I'm pretty sure that if you took all of the abandoned cable TV wire in U.S. schools it would reach across the country - perhaps even around the world. These old networks are, at best, underutilized and, at worst, in disrepair. Beyond the opportunity to save huge cost by reusing an already-installed resource, cable systems can have new life breathed into them to become a valuable student communications tool when repurposed as digital signage networks. Some digital signage software solutions can even utilize the internet to expand communication beyond the walls of the school with no additional effort to reach parents and the public at large.
We've found that schools distribute digital signage, such as StrandVision's cloud-based service, running over their old cable TV networks to make the daily morning announcements and to loop announcements throughout the day, preview upcoming events and feature students and student projects.
Typically, schools position digital signs in lobbies, hallways, study halls, cafeterias and other areas where students congregate. Of course, the electronic signage content can also stream directly to classrooms for the daily announcements.
Manzano High School Assistant Principal Ken Tuley explained, "If kids don't have a class at the time of the daily announcements or they're not paying attention, they often miss the audio announcements. With StrandVision Digital Signage the news is on the screens throughout the day, including lunchtime, so they have the opportunity to see the announcements many times throughout the day."
Signage content can be easily and quickly updated by an administrator on a daily or weekly basis, or even more frequently. Digital signage systems also create a 21st century infrastructure for emergency announcements, as well as for community announcements and video extensions for lecture halls and assemblies and for other special programming.
Here are a couple of examples of schools that have rehabilitated old cable systems to deliver timely information over StrandVision Digital Signage systems:
Manzano High School in Albuquerque, NM repurposed its old coaxial cable TV network using StrandVision technology. The digital signage network complements other announcements by making the information available throughout the day. It also highlights sporting events and social/club activities. For the full story visit: http://www.strandvision.com/casestudy_manzano_high_school_mac_digital_signage.html.
Bald Eagle Area School District in northern Pennsylvania also uses a cable network with Internet extensions not only for student communications but also for community programs since the facilities are often used for public meetings and events. Programming includes streaming video, including live video over a 60" monitor for overflow crowds at school and community events. Here's the full story: http://www.strandvision.com/casestudy_bald_eagle_school.html
For these schools - and many others, the old cable networks were in reasonably good shape and could be reused as the core distribution system. Lots of schools have systems that can be dusted off. We've even had some schools use their Channel One network head end and distribution system to stream its digital signage when the network is idle.
Many of the systems targeted to schools, including StrandVision's, are Internet based (in the cloud to use current parlance) and don't require a major investment in hardware. It can even run over old tube televisions although most every school now has more up to date equipment.
But schools don't have to just rely on old cable systems. Today's digital signage runs on coaxial cables, Ethernet networks, Wi-Fi and even Bluetooth. They can use off-the-shelf personal computers, low-cost digital media players and even digital picture frames, IPad and Android tablets, and Raspberry Pi credit-card sized computers.
Companies like StrandVision offer cloud-based digital signage systems that transfer all of the complex, expensive server power to the cloud so installation is a simple as logging onto a website. The content management portals are Web pages and are so well-designed that they require only minutes of training and can be quickly and easily handled by non-technical administrators working from any location.
When people think about digital signage they tend to think about dedicated televisions in fixed locations. But many of today's cloud based digital sign systems are much more flexible and designed to reach viewers wherever they are on their own terms. Here are some information innovations that could be valuable for schools:
Desktop Displays - Many 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 extending communications beyond the walls of the school, 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 since as the administrator posts the digital signage announcements they are instantly updated on the enabled computers over the Web.
Custom Data Feeds - Internet-based digital signage systems are extremely flexible in the types of information that can be displayed. In addition to the school news page information managed by the administrator, Web-based information, such as weather and news are available. Signage can also tie into social networks and internal databases. We recently introduced a DVD playback capability that patches directly into our digital signage networks. It's a great way to feature student art and video projects, and show game highlights, student performances, etc.
With the embrace of GPS technology by bus companies it's now possible to posts school bus locations and projected arrival times in real time over digital signs.
Reaching Students at their phones - Digital signage content can also be extended to students' phones. For instance, StrandVision and some other digital signage providers have incorporated Quick Response (QR) codes (those ubiquitous boxes of dots that can be scanned) to take students to Internet destinations. Perhaps a trivia contest or some school community-building online event or information campaign can be constructed that will actually get students to check in on school news on their own time.
So, are schools ripe for digital signage? You bet! Especially since many of them have the high cost components already there and ready to use. It's time to check out the options. At the very least, you should familiarize yourself with the communications potential of digital signage. It's changing every day extending its usefulness for education and any number of other applications. All it takes is a bit of creativity to imagine a new approach to student and community communications. If you would like help getting started, give me a call at 715-235-SIGN (7446) or email mjstrand@StrandVision.com, or better yet, take a test drive.
Mike Strand is founder and CEO of StrandVision LLC, an Internet-based subscription digital signage service that is distributed through resellers. Previously, Mike founded StrandWare, a leading bar code software and AIDC company. Anyone with questions can contact Mike at mjstrand@StrandVision.com.