Getting the Word Out: Digital Signage Improves Campus Communication

College administrators are putting an increased emphasis on improving their ability to communicate with students, staff, and visitors quickly and effectively. There are a number of factors that have prompted administrators to sharpen their focus on campus communication, including an increase in campus shootings and crime in communities that surround campuses.

The most recent violent attack on a college campus occurred in February, when a former student opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb. The tragedy left five students dead and another 16 wounded. Just 10 months earlier at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, 32 people were killed and many others were wounded, making it not only the deadliest school shooting, but also the deadliest shooting rampage by a single gunman in United States history.

With situations like these, it’s no wonder academic institutions across the country — large and small — are opting to invest in digital signage, also known as electronic signage, for emergency communications. Many schools are also experiencing a variety of additional benefits in the process.

What Is Digital Signage?
Digital signage consists of flat-panel plasma or liquid crystal display (LCD) screens that can deliver news, alerts, warnings, special messages, and other forms of content across a campus at a moment’s notice. The screens are becoming more popular on college campuses as administrators are recognizing the value of fast, effective communication. According to published reports, several educational institutions have already deployed digital signage systems, including:
•    Morton College (Cicero, IL)
•    Bellevue Community College (Bellevue, WA)
•    The University of Central Arkansas (Conway, AR)
•    Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta)

Digital signs are typically installed in common spaces — interior and exterior — where students tend to congregate, such as the entrances to a campus, outside corridors, student unions, libraries, public hallways, residence halls, and laboratories.

Another University Goes Digital
Not long ago, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) was struggling to personalize communication with students, staff, and campus visitors. After listening to students and faculty to better understand their signage needs, university planners decided it was best to upgrade a portion of UWM’s sign system.

To initiate the project, UWM commissioned a local Milwaukee-based company to install digital displays at the entrance of nine major campus parking lots.

“These signs provide us the capability to communicate with our target audience — students, staff, and visitors,” said Claude Schuctey, UWM’s director of University architects, planners, and transportation. “The other huge benefit is that we can customize our digital sign communication.”

On a typical day, UWM’s digital signage broadcasts the current date, time, weather forecast, and available parking spaces. When the University’s Board of Regents or other special guests are visiting, the messages are often changed to greetings, such as “Hello! Welcome to UWM Board of Regents!” The signs can also be customized to broadcast a safety alert, if needed.

Digital Signs Benefits Entire Campus
Colleges utilizing digital signage often discover many new opportunities for improved communication on campus.

Instant messages — An extraordinary advantage to using electronic signage is the ability to communicate real-time information and data. To change a message on a digital display, college personnel only need access to a computer. This is a huge benefit for colleges, especially if a crisis situation occurs. In the event of a violent attack or other emergency situation on campus, school officials can instantly broadcast the necessary information to students, allowing them to get to a safe and secure area quickly.

And, depending on the model and software used with the digital display, city or county emergency personnel may be able to broadcast emergency messages directly on the campus digital sign system.

Multiple messaging options — Electronic sign systems offer many messaging options for colleges to choose from.

Some digital displays have touch-screen capabilities. For example, if a student is looking to use a computer in one of the college’s labs, he or she can find out which labs have available PCs simply by touching the screen. Other touch-screen options include library inventory, bookstore hours, and even available rooms where music students can practice.

Other digital displays broadcast class cancellations, campus activities, sports and weather information, the number of available parking spaces in specific lots, and much more.

Decluttering a campus — Another favorable aspect of digital signage is that it helps to declutter campuses, making them more aesthetically pleasing. Digital signage also decreases the amount of work for administrative and maintenance personnel.

The traditional campus bulletin board is covered with hundreds of paper flyers and staples. Depending on the weather conditions and other circumstances, many of those flyers will end up as litter on campus and in the surrounding community.

With electronic signage, the use of paper flyers can be minimized. Janitorial service workers can focus more of their time on larger sanitation issues. In addition, campus administrative personnel can focus on their core competencies instead of spending blocks of time creating signs and flyers to inform students of news, changes, and other information.

Campuswide Communication Systems Are Essential
A campuswide communications system featuring some electronic signage offers huge advantages — whether it’s for customized communications, emergency communications, to help students manage their time more efficiently, or just to rid the campus of thousands of handbills.

With thousands of students, staff, and visitors spread across multiple buildings, higher education administrators looking to increase communication on campus should consider digital signage. With its multiple uses and expanded capabilities, what more could colleges ask for.

Michael Dlugi is the digital display specialist at Poblocki Sign Company in Milwaukee. He has expertise in designing digital displays, LED lighting, and wayfinding and corporate changeovers. Poblocki Sign Company has been helping clients in the education, healthcare, and corporate sector meet their sign challenges for more than 75 years. Dlugi can be reached at 414/453-4010 or by e-mail at [email protected]