There are many online booking (AKA calender scheduling) services available online. University and college lecturers often use such services when they have to book one-to-one or group tutorials with students. In the past I have used ScheduleOnce for my dissertation and major project students, preferring this over our rather clunky appointment booking system in our Moodle-based VLE. I feel it is also better than giving students access to my public-facing Google Calendar.
The students really like the self-booking system where they can see when I am available and manage their own appointments. It saves a lot of time and prevents email tag where students would have to contact me to get an appointment. It also replaces the legendary tutorial sign-up sheets which are often stuck up on noticeboards and doors.
What to look for:
- NOT a meeting scheduler. You don’t want this!There are a lot of these systems around and they certainly have their use when you need to find time to meet colleagues. Perhaps the most well-known meeting scheduler is Doodle. The free service is rather basic, so you may well need to pay the £23 a year for the Pro version. Doodle did run an online booking service at one point, but has since axed it and said it will focus on its core product (group meetings)
- Integrates with existing calenders. This is essential – the system needs top have two-way communication with my Google Calender i.e. it prevents clashes with my other activities. If you use Outlook at work (why?) or iCal on the Mac, you’ll find many services will integrate with these tools (although they are usually not part of the free version). Most systems will list your appointments on their own site as well, but this has limited appeal as you don’t really want to be logging in to see your schedule every day.
- Email reminders to students to prevent ‘no-shows’. No-shows are a real problem and there is nothing worse than waiting around for students who may or not be coming. From my experience, an online booking system can nearly eliminate no-shows (you always get the odd student who continually ‘forgets’!). The systems allow students to add the appointments they make to their own calenders, so they can be alerted on their phones. The best also email the students in advance (you can normally set this up so they are reminded 24 hours in advance and then 2 hours etc). As a tutor you will also get sent reminder and, of course, they appear on your calender.
- Allows students to cancel. Students can use the system to cancel their appointments, so allowing another student to take their slot. I allow cancellations two hours in advance, it is always better to allow this than have to wait around for no-shows.
- Mobile compatible. Most students will book you on their phones, so the website has to be responsive.
- Range of times – most services offer appointment times e.g. 5,10,15 minutes. Some allow you to set your own times. Many offer an optional ‘buffer’ between appointments e.g. of five or ten minutes to allow you to get a cup of tea!
- Website: private tutors may wish to embed their booking system into a WordPress website (a couple of services offer this).
The runners and riders:
Some of these services offer completely free versions (although sometimes with only limited functionality and adverts).
Most offer free trials (typically lasting 14 days) for their paid-for services, so you could try them all.
- ScheduleOnce: I have used this for two years and it used to offer a great education discount – not anymore! At one point it seemed to very keen to get tutors onboard and it still includes numerous recommendations from lecturers. It has also removed its free version. The Plus service at $5 (£3) a month is pathetic as it doesn’t even include what it calls ‘automatic booking’ which is what you need (most rivals offer this free). As a minimum you need the Premium service at $9 (£5.39). But this offers just 1 booking page for one user. The Pro package is a whopping $19 a month and this offers what others provide often for half the price!
However, the public-facing booking site is at the address www.meetme.so/YourName and is probably one of the most professional looking online booking sites around. Students simply select dates from a calender to see when you are available. Booking is extremely quick and easy. It also integrates with a number of well-known calenders and I found the two-way communication with Google Cal to be faultless.
Verdict: ScheduleOnce wasn’t cheap even with an educational discount, now it looks overpriced compared to rivals. Shame as students liked it.
- Calendly offers what it claims to be ‘Simple, beautiful scheduling.’ This used to be free, but now there is a free and paid-for service. I am currently testing this at the moment. Even the free version offers more than some paid-for ScheduleOnce services including automatic booking and also full Google integration. The Premium service at $10 (£6 a month) offers a generous range of services that others charge more for. Students book you at the address www.calendly.com/YourName, The public-facing site has a minimalistic design which may not appeal to everyone, but it is very quick to make an appointment. However, I have a slight preference for presenting my appointments as a calendar. The back-end is very intuitive and I found it easy to set up my appointments.
Verdict: Fully Google integrated (you need a Google account to sign up) and tutors may be able to get away with using the free service alone. Very stylish.
- TimeTrade – I am on the free trial with this one as well. This is another one that targets those working in education. It offers a free service, but with a limit of just five appointments a month which is pointless really. So you are looking at the Professional package at $49 a year (£2.40 a month) a month which is cheap compared to rivals. While the public-facing page looks professional and is based around a calender (which is good), the back-end looks rather limited and not particularly intuitive .
Verdict: Oddly, appointment start at 15 minutes (I often need 10 minutes). However this links fully with a range of cals from Google, iCal, Outlook etc and is particularly strong on mobile integration which is important for students. It is also quite cheap.
- Acuity Scheduling Not tried this one, but it looks pretty professional. This is aimed very much at business and there will be plenty of optional e-commerce tools that tutors won’t need. You can even embed the booking system into your own website which may appeal to some. It is $10 (£6) a month or there is a very limited free version.
Verdict: Looks professional, but free service offers only the most basic functions.
- Bookeo – not tried this, but it looks like you could get away with just using the free service as it offers many functions that rivals charge for. This is aimed at business and offers a huge amount of customisation and e-commerce functions.
Verdict: You will only want this for the free service, as all the paid-for options are expensive.
Others to consider
I have found online bookings save so much time and, if like me, you use Google for all your social and work appointments these really help to prevent embarrassing clashes.
If anyone is using any other systems, let me know. Perhaps those tutors who have access to Blackboard VLE use that instead?