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Posted Date: 4/30/2012

Adapting Digital Displays to the Education IT Market

By  Mike Strand
With approximately 100,000 public schools in the U.S., not to mention the tens of thousands of private schools, colleges, and universities, the education market is a fruitful place for resellers supporting many technologies, including digital signage. Add to the equation the fact that, although digital signage is deployed in many schools, the market is far from saturated. Finally, when you consider the natural fit of digital signage into the normal and emergency communication needs of the schools, you find an ideal market with plenty of potential.

Typically, schools use digital signs in lobbies, hallways, cafeterias, and other public areas for general announcements of upcoming events and to feature students and student projects. The updating of the signage is handled by an administrator on a daily or weekly basis.

Educators have become somewhat familiar with the technology so you won’t have to explain the concept. However, you will have to explain how the signage is managed. Many of the systems targeted to schools are Internet based (in the cloud, to use current parlance) and don’t require a major investment in hardware, beyond the digital display. The content management systems (CMS) are fairly well designed, so little training is required and the updates themselves don’t take too much time.

Innovative Uses Open Doors
So what’s the value-add that system integrators can bring, and what’s the sizzle that will help you sell? Here are a few innovative digital signage network extensions that stretch beyond the basic information/wayfinding that are typical in schools.

Cable Networks—Many schools have cable television networks that are at best underutilized and at worst in disrepair. Beyond the opportunity to rehabilitate a neglected resource, cable systems can be repurposed as digital signage networks for use with the daily morning announcements and to loop announcements throughout the day in study halls, libraries, unused classroom screens, and other areas. This approach also creates the infrastructure for emergency announcements that reaches into classrooms. Emergency announcements via digital signage technologies are of increasing interest for educational facilities and can be used as a basis for grant writing by the school to get the system paid for by government, parent, or student associations.

Desktop Displays—Most digital signage systems can be set to display on idle personal computer screens either as an internal web home page or as a screen saver. This further extends the network using existing assets and, as with the cable distribution system, can become part of an emergency announcement network.

Web Extensions—Taking the concept of using existing computer assets to extend the system beyond the school one step further, many Internet-based digital signage systems also can be displayed as a frame in a web page. So a school could, for instance, make the digital signage part of its public home page. In this way, parents and the community can view the same announcements that are being shared with students from their home or even work computers.

This approach requires no extra cost or effort. As an administrator posts the announcements for the students, messages are instantly updated on the web frame distribution system, and automatically posted to the enabled computers via an Internet connection. The aforementioned home page option also can be used for a community-wide digital signage system that can be viewed on the web.

Information Innovations
The afformentioned technologies are all distribution innovations, but there are other information innovations that could be valuable for schools:

Custom Data Feeds—Internet-based digital signage systems tend to be extremely flexible in the types of information that can be displayed. In addition to web-based information, such as weather and news, there are also options to tie directly into social networking or internal databases. Limited only by imagination, we can envision posting dynamic individual school-based information over the signage. I haven’t seen it yet, but with the advances in GPS technology, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a digital signage application that posts school bus locations and projected arrival times in real time.

Quick Response Codes (QR)—
Depending on the specific application, many digital signage CMSs can accommodate QR codes that connect the
signage screen to local destinations through the student’s smartphone. For  example, a student can scan a QR code on a digital monitor with a barcode scanning application on his or her phone. The QR code can then, theoretically, open up a website that shows the student where they are on campus, what time a certain class is offered, or advertisements for the campus bookstore. The possibilities are limitless.

So, are schools ripe for digital signage? You bet. It’s time to check it out. At the very least, you should familiarize yourself with the technical capabilities of digital signage. It’s changing every day, which extends its usefulness for education and any number of other applications.

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