Saturday, April 07, 2007

Outlook Meeting Scheduler as Field Trip Notification System

Last fall I wrote about how we were using the meeting scheduling feature in our Outlook Enterprise mail system to check in with staff during emergencies that arise during vacations. We are now putting the same system to use in solving a different problem- field trip notifications.

If you've never seen it deployed, within Microsoft Outlook mail client is also a calendar. Like any computer calendar, you can keep track of your appointments, meetings and other events on it. Unlike most computer calendars, if your mail server is set up for it, you can also use it to schedule meetings.

Scheduling a meeting is a bit like writing an email. You decide everyone you want to send it to, fill in the date, subject and location fields. Then you set the start and stop time, type a message in the body of the invitation, and send it.

The people receiving it have buttons at the top of the invitation allowing them to accept or decline the invitation. If they accept it, the event is automatically entered into their own calendar. It's pretty spiffy. I think Lotus Notes also has a similar feature.

And as further icing on the cake, the person who sent the invite can go to their calendar, click on the event, and click on a tracking tab that lets them see who has accepted, declined, or not responded at all.

My division doesn't make much use of this feature, but we've been struggling to find a good way to notify all the specialists when a class is going on a field trip. Being such a large school, a grade level's field trip is often spread out over 3-5 different days, since few venues want 250 kids descending upon them at once.

In the past the office had tried sending out regular email notification, but that only met with limited success. Now they photocopy all the field trip requests and put a bundle of copies in each specialists' mailbox. We are hoping that sending out the notice as a meeting invitation will have more success.

Specialists can decline announcements that don't impact them. When planning their lessons, they can open their calendar and see in a glance all the trips that do affect them. The office staff no longer need to spend time copying all the trip requests and putting them in boxes. Specialists are no longer wading through big bundles of trip requests. And no trees are being turned to paper in this step of the process.

It will of course, have problems, but here's hoping this is a better solution than the one we have been using. Have you found a good way to keep specialists in the know about classroom trips?