Connecting Learners, on Campus and Off: Considerations for Purchasing, Using, and Maintaining Digital Signage and Video and Web Conferencing Technology

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What technologies and features do higher education favor for digital signage and video and web conferencing deployments? And what can be done to ensure that these technology purchases are used wisely? Here's what is happening on the AV technology scene.

Digital Signage

Higher education cares about digital signage. The evidence is in the variety of signage installations now appearing across U.S. campuses.

At Baylor University (Texas), for example, digital sign deployments use mini computers that run behind an LCD screen. The signs are managed by campus users over a network using hardware-agnostic software. "Anyone who needs to update their sign content has the content management software on their PC," explains Conner Krey, technology project manager of classroom technology services.

For its digital signage, Augustana College (Ill.) uses standalone boxes that come with software. "The box sits behind the sign," says Shawn Beattie, educational technology manager. Each box comes with 256MB RAM and SDHC card storage, and supports several media formats, display resolutions, and connectors. Multiple content zones, looping play lists, playback schedules, synchronization for video walls, touch screen interactivity, and RSS ticker feeds are a few of the features. Other boxes come with twice as many capabilities.

"The sign software is free and requires no programming knowledge. We can easily train a department secretary to update the signage," says Beattie. The staff member can refresh content over the network via wired or wireless connection.

Adelphi University (N.Y.) uses a signage application that runs on a Windows server. "Users update content over the network using a content editor application on their workstations," shares Joseph Battaglia, director of budget, planning, and project management for the office of information technology.

For its 26 digital signs, the university has purchased monitors with high NIT ratings, such as 1,500-NITs, so content is visible even in bright, direct sunlight. Each sign has a locally attached media player connected via HDMI or VGA. The media players can be small form factor PCs, or solid state media players that fit into the back of the monitor. "The content comes from the server to the players over the network," explains Battaglia.

The University of Pittsburgh is moving to new sign software with an interface like Windows, with intuitive menus. "The software shows you images on your PC of what the sign will look like," says Brian A. Vidic, director of The Swanson School of Engineering's technology group.

The software will allow university officials to display signage content on desktop computers and slate tablets. "We will be able to put announcements into screen savers," says Vidic. The software works with the University of Pittsburgh's existing hardware, so the school can keep what it has and build on that.

Baylor, which uses the same software package that the University of Pittsburgh is adopting, has no central technical person to manage it, but that's OK, Krey says. "Someone with only a little technical knowledge can manage the sign for their area."

The system also enables Baylor administrators to display slideshows, PDFs, Word documents, Excel sheets, web pages, and PowerPoint presentations. The food court uses it to create menus months in advance and schedules them to run at the appropriate times, to alert students to menu changes. Plans are in the works for signage in dorms to track energy usage, Krey says. It's a move more and more colleges and universities have been taking in recent years. And as is common at other institutions, the idea would be to hold competitions to see which dorm can use the least amount of energy.

Middle Tennessee State University's signage software package supports template designs and stores creative assets that the school's graphic designers use to manipulate sign content. …