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Digital Signage Connects Loyola University Chicago Community

The president of Loyola University Chicago had a vision several years ago for a network of digital signs throughout the lakeside campuses. Research began in 2006, and the first phase kicked off in 2007. University President Michael J. Garanzini also requested a central operations model, to be managed by the marketing and communications department. The result is 30 screens in key locations, with the marketing and communications department serving as a clearinghouse for content.

"The screens are located in a number of buildings around campus," said Steve Christensen, communications manager. "Those locations include the student union, athletic arena, dorms, cafeterias, libraries, our Sullivan Center for Student Services, etc."

Christensen said the screens are near elevators, main entrances, reference desks, lobbies, cafeteria seating, etc. None are located outside. The signs are used to complement other internal communications, such as the weekly e-newsletters for faculty, staff and students, a monthly printed newsletter, special broadcast e-mails and the calendar of events.

"Offering groups the opportunity to advertise events, lectures, and other announcements on the screens is also an attempt to cut down on the large amount of flyers that are created and posted throughout the University," said Christensen. "It's also an important resource in the event that we have an emergency situation on campus. With more than 30 screens on two campuses, it allows us to reach a large audience very quickly."

The content requests come from an even mix of faculty, staff, and students. The marketing department ensures that submissions are from inside the university community and not from outside, that the announcements are relevant to employees and students, and that the announcements adhere to the university's design and brand standards. Of course, critical messages such as alerts or disaster drills take priority.

"We are also able to post video and Flash components to the screens." said Christensen, "We've posted various university television advertisements, news clips featuring Loyola or its professors, and we've streamed live a number of men's and women's basketball games, as well as the inauguration of President Barack Obama."

A design student works part-time on the graphics for each slide. The students who participate are part of a structured internship in which they earn course credits for their time working on the digital signage system.

Christensen said one of the benefits of managing the digital signage system from the marketing office is that it keeps them up-to-date about campus activities. "Since we are the group receiving the information, our office can stay abreast of all that is happening on campus. This is important because the faculty and staff e-newsletter and print newsletter, as well as the alumni magazine are all created out of this office."

He said the system (marketed by Dynasign) is user-friendly and allows for creativity and customization; and since it's Web-based, updating can be done remotely, if needed. It's also flexible in terms of content delivery and variety of content. "The system allows us to post professional-looking messages in real time or to schedule messages for a later date," he said. "This function allows us to keep the information timely and, more importantly, interesting, as we're able to include video and Flash content, and also provide a scrolling ticker at the bottom of the screens that keeps viewers up-to-date on the day's national and global news."

The digital signage system is also a critical component in the university's emergency response plan, allowing them to post information efficiently in the event of a crisis or emergency situation.

"In the event of an emergency we would be able to post information to the more than 30 digital screens on both of our campuses in a matter of minutes, and we wouldn't hesitate to do so," he said. "To date, we have used the screens to communicate crime alerts to our campus community and to alert them to road closures and other situations around the campus that may disrupt their day."

Moving forward, Christensen said they will focus heavily on customizing the various screens on campus so that they feature information specifically relevant to that screen's viewers, as opposed to just pushing the same content to all of the screens. "To date, we've done this with the screen located in our basketball arena, and it now features slides exclusively designed for the athletics department to cater to their targeted audiences. The slides include messaging about purchasing tickets to athletic events, men's and women's basketball standings, and others. We will be working with the various content providers throughout the summer to start customizing special slides for each of their screens."

He said that while the rollout of the digital signage project is completed, he expects the number of screens on campus to grow. "While our office has no plans to add any screens in the immediate future, we do allow other departments and schools within the University the opportunity to buy their own screens for their specific locations."

About the Author

Denise Harrison is a freelance writer and editor specializing in technology, specifically in audiovisual and presentation. She also works as a consultant for Second Life projects and is involved with nonprofits and education within the 3D realm. She can be reached here.

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