By Alan C. Brawn CTS, ISF, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE, DCME, DSNE
With the “new” economy continuing to loom large it behooves us more than ever before to understand exactly what we are committing to when we invest our time and hard earned dollars in any digital signage project but especially in the niche we all know as the education market. At the mention of the words “education market” many people in the digital signage universe as well as those involved directly in education from the end user perspective simply change the proverbial channel. From both sides of the equation, conventional wisdom often relegates digital signage in education to a flat panel at the reception desk or for the more “creative” types a flat panel outside the auditorium, gym or perhaps inside the cafeteria. For all concerned, conventional wisdom is not always wise and certainly not inclusive of all good ideas so do not turn the channel at least not yet. We are not talking about AV or IT “boxes” with limited use. In fact we are talking about modern AV and IT systems design and integration providing multi tasking capabilities in the education community from K-12 continuing through the bastions of higher education so stay tuned in a little longer.
In the “old days” schools had black boards with chalk and high tech to us was a 16MM projector with the clackety clack of film going through the gate showing us a grainy picture on a glass beaded screen. Fast forward to modern times and we now have white boards, Magic Markers, and if we are lucky a video projector and a computer lab either in the room or at our disposal. This is progress with a small “p” to be certain but this is hardly at the leading edge of what drives effective communication and the assimilation and retention of information in our every day existence let alone in the classroom.
This begs the question as to whether we need to technologically push the educational envelope further. The answer is a resounding yes and some out of the box thinking about digital signage is a good place to start! If we are to reassert the superiority of American talent in all areas we must close the “education gap” with developing countries like India, China and Russia not to mention Europe and we must learn to communicate and educate in a manner consistent with the needs of our students and how they are now accustomed to learning in their daily lives outside of the classroom. If we arm our students with a thirst for knowledge and not weapons (even those in video games!) we will meet the needs of an increasingly complex world and meet or even beat the competition head on.
We no longer have a space race or thankfully a cold war but we do have an “education gap” that must be closed if we are to compete in the world economy. It has been proven that today’s media-savvy youth respond best to mediums where the message is presented and easily accessible at all times on a larger scale and scope from computers to smart cell phones to digital signage. Studies have shown that using digital signage in various creative forms in the educational environment is literally a “no-brainer” and can be a useful tool in closing that “education gap”.
The challenge we face is understand what technologies and applications like digital signage can do for us and how to effectively use and apply all that is at our disposal and not allocate funds for projects with poor return on investment or more properly insufficient return on objectives. This brings us full circle back to the subject of effective systems design and integration and providing solutions in educational environments. This is definitely not a box sale and entails a complex needs analysis and a fundamental understanding of a specific educational institution and what their objectives are. Projects will be ongoing and on-growing as well so understanding what is needed in the near, mid, and long terms become the first order of the day.
We can see that digital signage in various iterations can do a lot in terms of providing tangible value beyond initial costs for schools of all types. For example digital signage can provide:
- Emergency systems
- On-air bulletin boards
- Campus TV networks
- Interactive kiosks
- School news and weather reports
- Local area and school event calendars
- Sports scores, morning announcements
- Homework assignments
- Group collaboration
- Breakout room capabilities
A properly designed digital signage system can actually assist in a teacher’s instructional efforts. It can provide video-extension and distance-learning capabilities. A lecture can be broadcast from one class room to many or can be set up via an IP-based digital signage system to stream a lecture at the main campus to a branch campus over the Web. For interactivity, digital white boarding tools can be used by students to upload work they’ve done on a laptop to the screen seen by all. Teams can easily be set up and collaboration among those teams can be managed by the digital signage software with oversight by the teacher. Students benefit from the convenience of instantaneous access and communication and the school and teachers benefit from the wise use and reuse of their often limited resources.
In digital signage we often hear that content is king and nowhere is this more accurate than in educational systems. To expand this concept further, a digital signage guru states that “relevance is really king”. He opines that digital signage is ideally suited to provide the envelope where relevant information can reside and be distributed and viewed in the most efficient way possible. The good news is that the information residing in the system can be created, edited, distributed, maintained, and managed as needed. With over 350 software providers providing products to manage, create, edit, distribute, and archive information, the fit in the educational realm is a natural.
For those familiar with educational environments, we would be remiss if we did not mention policies, procedures, and mandates under the umbrella of accountability that must be dealt with seemingly at every turn. In this regard, schools painstakingly enact policies from the federal and state governments as well as the local and regional school districts to ensure an accurate and consistent presentation of content to both internal and external audiences. A properly designed digital signage system helps everyone comply with these policies by centralizing the point of distribution and becoming a clearinghouse for all multimedia content. With a digital signage system administered from a single point, an assigned person or group of people can effectively become the “gatekeepers” for all school-related content. If you want to stream media stored on multiple servers, use a digital signage system that integrates easily with an existing LAN. Some of the newer digital signage players do this particularly well and even come bundled with templates and other design tools, so you can create professional-looking presentations without the need for dedicated designers. In short, the content creation, distribution, and archiving is under school/teacher management and control. All of this is possible and requires forward thinking digital signage design from an AV/IT integrator in collaboration with the educational institution.
Off course all of this has a price tag but the good news is that there are numerous federal and local government programs, funds and grants to help in this area. In addition to government grants, consider the power of advertising revenues. The fact is that students are a key advertising demographic. Digital signage can be a tool for a school system to subsidize the investment in the digital signage system as well as academic and operational expenses just by judiciously allowing advertisers to stream content on the system. In the content design phase and especially in common areas of the school you can blend in paid content with the schools own material in student centers, bookstores, and auditoriums, as well as stadiums and other sporting venues. In some cases, advertisers are even willing to underwrite the entire cost of the digital signage equipment in return for advertising access to the student population. Remember, we tend to buy products as adults that we are exposed to at a young age.
The bottom line is for us to think outside of the box and look at the educational community in a new light. The battle of the new millennium is not with guns or a cold war rather it is one of knowledge and superiority in the classroom. We are faced with an “education gap” that must be filled. Change is all around us and where there is change there is opportunity. In a recent New York Times article it noted that the average person is confronted nearly 8 hours a day with digital displays of one kind or another. In another article, it was noted that over 67% of the population of the USA is affected by digital signage each day. One of my personal quotes is that “when application, technology, and price converge, opportunities exist”. Let’s look at digital signage in education and think beyond the flat panel at the reception desk and see where these new opportunities can take us and our students.