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Joe Way, PhD, CTS

Executive Director, Digital Spaces UCLA

Digital Signage Investments in Schools Help Inform On-Campus Happenings, Such as Notification of an Active Shooter 



Gone are the days when digital signage investments on college campuses was merely a rotating carousel of event announcements and cafeteria menus. Today, thanks to advances in technology and data analytics, these screens are transforming into interactive hubs that offer customized experiences, wayfinding, and even safety information. Beyond acting as virtual billboards, they are now integrated with RFID technology, allowing the signage to recognize targeted demographics with specific information.

This can help create a sense of belonging and significantly enhance campus safety measures. In times of emergency, signs can be used to display important instructions. This isn’t just a digital upgrade; it’s a reimagining of how a university’s physical environment can dynamically interact with its student body. 

This transformative technology and its impact on schools is well understood by someone well-versed in both areas, such as Joe Way. He is the co-founder and chair of the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance (HETMA), and has been at the forefront of these changes. Way is also a board member of the Audiovisual and Integrated Experience Association. In addition to that, Way is the Director of Learning Environments at the University of Southern California and has provided consulting services within the technology, education, and entertainment industries for close to three decades.

He discussed digital signage investments can greatly change and positively impact how students interact with their schools. Things such as the announcement of on-campus information through digital signs will be useful to students in a variety of ways.

Way’s Thoughts on Digital Signage Investments

“Hi, my name is Joe Way, and I’m the chair and co-founder of HETMA, the Higher Education Technology Managers Alliance. Digital signage in our campuses has changed immensely over the last few years. Formerly, digital signage could have been considered a glorified PowerPoint player, where we just rotated through slides that often were not even looked at or could have gotten aged out. What we’re seeing now is a use of digital signage that creates interaction and experiences for those who are looking at it. What we’re seeing is integration with RFID so that it’s customized experiences, wayfinding, even recruiting. When a student were to walk up to a space or walk up to a sign, and it changes to the information they need, that it knows where their class is, where it knows what it looks like for them, where they want to go, and the different events that work for them. We can utilize database management in order to create those experiences for somebody. 

“So, they can either log in, they can touch it, interact with it, but also utilize it for campus safety, because what students need most is to know where they’re going and how they can be safe with it. What we’re recognizing is our signage can be utilized for natural disasters. It can be utilized for, sadly, things like active shooters, where we can utilize our digital signage in ways that were never done before. What we noticed a lot was our signage took a lot of management of content. Now, because we can integrate with software solutions, because we can integrate our digital signage with database solutions, and knowing who the student is, who the user is, whether it be a student, a faculty, an alumni, a football game day, that content can be curated to who’s walking up to it. That creates a completely different experience, because on campuses now, what we’re seeing is that our students want to be able to come to campus and interact and feel like it is a home for them. Digital signage now is a key part in that. 

“What we want to do is use it to embrace the student, to embrace the student experience, also to give the brand of the university a special taste to them. What we’re starting to recognize is that the power of the individual, the power of the data that we can get can be leveraged. And to be able to lie software solutions over our digital signage platforms allows us to do that. Plenty of data can be given to us. We collect data all the time. We know who’s on campus. We know who they are. We know their persona. The next step now that we’re seeing is being able to utilize that to make them safe and to make the experience customizable, regardless if they’re going to class or to know what the wait line is to get a coffee in the next building down. Those are the experiences we’re starting to see in our higher education environments, and it’s only going to improve, and the solutions are there. That’s what we’re starting to look at in our vertical.”

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