The Psychology Department at Portsmouth University implemented the connect2 online booking system to manage their equipment and resource loans. Here we speak to Dave Forrester, Technical Manager, about the introduction of the new system and the improvements it’s brought to the department.
Portsmouth University has around 800 undergraduates studying Psychology, and provides a range of resources to support their studies. There are laboratories and rooms as well as a variety of equipment. This includes laptops, video cameras, dictaphones, audio equipment and some more specialised kit, such as eye-trackers and a thermal camera for psychological testing.
With a considerable investment in equipment, including some very specialised, valuable items, the department has to manage these resources carefully and track their usage. Staff need to ensure everyone has a chance to use the equipment they need for their course, and to give students easy access to the items when they need them.
The equipment is an important aspect of the Psychology course as Dave Forrester, Technical Manager for the department, explains:
“We include as much practical tuition as possible, which makes the course more interesting and engaging for students. They learn much better when they work hands-on. The faculty is very research-intensive, and it’s fortunate that the equipment the academic staff and PhD students are using is also made available to the undergraduates. This gives students a wider range of resources to work with at Portsmouth.”
The challenge of managing resource loans
Previously, the department used spreadsheets and a database to organise the loans of equipment and room keys. Two members of staff, one working mornings and one working afternoons, spent most of the day managing bookings by email. This involved checking the equipment on the database and booking space on the spreadsheet. It was very manual and time-consuming.
It could also be frustrating for students who weren’t able to see the latest list of resources available – this information wasn’t viewable in real-time. Instead, students would submit an email booking request and await a response. If two people requested the same space at the same time the booking would go to the student whose email was read first by staff, and the other student would be advised that the resource was no longer available. The department had to use a disclaimer to warn students that their booking may not be successful and the whole system was far from satisfactory.
It was clear that if the routine aspects of the bookings could be automated, it would become much more efficient and both staff and students would benefit.
“We added up the hours that the bookings were taking, and it was clear that connect2 would really help,” explains Dave, “It was also about making the whole department look much more professional. The way we operate now is definitely much more slick. With connect2 our staff are not tied up managing bookings all day now, they can use their time looking after the equipment and working with students.”
In connect2, the department’s resources and services are clearly displayed and easily accessed.
The difference with connect2
Connect2 is now used for all of the department’s bookings - rooms and labs as well as equipment. A picture of each space or item is displayed on the system, which is particularly useful if a student is booking a room, as they can see the layout of the space and they can see if there is any equipment there. They can view current and future availability of each resource and make their booking online at their convenience.
Labs and resources are clearly displayed in the connect2 system
So with connect2 the responsibility for making bookings has shifted from the department to the individual requiring the room or the item. Students prefer it this way, as they are in control and each booking is confirmed immediately by email. If they should change their mind, they can cancel the booking just as fast.
Dave confirms that the system is easy to use: “Connect2 is intuitive to use, and the e-commerce concept of adding an item to your basket is very well understood, so everyone knows exactly what to do.”
The department has a rule that each student making a booking must collect the item in person. They will have accepted the terms and conditions already online which helps speed up the process when picking up the item. However, they may need to be shown how the equipment works, and collecting the item in person also ensures they take responsibility for it from the start. When they arrive at Technical Services, they just show their ID card for staff to check their booking in connect2 and pick up the equipment or the key.
The department prefers students to pre-book resources, and allows them to book up to two weeks in advance. As Dave says:
“It’s better if students can book in advance, then they know the resource will be ready waiting for them. If they need us to set up something special, for example if they want a room with a laptop and a projector set up, the connect2 booking workflow is very flexible. We’ve included a text box where they can add a special request.”
Connect2 displays a list of bookings for staff, and if there are additional requirements, they will be shown there.
Tailored booking rules and communications
The department has set up all of the system’s time slots, loan periods and menus to operate how they want them to work. There are also certain rooms that can’t be booked unless the person has had training. These are visible in the system but connect2 makes it clear that training is a prerequisite before booking.
Students have a 15 minute window to collect an item or a key. An hour before the collection time the system sends the first of three reminders. If they don’t arrive in time, the system advises the student that their booking is cancelled and the resource becomes available again. This is explained in the department’s terms and conditions.
A student can also cancel their booking very easily – all they need is a phone or a tablet connected to the internet to cancel – and the item becomes free again. This ensures that the rooms and equipment are used as fully as possible, and that they are bookable unless already reserved or in use. In this way the department knows they are using their rooms to their full potential, and making the most of their investment in equipment.
Upholding fair access to limited resources is a key priority and the automated rules set up in connect2 help achieve this. The department allows anyone to book a room, but only one room at a time, and people can book up to three times per week. If someone wants to book four rooms, the department staff can override the rule if they feel the request is reasonable.
If an item becomes overdue, the system sends three email reminders. There have been cases where an item was not returned on time, for example if a student went home with a key in their pocket on Friday night, and appeared in the department on Monday morning, rather worried and apologetic.
Dave explains that the department handles these cases sensitively, bearing in mind that other people may also need the resources. “If a student breaks the rules three times, their connect2 account is suspended and they have to come and talk to us, but we have never needed to ban anybody – just the thought of it is enough.”
The future with connect2
Such is the demand for the rooms that there are times when they are all booked solid from 9am to 5pm. The connect2 bookings data helps to inform ongoing discussions around rooms and resourcing.
Commenting on his experience of working with Lorensbergs, Dave says:
“What we like about Lorensbergs is that they are very open to suggestions for ways to enhance the system. There are two or three new releases each year, and some of our suggestions have already been included. Even small tweaks can make a big difference to our department. Our students are finding the system very straightforward and it does exactly what we need.”
With thanks to Dave Forrester and colleagues at the Psychology Department, Portsmouth University for participating in this case study.
To find out more about connect2, please call 01992 415505
Or see the connect2 equipment booking and tracking solution page.