Doncaster's £90 million education city moves one step closer to completion

DEC is working with Cisco, Computacenter and IBM to put the final touches to its network before the start of the academic year

The final stages of testing are underway on a 90 million IT-enabled education initiative that goes live next month.

Doncaster Education City (DEC) is an ambitious project designed to enhance teaching and learning through the use of cutting-edge technology. Backed by a partnership comprised of Doncaster College, the Learning & Skills Council (South Yorkshire), Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council and Yorkshire Forward, the initiative aims to increase the population's knowledge and job prospects.

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With just over a month to go before the start of the new academic year in September, the college, which is the hub of the DEC, is gearing up to receive students by putting the final touches to its IT network. The new network hosts thousands of network points and is up to 10 times faster than the college's previous one, according to Computacenter which has been working on the project with other vendors including Cisco and IBM.

"The new IT infrastructure will enable us to deliver remote and online learning capabilities to thousands of new students every year. Multi-media content will be streamed via an IP-based network, which will carry 99 per cent of our voice and data traffic," said Graeme Tizard, IT director at Doncaster College.

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Students can take advantage of single sign-on so that they can view their day's timetable when they log in. And staff and students alike will benefit from dynamic digital signage around the campus.

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The new building makes use of interactive whiteboards and IP telephony and has the potential for wireless access in every classroom. Digital CCTV has also been installed, meaning that administrators can pause and rewind footage without interfering with current recordings.

"The building is secure by design. We've installed one of the largest automated access control systems with more than 650 doors using proximity cards. As the college enrols a student or appoints a member of staff, HR, student records and other core systems are updated," Tizard added. These access cards will also enable registers to be taken automatically as students enter classrooms.

All core computer systems, such as HR and student records, are connected so that information only has to be entered once. This will save time and deliver other benefits too, according to Tizard. "We wanted data to be available in as near to real time as possible and we've got it to within 15 minutes in the majority of cases. So, for example, a student can enrol and walk to the library straight away to borrow a book," he said.

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The next step IT-wise, once the college opens its doors to students next month, will be to focus on disaster recovery.

The majority of the college has already moved from its old site to its new, state-of-the-art home in the Waterfront area of Doncaster. It took two years to build and will provide education services to 38,000 people.

"We wanted to increase the participation of the local population and do so in such a way that people who've either failed educationally or been failed by the education system can be re-engaged," said Tizard.

Once the DEC is fully complete, Doncaster will turn its attention to achieving its aims of a having its own university by 2012.

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