Digital Signage

Reshaping the Campus Experience with the Right Information at the Right Time

Digital signage can improve the way students, faculty, staff and visitors interact with a university campus, offering relevent and timely information in a targeted, helpful manner.

When Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us," he was not making a general statement about architecture. He was referring to the proposed reconstruction of the bomb-damaged House of Commons after World War II — and the relationship between the design of buildings and the activities of their inhabitants. Churchill was against "giving each member a desk to sit at and a lid to bang" because, he explained, the House would be mostly empty most of the time. Then at critical votes and moments, it would fill beyond capacity, with members spilling out into the aisles — in his view, a suitable "sense of crowd and urgency."

In reflection, he could have just as easily been speaking to the interaction between people and technology. Whether it is the design of a desktop application, web page or ubiquitous wireless, the way in which people interact with technology creates an experience. With that in mind, how can we improve and even reshape the campus experience for students, faculty, staff and visitors?

In the case of wireless networking, for instance, we have an intersection between technology and space. Can we go beyond "good connectivity for mobile devices on campus" to using technology to bring people closer to what they value? Since people frequently use mobile devices to access information while traversing our spaces, perhaps we can improve on that experience by providing the information in a more expedient manner — without the necessity of using smartphones, tablets or laptops.

One way to do that is with digital signage. More than just digital ads and marketing, digital signage encompasses a wide range of applications, and is in growing use on our campuses. At its essence, digital signage is a tool for providing relevant and timely information to people in campus space using displays or projection. It can take forms ranging in size from large video walls to tablet-sized screens. Signs can be interactive, providing an interface to information similar to any mobile or desktop application. Behind the scenes rests a digital signage content management system, not unlike a web content management system, capable of managing "networks" of hundreds or even thousands of signs.

Learn More

Thomas Kunka serves on the Digital Signage Expo Advisory Board and will co-present a free 30-minute webinar, "Enhancing the University Campus Experience with Digital Signage," moderated by Campus Technology editor Rhea Kelly, on Thursday, Jan. 25 at 2 p.m. EST. Register here.

Digital signage platforms continue to become more and more advanced to meet the challenges found in many vertical markets — including restaurants, retail, hotels, transportation, hospitals, museums and higher education. In many ways, our campuses are microcosms of the larger picture, representing a mixture of all vertical markets. Case in point: My institution operates a regional airport, which must have a signage solution that can deliver FIDS (Flight Information Display System) data as well as traditional advertising to screens throughout its facilities.

The most common form of digital signage falls into a category sometimes called InfoPanels. Resembling a wall-mounted television, InfoPanels are used in public spaces such as atriums, hallways, dining areas and study spaces. Content delivered to these displays varies widely. Some are used to display simple full-screen slideshows of text and graphics, while others use templates to divide the screen into regions containing the current date, time and weather forecast. Newsfeeds, social media and bus schedules can be pulled in dynamically as well.

InfoPanels are effective in delivering a mixture of general and targeted messages in high-traffic areas or spaces which people may gather. The use of an enterprise-level digital signage platform enables multiple users in multiple departments to control and deliver content to signs for which they are responsible. Campuswide messages of general interest can be intermixed with department-specific ones to cater to the demographic likely to be present in a given space.

Building directory and wayfinding kiosks (possibly interactive) are also common applications, as are small displays placed outside of classrooms, conference rooms and labs to provide schedule and event information pulled from a calendaring system or EMS (event management system). Such signs are more targeted in their purpose, but offer increased value for those who use them. Being able to find where and when an event is occurring as one walks into an unfamiliar building, without having to use a smartphone to search the web or download an app, can be invaluable to someone in a hurry and carrying a heavy briefcase.

Donor walls and "walls of honor" can be used to recognize monetary donations of alumni, community members or corporate sponsors. They can be used to highlight the accomplishments and efforts of our faculty and researchers. These replace the bronze or acrylic plaques that line the hallways of many of our buildings with the opportunity to tell a story with digital media and even interactivity.

We can also ponder customization to small groups and even individuals. In athletic training facilities, the potential to display customized workout information, target goals and even real-time biometric data during workouts may be advantageous in keeping student-athletes on track and focused. A locker can become far more than a place to store gear during games and practice, but a portal to an athlete's own game and season statistics, goals and even messages from coaches and trainers. While seemingly over the top, the ability to deliver the right information to the right place at the right time to reach and engage the right people can be a valuable tool. Perhaps even a recruiting tool for potential student-athletes who appreciate knowing that they will have the information they need to succeed, quite literally, in front of them.

The information delivered on digital signage is also available via personal devices such as a tablet, smartphone or even a watch. We invest heavily in placing information on the web, and rightly so. However, if people don't know where to look or to search or don't even know what information they need, what value is that information? Why not add value to those efforts by repurposing portions of that same content for digital signage?

The same insights that Winston Churchill related to the interactions between people and their surroundings may help us to reshape the campus experience. There are steps beyond blanketing the campus with wireless, developing mobile apps and putting everything on the web, hoping that someone finds it. As practitioners of information technology in higher education, we have the opportunity to take those steps. The impact of technology in education can go well beyond the realm of pedagogy and online teaching and learning. It can go beyond network infrastructure and commodity services. When we blur the lines between technology and architecture and tear down the walls between the digital world and the physical one, we have opportunities to reshape the campus experience into something powerful and even more relevant. That is very exciting!

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