Enhancing Campus Wide Communication with Digital Signage
Ashland University in Ashland, Ohio, is a unique and outstanding institution of higher education. AU has buildings spread over 120 acres, with a full-time student population of 2,100. The challenge faced at AU and at universities around the country is to be able to communicate effectively with students on many levels, and in a way they find inviting.
Like many institutions, Ashland University is turning to electronic methods of information transfer to communicate with its staff and students. This process is more effective, saves time and money, and is more environmentally friendly than posters and bulletins.
For a while, the university used monitors at multiple locations, running several different versions of PowerPoint. The solution was less than satisfactory, mainly because the messages being broadcast were not unified. To make matters worse, the messages were not vetted by the university’s Marketing Department before they were released to the students. A new, unified approach was needed.
White, the vice president of Information Technology at AU, knew that a better
digital signage system had to exist that was both affordable and easy to use. Officials
at AU wanted to cover all the colleges numerous buildings, with differing needs,
so they needed a system that could span the campus yet seem small to the
“The system must allow individualized and building specific content to be displayed, as well as institution-wide information for events and coordinated emergency alerts,” White said.
director of instructional technology and support, was brought in as the
university’s technical expert.
“I didn’t want to worry about maintaining servers or software licenses,” he said. “I wanted to simply be able to install a system into an open port on the network and have it work outside of my campus intranet. The system had to be as user friendly as posting a PowerPoint, be able to be managed remotely by several different users, and be attractive and customizable for our institution.”
To meet these needs, AU officials chose the Retriever Digital Signage System from DRM Productions. But the decision process at AU did not stop there. The IT department brought together college heads and building managers, along with Dr. Fred Finks, president of AU, and a team from DRM Productions to be sure the system would fulfill the need.
The team from DRM laid out the possibilities that the Retriever could bring to the university and listened to each college’s varying requirements. It became clear that AU had to satisfy the diverse needs of the different colleges while still keeping the signage connected across the campus.
to roll out the Retriever Digital Signage System at six locations to see how it
“In 2008 the university received several displays as part of a major donation,” White said. “These systems were placed in key academic and administrative buildings for the initial phase of the digital signage project.”
Time has shown that the Retriever was a good fit for the university’s needs. The university controls some of the signage across the campus, while each college or building has content providers who are responsible for the remainder of the sign input and creation at specific locations.
The new system gives all users a detailed and growing list of animated backgrounds to place behind images or typed messages. This feature is engaged using simple drop-down menus from a website where all content is created. Each user is assigned his or her own set of screens that other system users, other than key administrators, cannot access.
System-wide or building specific users also can place weather radar, RSS feeds and holiday or special event information; place photos and advertise upcoming events; or notify students of class changes throughout the day. Student organizations keep members informed while building membership using the system.
Each Retriever queries the Web every 10 minutes to retrieve any new content, which is then integrated into the next round of screens displayed at each location. These changes can be made from any computer with Internet access or using a smart phone.
Users schedule content through the built-in scheduling software. In addition, animated screen backgrounds, built custom for AU, highlight key elements of the university. One slide displays the university clock with the correct time. In the future, students and employees also could build still or flash images to place on the Retriever.
University President Finks was particularly interested in the emergency alert capabilities of the new system. From the start, he recognized that the ability to alert students to an emergency situation was critical. The Retriever is now one part of the emergency alert notification system that AU employs.
“From an administrative perspective, Retriever’s hosted system is the perfect solution,” Kemp said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the level of service and attention to detail that the DRM people have given us.”
White agreed that the new system has been a success. “The Retriever interface makes updating and developing content much easier for the colleges, resulting in improved content,” he said. “The ease of use, innovative features and willingness of DRM to work with us to expand the features to accommodate university needs has us expanding the system from the initial six buildings to 15.”
In addition, officials at the new football stadium and athletic complex are exploring ways to use the Retriever.
The new system’s flexibility and user friendliness is helping AU entertain and inform its students and staff like never before. The goal was to develop a product that would give every user the ability to create professional looking signage, which remains at the center of all Retriever development.
Bob Jones, Co-Owner of DRM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org