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Tech program first of its kind (5/03)

By IAN ROSS Students enrolled in Algoma University College’s (AUC) upcoming computer games technology course should experience a one-of-kind learning opportunity when the program opens this fall.


Students enrolled in Algoma University College’s (AUC) upcoming computer games technology course should experience a one-of-kind learning opportunity when the program opens this fall.

This is because their professor will be five time zones away in Scotland delivering a lecture in real time while gazing back at his assembled pupils in Northern Ontario via the Internet.

Distance education through Trans-Atlantic videoconferencing will be a major component for the inaugural class of 20 students in the school’s new computer games design course, believed to be the first of its kind in North America.

The course will be offered through Algoma’s proposed Information and Technology Centre, the construction of which is expected to get underway this summer.

The groundbreaking is tabbed for either June or July for an anticipated January or February 2003 ribbon cutting.

The $5.1-million facility will be the future home of the college’s proposed master of science degree in computer games technology, a partnership now under development with the University of

Abertay in Dundee, Scotland.

The 12-month graduate course provides for a combination of distance education and on-site instruction expected to be offered this September. University administrators were awaiting final approval of the course from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities’ assessment board. A board meeting was held on April 28.

The two-storey, 24,000-square-foot building will house both computer science and business incubator space, as well as specialized videoconferencing rooms for Abertay professors to link up with Algoma students in real time.

“It’s probably going to have the biggest impact of anything we’ve ever done here, because of the time we’re in, the change in technology and the evolution of the university,” says Bruno Barban, AUC’s director of university services. AUC is partnering with the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s Innovation Centre and the Sault Ste. Marie Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to be tenants at the Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) centre to be located on the Queen Street campus.

The Innovation Centre’s business incubator staff will have about 3,250 square feet set aside to support small- and medium-sized information technology startups.

PUC Telecom Inc., a subsidiary company of the PUC, will provide advanced telecommunications infrastructure with videoconferencing and IP telephony infrastructure for the centre.

“If you’re building a new information and communications technology building,” says Martin

Wyant, manager of PUC Telecom, “you really should have the latest voice technology, which is IP telephony.”

IP telephony takes advantage of Internet protocol language to deliver voice, video and data services on the same high-speed cable simultaneously in a single converged network.

“The new movement in the last couple of years has been trying to eliminate network duplication and have one solid core network,” says Wyant.

As one of the centre’s tenants, PUC Telecom’s role will be to support telecommunications research and pursue new opportunities to extend broadband capabilities into rural communities in a cost-effective manner, Wyant says.

Besides providing much-needed faculty office and classroom space to handle a 108-per-cent jump in applications, particularly in computer science and business administration, the technology centre will also provide additional computer labs, a 200-seat lecture auditorium and research space for potential corporate partners.

The university pulled together a number of funding partners for the project, including $2.4 million from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., $1.3 million from FedNor, $350,000 from the PUC and $254,000 from the City of Sault Ste. Marie.

The project will likely be scaled back from its original plan of 36,000 square feet since the university’s provincial Super Build application was denied, says Barban.

The funding would have covered 70 per cent of the increased costs, with the university assuming the balance.