IT and Audio Visual Technology in our New Campus Spaces

Readers familiar with our University campus in Aberdeen will know that we are currently constructing a stunning new building at our Garthdee Campus. If you want to see some great photos on how this is shaping up look at Daniel Doolan’s Blog. During the design of this building, we have given a great deal of thought to the part that IT and Audio visual (AV) technologies should play to create state of the art space for our staff, students and visitors. I had a chance this week to go through some of the more detailed specifications for different types of space, and I thought I would share some of the key features with you. This is a team effort involving IT Services, DELTA, Estates & Property Services and colleagues from across the University working together.

The new building will, of course, be wireless enabled throughout – including a bit of outdoor coverage for the lovely sunny weather usually experienced in Aberdeen at this time of year.

All our teaching classrooms and lecture theatres will be equipped with overhead projection and sound – the larger rooms will have two projectors. No surprises there, but we have made sure that in addition to any fixed PC in the rooms, we will be able to easily connect to these systems laptops, tablets, and other mobile devices – wirelessly if required. We will use “short throw” projectors where possible to reduce shadows from people walking in front of the projection. Fixed video cameras will be in most of these rooms for lecture capture, streaming video to overflow space, video conferencing and for remote participation. You would think that sound was straight forward, but a lot of thought has gone in to balancing sound from, for example, a video being shown along with the lecturer speaking, so that there is an even distribution of sound through the room without those at the front being deafened so that those at the back can hear.

We’ve designed the controls and operation of IT and AV equipment in each type of space to be basically the same so that staff can walk into any space and not have to waste time figuring out how to get things working. Sound, projection and lighting will all be controlled from a console – or possibly even from your iPad.

I don’t think we will be seeing any VHS players, DVD players or the likes in our new spaces – we expect all media to be streamed either from external sources or from our Virtual Learning Environment.

We’ve also been looking at the furniture layout in these rooms – moving away from fixed rows of desks and seats and towards flexible configurations of desks close to power and data connectivity.

A fully functional “mockup” of the new space and associated equipment is being put together in DELTA’s offices at the moment, and once it is ready they will be encouraging people to come and “test drive” the new equipment and look at the furniture options. They will also support staff development to help staff prepare to use the new facilities.

Meeting rooms will of course also be equipped with similar IT and AV, except that we will use flat screens instead of overhead projectors for the smaller rooms.

The new building will have a much better “signage” system with flat screens in key public areas on which we can display University wide messages, local messages, and television and other media broadcasts.

All this will be built in to the new Campus building which is opening in the Spring of 2013. However, we have always said that we don’t want to end up with a “two tier” campus and we plan to implement the same new technologies across existing buildings as these are refurbished. We are also planning to kit out a few existing rooms over the Autumn so that staff can become accustomed to the new facilities and controls ahead of the new Campus building opening in 2013 – watch this blog for more info nearer the time!

New PC’s for 2012-13

From the University wide IT budget every year we set aside approximately £400k for our “access strategy”. It used to be called our “desktop replacement” budget, but the nature of the “desktop” has been changing over recent years. Increasingly, University provided IT services and software can be accessed through a Windows desktop PC, and Apple Mac, Windows laptops, netbooks, Apple Macbooks – and now tablet PC’s such as iPads and Androids. In recognition of this change, some of the annual £400k is also now used to support some of the server infrastructure which ensures that software can be accessed across this range of devices (see “MyApps – the Foundation of Future Desktop). Hence the term “access strategy”.

We have around 3,000 of these devices in use across the University and our current policy is in overall terms to replace these over a 5 year cycle. In some areas, because of specialist requirements, we replace on a 3 year cycle.

This is the time of year when we look at what is due for replacement and we are working through that at the moment. This is a big exercise and not just a question of buying a bunch of PC’s. For example, when we replace the 3-year old computers in specialist areas (e.g. School of Computing), these 3 year old ones will still be absolutely fine for many other parts of the University – so there is a domino effect as we refresh one area and cascade their PC’s into other areas. The PC’s that have truly come to the end of their life then have to be properly disposed off, complying with environmental legislation and ensuring that all confidential data has been wiped off them. All of this involves IT staff in IT Services, Schools, Library and external suppliers.

Procurement Scotland have negotiated national deals for buying desktop computers and laptops and wherever possible we buy from their contracts as we get great prices on the equipment.

This year, we are conducting that exercise with a large new building due to open within the next 12 months. One of our aims will be to ensure that as much as possible of the IT equipment going into that building is new or nearly new. This will include using large numbers of low energy workstations as part of the “Future Desktop” project. We might hold back some of the new purchases until nearer the opening of the new building so that they can go straight into the new building.

We are also very aware that we are buying equipment for a desktop world which is changing rapidly and where it is hard to predict what will be the “norm” in 5 years time. We have not yet brought iPads and the like into this annual upgrade process, and only this week Microsoft have announced their latest offering for the tablet computer world. But our “Future Desktop” strategy is very much about future proofing our whole approach and precisely what we buy in our annual refresh is going to change over the next 5 years. Interesting times!