It is rare that a state-of-the-art digital lighting desk should find itself on a school's shopping list, but when Design Technology teacher, Kevin Dutton, from Ninestiles School (a leading technology college in Birmingham), attended last year's PLASA Show there was only one thing on his mind.

By the time he left Earls Court he had placed an order for a 48-channel Strand Lighting 300 Series desk through AC Lighting. With a background in theatre, Dutton has been a regular visitor to PLASA over the past five years. He operates as part of a team that includes Jo Falk and Eddie Halliday from the English faculty, that seeks to promote and educate students about lighting and sound. Ninestiles, which offers its 1400+ students a broad spectrum of GCSE, GNVQ and A Level subjects, has already earned a top accolade from Ofsted, as the school with the highest teaching standards in the country. Dutton says: "Our ambition over the next three to four years is to ensure that every student is assigned their own laptop, as we are working towards ‘anytime anywhere’ learning."

The school has two auditoriums - a drama studio and the school hall, the latter generally configured in the round for school productions. "In the last five years there has been a positive attitude towards developing the school’s technical facilities for performing arts and drama, and this has culminated in the purchase of the 300 desk," Dutton continued. Funding was provided by the PTA, ‘Friends of Ninestiles School’ and Birmingham City Council’s local initiative project. "We wanted something that was both flexible and software-oriented; because we don’t have a control room we tend to wire up for a concert or production between the two performance spaces and occasionally outside in the quadrangle."

The locational mobility of the desk was eased by the fact that Ninestiles recently installed wireless technology to provide a mobile and secure wireless LAN environment, allowing teachers and students alike to turn classrooms into temporary high-tech computer suites. At the PLASA Show, Dutton reviewed a series of market-leading desks before arriving at his decision. "The bottom line was that the 300 Series allowed me to be totally flexible with the software. Also it occurred to me that if we buy scrollers, we will need extra channels - and the same goes for moving lights."

The design of Strand’s 24/48 memory desk enables modules to be arranged in any order, which can be detached up to 100m apart. Interconnection between modules is via the Strand S Buss communication system over Cat 5 cable, with RJ 45 connectors for simple connectivity. Additional ShowNet and system software functionality extend the control options over the 500 Series from which it was derived, with new effects operations, hundredth of a second fade times and a host of other features incorporated.

The Ninestiles team decided to configure the desk with 24 presets and 24 submasters. "It needed to be portable, and the fact that the 300 folds up like a laptop, and is neat, secure, well-designed and robust, has certainly justified the purchase," states Kevin. It will also enable them to update the software on a regular basis from the Internet. "We can download it onto 20 laptops or put it on the school network without having to pay a different license fee per user." Dutton adds that currently there are around 20 students logging on in a computer suite to learn how to use the software.

Following its arrival at the school, the 300 Series went straight onto a production of Macbeth, followed by a production of Grease. Out in the commercial world, the school is already working on some collaborative control technology with Light & Sound Design.

The fact that Birmingham’s Hippodrome, The Rep, Old Rep and Crescent theatres have Strand boards was another major factor in the purchasing decision since local theatres are often asked to provide work experience for the students. And Dutton warned: "Som

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