Digital signage is challenging enough on its own, but there are a number of additional issues that are unique to higher education.
Over the past seven years, we have worked with a number of different solutions, both homegrown and commercial, to provide digital signage for Rutgers University – Camden.
That effort has resulted in deployment of signage outside every classroom on campus, as well as a large number of “lobby displays,” or large format signage in public spaces, which provide campus news and event information. This experience has provided a number of unique experiences on how to deploy digital signage in a university setting.
The upcoming presentation at DSE 2016 will discuss these platforms, all of which stress the importance of providing university information using technologies consistent with what higher education IT groups are already using right now. That presentation will focus on three major topic areas: software, hardware and content.
The majority of commercial solutions available require specialized devices or high-powered computer hardware that can be very expensive. Using such a solution for a classroom system would be cost prohibitive to most schools across the country.
Just imagine a typical academic classroom building with 30 to 40 classrooms, some larger rooms with multiple entrances, and a number of smaller seminar rooms. Installing traditional computers (even compact ones) would be a nightmare to deploy in an academic environment.
The first signage solution built for Rutgers used an older desktop computer (at the time it was already over seven years old). Even then, the layout of the classroom space did not allow for placing a full size computer at the doors of each room, so digital video senders were used to send the signal over Cat5e wire (data network cabling).
A few of these older computers were packed with dual and quad head DVI video cards, and placed in the network closets throughout the building. Those units lasted a number of years, but were recently replaced with an updated system using a raspberry Pi computer at each monitor, which brings the cost to add a door sign down to under $200 per classroom door (power not included).
Many higher education IT teams already run some form of Linux in their environment, so adding a raspberry Pi solution can dramatically increase the availability of digital signage without causing a significant investment is specialized hardware.
The expensive digital signage solutions on the market today include software designed to display the content provided, as well as manage its administration.
For a classroom display sign, the majority of the commercial packages that we reviewed did not easily pull data directly from university provided student information systems (SIS). In a number of cases, the systems supported RSS type integration, which simply did not provide the level of detail necessary for our academic use case. In addition, these specialized solutions are not usually open-source, making customization to higher education difficult.