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Durham University chose Visavvi as their long-standing AV partner to undertake the project to install cutting-edge digital technology in their new £40m Lower Mountjoy Teaching and Learning Centre - one of the best Higher Education facilities in Europe. Infinite flexibility and ease of use are the hallmarks of the system, which handles more than 19,500 possible AV input and output configurations and provides the platform for modern teaching that the University is renowned for.
The brief was clear: To create a highly flexible network of AV technology suitable for 21st century education, but agile and adaptable enough to enhance the teaching experience and be future proof. Our strong relationship with the University meant we were brought in from the start via the main design and build contractor who did not have the knowledge or skills to provide the AV infrastructure.
The centre is not only a cornerstone of Durham’s teaching, but is also a conference centre which will enhance the wider economic impact of the University. It’s also a place of research – the AV solution had to enable new teaching and training methods to be developed as well as supporting existing techniques.
Delivering on a project billed by the client as the most ambitious IT development project they had ever undertaken, within a limited timeframe and with a hard deadline of students returning for the new academic year was a major challenge.
We created an extremely flexible and agile system featuring a custom user interface which is the same throughout the wider campus. This ensured rapid user adoption enabling sessions ran to schedule and minimised the support time for the in-house AV. To ensure early adoption and a smooth transition, Visavvi’s project manager was based on site for the first few weeks, supporting users and the AV/IT Team.
Chris Pearson, Senior Manager for IT Installations at Durham University commented: “The feedback we’ve got now that people are in the building has been fantastic. We have used the fundamental principles of technology that we’ve utilised for the last 10 years and applied them to the new technology. So, from the user’s point of view they don’t know that anything is different, but from our point of view we’ve got maximum flexibility.”
From two large lecture theatres seating 500 and 250 people, to three learning labs, nine experimental learning suits and nine seminar rooms – the state of the art system enhances the students’ learning experience and integrates seamlessly with existing technology throughout the rest of the University, showcasing Durham’s reputation as one of the best in the world.
Multiple teaching and learning spaces can be combined seamlessly into a single environment where large groups of students can attend a lecture with live video, audio and content without any loss of quality or user experience. Undergraduate student Jake explained: “Sometimes we do group projects together. Usually we have one master copy of the PowerPoint so if I was in one of these little groups, I could put that on the screen and every other person could edit it and see what was happening. It works really well with that.”
The other major innovation on this project was an intuitive solution to programming the new AMX SVSi units so that the project could be delivered within the short timeframe available. Visavvi’s intelligent problem-solving approach meant they found a swifter solution – writing a piece of custom code which allowed all of the units to be configured simultaneously and in a fraction of the potential 200 hours it could have taken manually.
Durham’s aspiration was to achieve a BREAAM “Excellent” rating for the new-build facility. Contributing to this, the system Visavvi designed and installed included proximity sensors, LED low-power monitors and automatic system power down to conserve energy.
The system's smart design enables the University’s in-house AV team to remotely monitor and actively manage what’s happening on the network in real time. The central control rack incorporates monitoring technology enabling support teams to view source selection and preview content, enhancing remote support. This is essential for a university with campuses spread over a large area and a central support team who cannot be everywhere at once.
Whilst new build projects present many potential pitfalls, the skills and professionalism of our team ensured the project was delivered on time and on budget. This delighted the client and ensures that Durham University students can benefit from an intelligent, innovative system that lives up to and enhances the establishment’s reputation – among the best in the world.
Dr Crispin Bloomfield, Director of IT Operations, said: “It’s been arguably the most ambitious IT development project the University has ever undertaken... and it’s left us in the position that we have a real flagship development, not just for Durham, not just for the UK higher education market, but something that has a global presence and importance. We couldn’t have done that without the expertise and professionalism of the Visavvi team.”
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