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!

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Unified Communication – bringing it together

As part of the refurbishment of the University Estate, we are replacing the University telephone system.

The first task, which we will do over the summer this year, will be to concentrate on the basics – just the new telephone system. Those of you who already have one of the new phones will notice little difference, those with older phones will get a new phone and immediately some better features on call forwarding, voicemail etc. You will also be able to use software phones to access the University phone system when you are on the move or at home. Behind the scenes, we will be installing the equipment to run the new system which incidentally will also make our whole system more resilient as part of our disaster recovery plans.

Once this is installed this system can become the hub for allowing much greater video communication, internally and externally. It will be possible to run video links from your desktop, iPad, iPhone or Android and link to Skype. We will equip a range of meeting and teaching rooms with video conferencing ability. A key aim is to make it easy for you to start a video link by looking up somebody from the Outlook address book. The equipment in the main video conferencing room in the Faculty of Health and Social care will also be upgraded. 

We will also be integrating Outlook with the new system. You will be able to pick up your voicemail messages directly from Outlook. We will also be deploying an instant messaging system. More about that nearer the time, but very simply it allows you to see instantly if someone is available and fire off a quick message or start a phone call. It keeps email traffic down, and avoids you wasting time phoning someone if they are not available. 

All this represents quite a big change in the ways in which we can communicate, and other organisations which have adopted this have welcomed the flexibility that this brings. We’ll send out more information nearer the time as we are ready to start making this available for use.