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Web-based software for making appointments (#1045)

Topics/tags: Teaching

For many years, I held mostly open office hours. That is, I set times that I would be in my office and took students on a first-come, first-served basis. I also allowed some sign-up times, particularly during preregistration. And, because it’s me [1], I also had an open-door policy, approximately, If my door is open, you can come in and ask questions. However, understand that I may not always be up to answering them at the time.

At some point, I decided that I would be better off having office-hour sign-ups, rather than completely open office hours. Why? Mostly because I didn’t like students having to wait their turn in the hallway, but also because that process sometimes ended with students still waiting when my office hours were over and I had to go off to class or a meeting or something else. So I moved to a sign-up sheet outside my office, with fifteen-minute appointments. Fifteen minutes was not enough for some meetings, and too much for others, but it generally worked. And at least students knew when they were meeting with me. If a meeting was short or no one was signed up during a slot, I took walk-ins. These are still my practices. And there are variants. For example, I’ve had a few semesters in which I had students sign up for a regular weekly appointment or appointments. These are usually students with great tenacity and a growth mindset, but who struggle with CS. I’m happy to support them.

I like this new approach (or these need approaches). But it (they) needed some updates. With a sign-up sheet outside my office, I would only know what appointments I had when I was in my office. And students would often email me to see if I had open slots and, if so, when those were. So I decided to switch to online bookings.

I started with My wonderful instructors at Global Online Academy used it. And it had a nice conceptual design; I could mark times as Office Hours in my Google Calendar, and they would automatically appear on my booking calendar. That made it easy to make adjustments on the fly, such as adding office hours when students are working on an exam, or removing them when I am out of town. I used it for a few years. I also asked ITS if they supported something similar, but the answer was No.

Then decided that taking the times from my Google calendar was a premium feature. It may also have removed other features I cared about. I don’t remember. All I know is that I’m a cheapskate. So I went looking for another solution. Eventually, I settled on Acuity Scheduling. It wasn’t quite as easy to use as, but it got the job done. Most importantly, it was relatively easy for my students to use and it put their appointments on one of my calendars.

On Tuesday, the College released a memo indicating that we should avoid software not approved by the College. There isn’t a complete list of approved software available, but one of the approved lists did suggest that we have a license for Microsoft Bookings. So yesterday, I tried to figure out how to use it. I think I have the basics set up, at least for now. So I can step back and think a bit about the aspects I like or don’t like [2].

Microsoft does not understand short URLs. Where gave me and Acuity Scheduling gave me, Microsoft insists on [3]. I don’t think my students will be able to remember that, and I certainly can’t fit it on the paper hang tags I usually put outside my office. Fortunately, I have an account on, so I’ve set up Not quite as elegant, but it works.

Microsoft does not seem to have embraced the idea of free-form input or automatic data incorporation. It doesn’t share’s ability to draw from a calendar. It doesn’t share Acuity Scheduling’s parsing of user input. That is, rather than saying I’m available 8-11 and 1-3 next Tuesday, I get to fill out separate fields for start time and end time for Tuesday and then click a button to add a separate set of times for Tuesday (where I again fill in two fields). I still haven’t figured out how to make different hours available each week.

And then there’s the email issue. You’d think that the confirmation that comes for my appointments would come from . But no, they come from . Such a trustworthy, academic-sounding address. GrinCo: We make you smile! I’ve put in a help ticket to figure out how to change it.

Of course, Microsoft Bookings isn’t designed for academics. The front page keeps track of how much you’ve made from bookings. I wonder how the College would feel about me charging for meetings with students. In any case, I’ve set the cost to zero. And it thinks that I want to handle hours from lots of people. I think that means that people booking an appointment need to select my name from a pop-up list with just one entry. Or you did; I seem to have fixed that.

Speaking of the client UI, it’s worth looking at that a bit., There’s an I for info, but instead of presenting the info when you hover over the button, you must click it and then click a close button. Why can’t it appear when you select a service?

What bothers me more is that it only shows one day of availability at once. That’s so 1990’s technology. All the other schedulers I’ve used have shown a week or two of availability on one screen. It’s not a big thing, but it adds to the workload for the user. I suppose that’s my general experience with Microsoft products; they don’t keep up with modern UI practices. Perhaps it will be something to study in my HCI course next spring.

On a more positive note, I see that when I schedule activities in my Google calendar that conflict with my available booking times, the booking options disappear. That’s a good design. But I’m seeing some things unavailable when I thought I had them available. I’ll need to check on why that is happening; perhaps it’s things I’ve listed as all-day meetings. I also like that I can create multiple services with multiple lengths. There are also some other features I like, but I don’t think I’ll reveal them yet.

Now I want to see what other folks on campus are doing with this. I think there’s a way to look up all the Bookings Calendars at an institution or at least an institution to which you belong [4]. I only see fourteen, including two associated with GrinnellCollege. One of the two seems to be available at There’s one person I can book appointments with, John. I wonder which John that is. It appears that John will do an Initial Consult starting any time after 3:00 a.m. on weekdays. I’ll go with 8:00 a.m. What else can I figure out? I see that one colleague has two different booking organizations for different purposes. I wonder if I can archive the same. Yup [5]. Ah, what fun.

I’d like to have an initial message on my booking page. I could include one with and Acuity Scheduling. But I still haven’t figured out how to do it with Bookings. Let’s run through the tabs. Home. Nope. That just tells me my revenue and lists features. Calendar. Nope. That lists the calendar. Booking Page. While that sounds promising, it does not include an option for introductory text. Customers. Nope. But it’s good to see Microsoft will keep a record of everyone who books with me. Since that might be FERPA-protected information, I’m glad to know that Microsoft is an Officer of the College [6]. Staff. That’s just me. I can’t even add any information about myself. Not even a picture. Bleh. Services. We’ve discussed those already. I like the ability to add them. But that’s not a greeting. Business Information. I can enter a Business name, a Business address, a Business phone, a reply-to email, a Website URL, a Privacy policy URL [7], a Terms and conditions URL [8], a Business type, a Currency, a Business logo, and Business hours. But no Business description. And that’s it.

I cannot find a way to add an introductory message. And it seems like such a natural feature. Oh well, I guess Microsoft Bookings meets the majority of [my] functional needs [9]. I’ll still put in a [help desk ticket|] in case I missed anything.

Wait until I take on Microsoft Teams!

Postscript: I am not sure whether Bookings or Teams are registered trademarks. If they are, please mentally replace Bookings with Bookings® and Teams with Teams® throughout this document. Oh, you should probably do the same with Microsoft® and MS® [11] and likely a bunch of other stuff I"ve forgotten.

Postscript: As noted in the page footer, the opinions expressed herein are my own and should not reflect on the Microsoft Corporation, Grinnell Corporation, or any other entity.

[1] Or, perhaps, because it’s Grinnell.

[2] More the latter than the former.

[3] No, does not work.

[4] Found it! How? We’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader.

[5] Guessing the fairly obvious organization name I chose is left as an exercise for the reader.

[6] Or something like that.

[7] You have no privacy sounds good.

[8] I wonder if the College has a default one.

[9] Grinnell College (nd). The importance of only using approved software. Undated. Last visited 10 April 2020 [10].

[10] Usually, I insert a snide comment about how we hide important policies behind a password wall. However, since we seem to be a model for other institutions in responding to the novel coronavirus, I’m glad that this document is not available as a model for others to adopt or adapt.

[11] As long as you don’t mean Mississippi.

Version 1.0 of 2020-04-10 .