Digital Addition

Digital signage has been an option for higher-ed campuses for around a decade, but it hasn’t gained popularity until the last few years. “It’s probably been the last two or three years or so that it’s really becoming a major potential because of the decrease in cost and increase in capabilities,” explained Mike Strand, founder and CEO of StrandVision, a provider of Internet-based digital signage software.

Previously, digital signage hasn’t been practical due to costs. Now, that costs for LCD screens are coming down, software is also created with colleges in mind to meet the unique needs of the higher-ed market. This software also allows for end users to be innovative with how they present their content.

What’s Out There

Colleges and universities have a large number of options for digital signage. There are two types of platforms, according to Strand. “One’s a stand-alone type system where there’s actually a computer with software on it and essentially the administrator would go ahead and update those computers typically with in their firewall, so it’s a lot more hands-on.” Another option are Internet-based digital signs, “which are easy to set up and allow updating the content through a Website.”

Displays vary in size as well. According to Keith Yanke, director of Product Marketing at NEC Display Solutions, “Depending on exactly what application they want to do, there’s a number of display options out there. Sizes range from 32 to 82 in. in a single unit. With an ultra-narrow bezel, the sky is the limit.”

Yanke also pointed out that colleges and universities also look at the price point while they’re considering digital signage. “The feature set is also important. They’re looking for displays that have wide connectivity, and they’re looking for something that has networking capability to it — so they can manage displays remotely.” Products that are future-proof are also important. One way to allow for future developments is to use displays with an option slot, allowing for new technology to be incorporated into the panel.

Where Are They?
Digital signage can be found in a number of different places on a college campus. “One of the main things you’ll see large-format displays used for on a campus is wayfinding,” Yanke explained.  “Instead of using static information, campuses are going over to this digital format, making sure that whoever is visiting this campus, as well as students and faculty on campus, can easily get around the campus and know where they’re going.” Digital signage creates an opportunity for interactive maps — a visitor can touch a building and see where rooms are located inside.

Digital signage shows up in student dining areas as menu boards, and it can even be spotted in the business department. “We are seeing some higher-ed campuses incorporate large-format displays in their finance programs. What they’re doing with these displays is essentially creating a mock-up of a trading floor.” Students are immersed in a real-life situation instead of a typical classroom environment.

You might also see digital signage spotting hallways, running announcements about upcoming activities, promotions, deadlines, and meetings. They may also be positioned outside buildings and along campus pathways. “Generally what they’re running depends on who is updating the content, too,” added Strand.

Security Communication
Colleges use digital signage for more than interactive bulletin boards and maps. Digital signage’s main attraction is the opportunity to broadcast emergency messages whenever there is a need.

“On most campuses across the country, you don’t have to sign up for emergency communication via text or e-mail,” noted Bob Lord, founder of Connexio Media, a company that offers outdoor digital signage. “How do you communicate to those students?”

Digital signage, and software specifically designed with higher ed in mind, gives universities the chance to spread an emergency message to those students who are outside the “regular” communication loop available through the school’s Website, e-mails, or texts. While an audio system can broadcast an emergency message, “having these digital signs through the campus also gives you that flexibility of displaying information besides audio, such as exit routes or exactly what is happening or should be done from a specific building,” explained Yanke.

Outdoor digital signage also has the added benefit of relaying weather messages to students who may commute to campus and not know whether there is a delay or their classes are cancelled.

Added Benefits
Digital signage has its obvious benefits: Unlike static signage which must be replaced to change information or checked frequently to make sure it is still intact, once a digital display is up and connected to a network, somebody can use remote monitoring to make sure all the displays are functioning properly and displaying the correct message. “You don’t have to dedicate IT resources or graphic design resources to get it going,” noted Strand.

Digital signage and the software available currently allow for a lot of options in displaying official communications from your college. Information can be scrolled across the bottom of the screen in a news ticker, or the screen can be split to show a couple of different announcements. Colleges also have the option to target certain audiences — messages can be set to be displayed in certain buildings at specified times of the day.

The technology also allows universities to maximize advertising partnerships, and multitask the screen. “You might have a third of the screen devoted to sponsors or advertisers and the other two-thirds devoted to content,” explained Strand. Advertising partnerships can also help pay for a new digital signage system.

In the Future

While digital signage has gained momentum in only the past few years, more advances, not only in the systems and the software themselves, but also in the way they are used on campuses, will make digital signage an everyday option on campus.

Expect to see more integration of signage into campus communications and more information than announcements of student government meetings. Right now, colleges can integrate content from RSS feeds or campus-supplied content. Digital signage around campus, integrating more Internet content, could become information centers for news outside the campus as well.

Emergency communications could also be connected to more than the campus Website. Live updates sent to displays could also be sent to student e-mail and text messages to cell phones.

“I think we’ll just see more growth as time moves forward, based on the technology being more advanced, more cost efficient — as well as more software options being out there,” concluded Yanke.