, as this will contain all manual parent event adjustments made after the system constructed the initial batch schedule. This allows the school to clearly point out that a parent was late in submitting or that changes were made by the parent themselves, as the original schedule is clear.

It also prevents changes to the historical records, which may occur if parents modify the booking after the event such as cancelling interview bookings which have already occurred, or where there was some mischief by students in cancelling their parents interview bookings.

The EdvalPTN file format is text based and stored in logical tables, which are readily analysed and understood or the data re-purposed by advanced users (including changes made directly to the file using notepad in some very rare cases if desired). This tiny event file can be issued to staff for analysis, emailed, saved and is highly transportable, compared to systems which require the additional overhead of a database server, or web access to access the event information.

Data import format
Some systems have more complex data population processes. EdvalPTN can generate or update events in a variety of ways, including from an Edval timetable file, from imported generic .csv or text tables, and can import all data including complex family links.

The unique approach in EdvalPTN’s model means no parent information is required, so name, email addresses and other information does not ‘need’ to be imported into the system. This facilitates and simplifies data import, and also ensures less problems in data anomalies of these fields, such as where the event could report the wrong parent name in a separated family (or a name change parent), or email a schedule to the wrong parent email address (or an old / wrong email address) etc. The school is quite exposed to these issues of legitimate parent concern when adopting an electronic booking system, so it is important to have the system designed to prevent or highlight errors where possible, or even remove the possibility of errors by not ‘needing’ certain data fields which have ongoing accuracy issues.

Event data backup
Not all systems provide event backup. EdvalPTN provides automated local backup of event files, as well as online internal backup of events. Experience has shown that end users are always prone to such ‘mistakes’ as deleting a live event in progress, updating an event with the wrong event file, issuing codes to parents for the wrong events, accidentally running two events that should really be one or otherwise causing havoc with highly sensitive event data in any one of a number of ways. EdvalPTN has a highly comprehensive training materials and support services, and warnings about backup or data loss or other issues, but no matter how well the system is designed to prevent these problems, there is always a degree of human error being a distinct possibility. (Known as PICNIC: Problem in Chair – Not In Computer.)

Catastrophic failure of the interview booking system can lead to instant parent resentment, and quite a degree of fallout for the school if the event is ‘wrong’, or if parent preferences have been ‘lost’ and need to be resubmitted. Exposure to this significant liability is not found in simpler paper booking systems, but is always a possibility in any electronic system. The ability for users to take their own snapshot backups, coupled with the EdvalPTN automated backup systems provide a high degree of confidence in preventing data corruption or loss. Similarly EdvalPTN consultants are experienced in quickly rectifying any obscure issues that occasionally arise through human error, so there is significant backup support in both the technology itself, as well as human problem solving support.

Transaction level logging
EdvalPTN has extensive logging of all user activity. Time date stamps with IP and browser logging of all activity such as administrators uploading or updating or deleting events. All parent activity is logged, such as changing available times, modifying schedules, changing requested teachers. See who has done what and when. Run reports of all parents who have not logged in at all - or those who have logged in but not made any bookings, or made requests but not then collected their completed schedule online and so on. Logs can be viewed by the school by parent, or by event.

Web technology
Not all systems are built the same, and there are significant differences in user experiences across different systems. See parent login simplicity and parent submission simplicity for more on these from a user interface perspective.

Technically though, the EdvalPTN system is built with Ajax and Java script for better user experience, control and responsiveness. The method of selection of interview requests can be via double click of names or via drag and drop. This is much faster and simpler than using drop downs or other controls, and reduces the on-screen information. This is largely due to the more efficient preference based scheduling method, as opposed to more basic methods where parents solely book specific times.

Similarly, the user interface which support management of specific time bookings supports single click adjustment and is highly responsive.

Browser support
Not all PTN systems support all browser versions, or have been tested on a wide range of browser types and versions. EdvalPTN has been tested on multiple versions of IE6, IE7 and IE8, as well as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera. In some cases older browsers have some limitations in functionality or security, and in these cases the system will detect and report that the user is accessing via an old browser and may have slightly reduced functionality. All modern browsers in the last three years work exceptionally well with EdvalPTN, and have had extensive testing.

