Schools are increasingly looking to digital signage to improve communication with students, staff and parents. Here Greg Adams finds out more.
With students, staff and parents being bombarded with a seemingly ever increasing flow of information, it’s little wonder that getting your message across can sometimes seem like an impossible task. Thankfully help may be at hand in the form of digital signage. What’s digital signage? Well, basically, it’s a form of electronic display that shows information and messages. They’ve been popular for a while in public places, shops and corporate environments, and are beginning to appear more in schools.
To help you get your head around the concept, there are five things you need to know to get started:
1. It’s a TV screen – Essentially, yes, a digital sign is a flat panel television, just like you’d find in your lounge.
2. LCD or plasma – The screen is usually either an LCD or plasma. What’s the difference? Although both are flat and thin, they employ very different technology. In simple terms, plasmas use technology that’s based loosely on the fluorescent light bulb. The display itself consists of cells. Whereas LCD panels are made of two layers of transparent material, which are polarised, and are ‘glued’ together to hold the liquid crystals. Plasmas can come in larger sizes and boast better colour; LCDs are lighter in weight, run cooler, and don’t ‘burn in’ static images.
3. Size and shape – They’re generally widescreen, with the diagonal length in the 40 to 50-inch range. Incidentally, a digital sign can comprise one or multiple screens.
4. Software is the key component – Having said all that, forget the hardware, it’s the software that really drives these things and helps you to manage the information and messages you display. Whatever you choose makes sure it’s easy to use, offers the functionality you require, and can operate a variety of media formats.
5. The benefits of digital over static signs – The content can move and change! That’s it really. Digital signs give you the opportunity to ‘show’ different messages, moving images, and a range of information that changes depending on time, location, audience, and so on.
What can schools use them for?
Much the same as traditional pins and paper noticeboards, the primary role of digital signs is to disseminate information. This can be notices to students, messages to staff, or promotional material to visitors. A number of schools are using digital signs in their reception area to display information about the schools to visitors – often including video footage. Screens have also been placed in common areas, hallways, gymnasiums, libraries, and assembly halls.
One of the main advantages of the digital signage concept is that messages can be regularly changed. So, for example, in the morning information can consist of details of the day’s events; during breaks and at lunchtime, it can be changed to reminders, messages, advice, info about sports events, after-school activities, and so on. They can show films/videos students have produced and news shows (if you have a school TV station).
Some interactive whiteboards can double up as digital signs when they’re not being used for class work. In theory, part of the screen could, indeed, stay as a digital message board and update with information during the class.
Content is king
‘Content’ is the name used to describe anything displayed on screens. It can be anything from text and images, to animations, video and audio, and interactivity. However, remember that the impact and effectiveness of digital signage is only as good as content it displays.
While the technology is well-established, it’s often what’s being displayed that fails, because those using it have not adapted their thinking to produce appropriate and engaging content.
Other things to consider
Many screens run through a connection to a PC, which operates the software. This can be a one-to-one link, or used via a network. Some screens have the PC component embedded in them, and operate in a standalone capacity. Also, make sure the system is easy to use. Generally, the people programming the information have a day job as well, so it can’t be overly complex.
Overall, digital signs are a very effective way of disseminating information to a lot of people easily, quickly, and accurately. You know that a message has been shown – rather than hoping a piece of paper has been handed around. Messages can be changed as information is updated. And the system can make use of multimedia messaging. All the signs are more and more schools will be taking a closer look at digital signage in the coming months.
Greg Adams is editor of INTERFACE Magazine. Thanks to Rick Haywood (Panasonic), Blair McKenzie (HP) and Jason Lee (Sony) for their assistance in compiling this article.
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