Southwest Tennessee Community College

August 12, 2005

For more information contact: Pat O’Brien (901) 333-4021 /  Kimberly Stark (901) 333-4023

Written by: Pat O’Brien

Key in your classes, specify the campus or center you want, plug in days or times of day you DON’T want…and with a click of the mouse you’ve got a whole array of schedules to choose from. The software program developed by Southwest’s Garry Spencer, associate professor of Electrical Engineering Technology, is changing registration as they know it for Southwest students.

The Computer-Assisted Student Schedule Construction program, CASSC, searches a massive data base of thousands of classes, their times, locations and availability; factors in the student’s time constraints and other variables; and in seconds presents a chart for a suggested schedule – usually just one of many. The student may then sort the possibilities for the fewest days, earliest or latest in or out, shortest length – whatever other factors help make a more satisfactory schedule.

With the actual scheduling of classes often reduced to a matter of minutes, students and their academic advisors have the time to concentrate on the student’s goals, progress, academic future – even a little of the chit-chat that draws student and professor into a partnership for learning.

The mechanics of the CASSC software are as simple as loading up an online shopping cart. The Internet Explorer window presents a six-column chart showing days across and times down. A field of choices begins with a column for entering desired classes. Among links available for assistance are the College catalog, course descriptions, and listings that include course title, section, time, days, instructor, location (campus, building, room number), and availability. “Tools” include a calculator, clock, calendar, scratch pad and even MATA bus schedules.

The program’s instructions are sparse, because they’re little needed. Choices are virtually self-explanatory. Students set up any hours or days that they are unavailable for classes, and options they want or don’t want, such as online and telecourses – or they may choose all online or telecourses. They can even choose to view their charts in colors or patterns. Students may key in General Education electives on an “I’ll take anything” basis, or select specific courses. The program responds with all requirements covered.

CASSC does more than make registration easier for students, faculty and staff. Where it has been used most, in technology areas of the College, it has been credited with helping keep students in school.

“Students often have one particular class that’s an absolute must,” said Spencer. “That can be especially critical in the later stages of the registration period, when many classes are closed. If there is a schedule that can accommodate the student’s needs, the program will find it. All of us have had students just walk away because they can’t get that one class – and maybe they’ll come back and maybe they won’t.”

Spencer cited a “domino effect” that can come into play when a student walks away. “There’s a possibility that classes that student dropped may not make. And then another student who didn’t get a ‘must have’ course walks away. It’s in the student’s and the College’s interests that every possibility for a satisfactory schedule be explored – to keep the student in school and have classes make to their fullest capacity.”

Computer-Assisted Student Schedule Construction is the fourth generation of scheduling programs Spencer has created. With every advance in computer hardware and software, each in its turn has become obsolete and given way to a more refined version. Spencer started writing the program “from scratch” in 1978 on the RSX operating system and it was operational by 1979. The program gave way first to one written on the RSTS/E OS, and then to one designed on the VAX/MS system. Each of those was used in turn by faculty advisers in the technologies areas.

Spencer started the new CASSC in March, 2001 and put the finishing touches on it in time for fall registration that year – the day before, in fact. ‘I spent every spare minute on it, including every Saturday.” The new program requires the Microsoft Internet Explorer web browser. Spencer continues to tweak the program and is open to ideas for further improving it. It is used extensively by faculty in the Business, Career Studies and Technologies Division, and by others in the College.

Along the way as he has designed and redesigned, Spencer has collected a lot of interest in the program’s possibilities. Most recently, he presented it to the National Conference of the American Technology Education Association in March; to the Mid-South Regional Conference of the National Academic Advisors Association in Louisville in April; and will present it later this year to the Technical Conference of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Atlanta.

To access CASSC go to