System support
Not all PTN systems have strong dedicated support networks. EdvalPTN has consultants available in three states of Australia, which offers confidence in a high level of support or familiarity with local state school needs. All consultants already work very closely and collaboratively with schools in other timetabling capacities, and are highly knowledgeable about managing school timetable data and school requirements, quite apart from managing the PTN event. This allows (for example) a consultant to spot some classes of data anomalies in the event, solely through human experience in what is expected from the data for that type of school or state.

Map views
Not all PTN systems provide school maps to parents. EdvalPTN provides a fully integrated Google map view, with user mark-up of specific school buildings and areas (E.g. parent parking / Interview hall etc). This ensures parent familiarity with the school and specifically areas within the school.

Not all parents are familiar with the school location, especially non-custodial parents, so the inclusion of Google maps, easy Google directions and clear school map layout encourages and facilitates attendance at the event.

Hosted solution
Not all systems are fully hosted. EdvalPTN provides a fully hosted system, or schools can use the entirely non-web based local application for school led scheduling. Provision of the system is virtually instantaneous, as all that is needed is issue of a username and password for the school administrator. There is nothing special to configure or set up, as the hosting is just ready and available. Specifically there is generally no real need for any IT support in provisioning, as most school users can do everything that is necessary on their own, without any special IT knowledge.

EdvalPTN also provide direct support to users in setting up their events, especially initially, so IT support is actually included by Edval as part of the system itself, and does not burden the school’s own IT department unless there is a specific local issue, or unless the local school IT department wants to be more involved in the overall process. As some of our testimonials assert, new users can easily get the entire event setup online entirely by themselves in around half an hour. No action or assistance is required by Edval staff, other than provision of the online account credentials to the school.

Training Resources
There is variation in training resources for different systems. EdvalPTN has consultants available in three states, and offers face to face training as an option.

There are four separate EdvalPTN User manuals covering the four modules, totalling over 140 pages, each with screenshots.

There are numerous video training tutorials available over the web, which show in detail each step of the process in either of the two main PTN modules, so any new school administrator can easily see what to do and can (if sufficiently capable and confident) set up and run the entire event entirely unaided due to the highly detailed and accessible training resources. This also reduces reliance on local school IT support and ensures the technology is more self-managed.

Interview timer
Another Edval module supporting the PTN schedule is an interview timer, which displays a large clock on data projectors or school screens, and has an audio feed which sounds warning bells and user customised voice messages via text-to-speech. These sounds are integrated to the PTN schedule, and can be piped through the school PA system to facilitate and encourage on-time running of the event.

Users report the schedule runs more on-time and both teachers and parents adhere to the schedule more closely when the event is punctuated by synchronised auditory reminders.

Screen real-estate complexity
PTN systems show a range of screen layouts. Some have a lot of information per page, which can confuse parents, or detract slightly from the workflow. Similarly a highly efficient and simple page layout is more suitable for all parent screen resolutions, as it generally negates the need to use scroll bars. Similarly the low complexity in each EdvalPTN screen means the site is more suitable for framing or embedding in other applications or using a school branded iframe wrapper. Simple things like displaying subject name as a hover text so it is visible only if the user looks for it make it a far more user friendly and simplified screen layout.

Page load size
Not all systems are as efficient in the way their website is written. EdvalPTN uses gzip to compress HTML traffic between browser and server, and is designed to use Google API’s to ensure very low latency and low bandwidth operations. The use of Ajax also reduces bandwidth required by negating the need to refresh whole pages.

Parent opinion of the system can be negative if there is delay in accessing the system, which is more of a problem if many parents are accessing the same server around the same time and overloading it. A design which ensures very low overheads is much faster, and far more robust and scalable with high volumes of simultaneous parent access.

Login Code or token
Some PTN systems require parents to enter a school code, a parent email address, a password or other information. Sometimes these details are case sensitive, or even if not, there is need to 'clarify' that it is not case sensitive - i.e. users get worried they are doing the wrong thing and will call the school for clarification.

