Vanderbilt’s Signs of the Times Go All-Digital

Reprinted with permission from Campus Technology

Today’s college students, who have never known a world without personal computers, MTV®, or mobile phones, expect accurate, up-to-the-second information delivered instantaneously and packaged in colorful, bite-size pieces for quick consumption. Their parents’ time-honored tradition of tacking announcements, flyers, event posters, schedules, and menus to dozens of old-fashioned cork bulletin boards just doesn’t cut it. And with no way to oversee content, school administrators dislike those sprawling boards just as much. Digital signage is the answer.

Accustomed to large, widescreen flat-panel TVs, informational displays at airports, malls, and arenas, and the immediacy of 24-hour cable news, students already understand the concept. For schools, the ability to place networked flat-panel digital signage displays in virtually any location, schedule and supervise content from a central point, and set up automated message rotation “play lists” can eliminate those old bulletin boards, cut down on wasteful paper use, generate new revenue, and bolster campus security efforts.

Among the hubs of student life on the 3,300-acre campus of Nashville’s Vanderbilt University is the Sarratt Student Center. Known as the school’s traditional locale to meet, study, grab a light meal, and buy event tickets, Sarratt’s digital signage system from NEC Unified Solutions consists of five display panels, quickly upped from the initial installation of three once their popularity became apparent.

On any campus, regardless of size or population, digital signage technology can be used to present broad content, including schedules for school- or student-sponsored events, guest lectures, last-minute room relocations or postponements, maintenance closure updates, weather reports, sports scores, cafeteria and bookstore daily specials, campus photography, maps, merchant advertisements, and more. Depending on the configuration a school chooses to implement, digital signage display panels can be individually addressed, allowing each to show different text or full-motion video messages.

“The graphics look professional and are what our students expect,” says Samantha Brandenburg, Assistant Director of the Sarratt Student Center. That’s not surprising for a generation that has grown up immersed in technology. Sarratt already has removed one bulletin board, enough to make a small dent in paper use and recycling. Using standard JPEG files measuring 1366 x 768 pixels, the Sarratt Center assures an appearance consistent with Vanderbilt’s overall graphics standards by merging ever-changing content with a set of pre-designed, easily modified design templates that support both text and video.

At the Sarratt Center’s main information desk, where Brandenburg installed two overhead panels side-by-side, one displays box-office information for upcoming on-campus concerts and other events. The impact was immediate and has become a catalyst for generating new revenue. On a day when Sarratt’s Ticketmaster® outlet sold 3,000 tickets, using the signage system to inform buyers of the proper procedure helped to eliminate confusion, keeping the line moving quickly. Another message informing students that Sarratt sells vouchers for the local movie theater has boosted sales to an average of two dozen a day, compared with just a few each week before.

Sarratt adjusts its play list to keep content current, but otherwise the system requires little attention. In addition to its scheduled slide rotation, the system maintains a library of slides that can be called up instantaneously to convey evacuation information in the event of a tornado warning or other campus-wide public safety emergency. Even if communication is interrupted, each display panel can continue to function with pre-loaded slide images.

Throughout the Campus

Digital signage is a natural for campus applications extending well beyond the confines of a student center. In academic buildings, digital signage can eliminate confusion about the last day to add or drop courses without penalty, deadlines for financial aid applications, and upcoming course registration procedures. At athletic facilities, signage can display continuously updated scores, intramural team sign-up information, and facility availability. Cafeterias can post alternating daily and weekly menus, and for those students who care, nutritional information. The campus bookstore can update items on sale based on inventory levels, announce book buy-back dates, or inform students that delivery of a particular out-of-stock textbook is expected tomorrow.

In addition to generating revenue from ticket sales, digital signage turns out to be a great vehicle for more traditional advertising opportunities. Local retailers and restaurants can reach thousands of students and staff with a different message every day—or every hour. Tourism companies offering Spring Break travel packages can incorporate a tropical beach video into an ad they’ve scheduled to run each time the campus gets hit with snow. With the NEC Unified system’s built-in ad-management scheduling and reporting capabilities, the information needed to collect revenue from advertisers, such as which ads have run, on which signage panel, and at what time, is easily available.

Of course, it doesn’t always have to be about revenue. During last year’s election season, Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Center displayed citizenship and service messages about how to vote and where to register, along with schedules for the candidates’ televised debates and local rallies. On Inauguration Day, all five of Sarratt’s displays carried live feeds of the day’s historic events. “People pulled up chairs and watched for hours,” said Brandenburg. The gatherings proved a boon for nearby eateries, too.

Touch-Screen Power

Digital signage need not be placed high overhead. Panels can be installed in kiosks at shoulder height and equipped with optional touchscreen capability that greatly broadens their usefulness. To maintain dormitory security, visitors in a secured vestibule area can scroll through a resident list and select the person being visited, triggering the intercom system to that student’s room. For campus visitors, touchscreen panels placed at strategic locations can aid with navigation.

Digital signage is the right technology for the times. Not only do students get current information in an appealing format, the technology reduces paper use and recycling, affords a high degree of supervision, generates new revenue, and instantaneously communicates instructions in the event of a campus emergency. “I can’t imagine any modern university without a campus-wide signage system for communicating with students, staff, and faculty,” says Brandenburg. With digital signage as much a part of their daily campus experience as e-mail, the 12,093 students of Vanderbilt University clearly agree.

For more information please visit:

NEC Unified Solutions, Inc.
6535 N. State Highway 161
Irving, TX 75039-2402Reprinted with permission from Campus Technology