Just a short drive south of Denver, Colorado State University-Pueblo is the CSU System’s educational institution for Southern Colorado, offering 28 baccalaureate and nine master degree programs to nearly 5000 students from all 50 U.S. states and 23 countries.
The school is certainly not a stranger to change; since the school’s founding in 1933, it has had four different names. So, when a renovation project began, they began to look at updating their communications with digital signage and campus wayfinding.
“We wanted our building to be technologically state-of-the-art, getting rid of the flyers and the clutter, and thought digital signage would fit the aesthetics and purpose of the building,” says Rhonda Gonzales, Dean of Library Services.” Jeff Miller, Web Communications Manager, adds, “A lot of our communication was through email, and students were feeling overwhelmed by the amount of email they were getting. This is a common problem among universities. Digital signage allows us to reduce the amount of email and gives the different departments an alternative way to advertise to the students.”
He goes on to tell us how they settled on the AxisTV content management software. “We looked at everything from free open source systems through middle-range to high-end products. An approval process was very important, and we really wanted to accommodate different levels of users – students, staff, and faculty. AxisTV offered these things as well as an ability to send custom messages to each screen independently: in the financial services building, we have information related to financial aid, in the library we might advertise new databases or books. Plus there’s the emergency alert capability, which opens us up to grants and funding from government sources.”
Gonzales adds, “There wasn’t much budget at the beginning, so we asked people around campus if they were interested in pooling resources. We were able to find one-time funds to pay for an unlimited site license from Visix, while the renovation budget paid for the initial screens in the Library and Academic Resources Center.”
With the unlimited site license, CSU-Pueblo can have as many media players and customized displays as they like. “It allows Jeff to not have to duplicate the same information on the website, and then on this screen and then another and so on.” Miller has also launched the system in the student recreation center and the residence halls. “We have screens all over, even small ones on some of the gym equipment. And the system is in the dorm rooms, so there’s a special channel on the dorm TVs, like in a hotel.” Most of their screens are 46-inch or larger, and those in the Library and Academic Resources Center include wayfinding displays next to the elevators.
“I hear a lot of amazement about the wayfinding system,” says Gonzales. “Our building is oddly laid out, so this really comes in handy. It’s a touchscreen, which not only shows where offices are but, in the library, where books are on the shelves.” With six floors to maneuver, library visitors can get confused easily. “Patrons want self-service,” Gonzales continues. “They don’t want to always have to come up to a librarian to ask where something is. And we’re so big that when someone gets lost, they can easily find their way back to where they want to go.”
Visix Creative Services received a Communicator Award of Distinction from the International Academy of the Visual Arts for their work on the CSU-Pueblo interactive design. “Our building was meant to be a high-tech showcase, and students come to expect the library be 100% digital, with wifi everywhere, providing individual access to information. It just makes sense to dovetail that with digital signage capability. Who wants paper posters all over a tech building? This is a way to reach our customers more effectively and more in line with their expectations.”
“There is certainly a higher sense of tech use here on campus now,” says Miller. “There’s a kind of coolness factor to using digital signage, and we’re changing the attitude towards paper flyers. The message today is: go digital, go green. We’re adding a subliminal sense of added technology on campus, providing a sense that we are surrounded by tech. And we can get so much more information out there using a system like AxisTV. That’s one reason I feed webcam shots into the content displays. Our users are picking up all kinds of data and uses of campus technology from our screens. For example, we feed in weather data from a huge solar array we have, and we display graphics showing students how much energy we’re producing every hour using the array.”
Another benefit for Miller is the emergency alert capability of the AxisTV system. “The Department of Homeland Security has asked around at universities for ideas on best practices in using emergency alerts, and that opens up funding possibilities for us.” And, of course, the ability to actually broadcast alerts, should the need arise. “If, say, a bear wandered onto campus, we would use the alert capability of the system to warn people where it was and to stay away. Or perhaps we’ll have a network outage, or our email system will go down, or something else will happen that requires us to get that information out to a wide audience quickly.”
The ability to customize to each area of campus or even to each screen has been a great benefit to Miller and Gonzales. And their hard work is getting noticed. Miller tells us, “We have departments here and people from other colleges who see this system working for us, and they are asking how they can get it, too. We’ve standardized the process, so they work with us and IT, find out how much it will cost, and we create a timeline for implementation with them.” Gonzales adds, “I see this becoming really ubiquitous across campus and being the method of choice for communicating with people.”