EdvalPTN has a unique one booking code system. This is far simpler and more secure. Only one short code is required to fully access the system, and this code can also be used to link and de-link students from family bookings.

The booking codes are entirely issued by one central authority, and EdvalPTN has numerous methods of distributing the code to parents, including separate online and off-line means to print these out, as well as Word templates to allow the school to customise the delivery, mail-merge or email merge to parents as required. This greatly reduces the administration overhead in the system – which is often a big part of moving from a paper system where there is no such effort required with issuing codes etc.

Furthermore, the code format is simple, short and has numerous design aspects to reduce the parent confusion which results if there is 1 and I characters, or 0 or O characters, or if it may be generated with rude words etc. EdvalPTN Booking codes are always upper case. These little aspects ensure there is virtually no confusion by parents, and obviously far less effort involved in the school office supporting parents trying to access the system. A large amount of calls to schools (admin time cost) using online PTN systems relates specifically to confusion over login credentials.

Non-persistant login token
Systems which have a persistant login token or password for parents are at a disadvantage. This greatly increases the support costs to the school, as parents will routinely lose their password or PIN due to the infrequent nature of the required use - e.g. twice a year.

EdvalPTN uses a unique booking code which is not persistant, and is issued to parents and associated directly with each event. Parents can use this to login to the assocaited event, and no other event which reduces confusion. The process of issuing parents with a non-persistant login code is an efficient approach which reduces parent confusion and support calls, while also removing the need to select the right event, as this is done at the code level so the user does not need to 'select' the event they want to book for, or get the event 'wrong'.

Multiple event support
Some PTN systems allow the school to run only ONE event at any one time, and have their login system structured such that parents are only able to login to one event at a time. This is restrictive, and does not facilitate events being scheduled closely together, or adequately support families with multiple children at the school, who may have parent teacher nights on different dates very close together.

The EdvalPTN approach allows the school to run multiple concurrent events, and allow any parent to login to any event at any time.

Some systems require the parent to actively save their booking requests, by actively clicking a save button. Experience has shown there are always parents who do not correctly finish the process, or who confuse the system workflow, and fail to save their bookings, which causes problems and parent discontent. The EdvalPTN system is designed to minimise parent clicks, and is designed to be 100% live, so that any change is always automatically saved, and there is no save button or user action required to effect changes relating to the direct scheduling of interviews. Auto-save reduces confusion and data loss, and speeds the user interaction with the site.

In rare cases where the connection with the server is lost during user activity (such as the users internet connection is lost), the EdvalPTN system is designed to instantly report this error to the user, to prevent any confusion over a schedule or schedule change, that has not been correctly submitted due to the network outage.

Clashing students
Not all PTN systems provide flexibility to manage all manner of scheduling situations. In addition to managing teachers who are parents, special interviews, co-scheduled interviews, non-custodial interviews, long interviews and several others – EdvalPTN also manages clashing students. A parent with two children may wish to have all their interviews scheduled as a group, but due to limited opportunity to see some over-subscribed teachers, they may elect to split up and have the mother go to one interview while the father goes to another interview, at exactly the same time.

Scheduling families has some complications, so an effective system should provide options. EdvalPTN allows the parents to separate and de-link the booking of the children so they can be scheduled entirely independently (if mother and father wanted to see son and daughter at different times due to differing time availability in both parents), OR the one family booking can be manually adjusted to cause occasional clashes, where the parents needs to split into two people in order to attend both the interviews scheduled to the same time.

Some PTN systems rely on known information such as parent email addresses and student names as the login. This is a simple form of security, but this information is often known to the other party in separated families, leading to detailed knowledge about their exact attendance times at the event. The EdvalPTN authentication system is via a random booking code, which is associated with each student, and not the parent.

This allows a far higher degree of security, especially for privacy within the family members themselves, as this is the more common concern in privacy of parent teacher schedule information (it is not generally an external person who has motive to discover or use information about schedule attendance, but someone within the family)