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Coppin State University: Student Engagement Transformed

Coppin State University is a model urban, residential liberal arts university located in the northwest section of the City of Baltimore where students are very much the focus. When the administration was looking for more effective ways to communicate with the student body, they turned to the power of educational digital signage.

“It’s all about the students,” says Kelli Renee Jackson, Assistant Director of Digital A/V Services. “You can’t miss a display you walk past each day.”

It all began with the construction of Coppin’s new Science and Technology Center. “We had a digital signage infrastructure already, but it was segmented,“ Jackson explains. “We wanted a more centrally-managed system, and we knew we wanted good digital signage in the new building – it’s modern, forward thinking and fits perfectly with a building devoted to technology. And the students wanted somewhere to show their own content.” A consultant suggested AxisTV content management software from Visix. They agreed, “and we actually specced out the building with the digital signage in mind.”

Coppin also installed two interactive touchscreens in the lobby for wayfinding. They use a custom design from Visix that includes floor and campus maps, as well as digital directories for faculty/staff, rooms and departments. The kiosks also shows an energy dashboard and general information about the university and the area. The project has won both an AVA Gold Digital Award and a Hermes Gold Creative Award for interactive design.

The system has grown since that initial deployment. “Once we saw how robust AxisTV is, and how easy it is to use, it spread around campus,” Jackson tells us. Today they have 39 displays in 11 buildings, each display with its own media player to allow truly targeted content. Screens are mounted in high traffic areas, specifically near elevators, entrances, exits and in lobbies, as well as in student collaboration areas.  They also use AxisTV to push an RSS feed of messaging to the Coppin website and their mobile app, EagleMobile.

Playlists always start with general messages relevant to the specific building – a welcome message, then things from the President’s office, then the content that has been scheduled for that location. Generally, there are 15-20 items in a playlist, with the whole collection cycling every 3-4 minutes.

The content on the digital signs covers a whole range of information relevant to the students – workshops, academic programs and resources, club activities, concerts, homecoming events, fitness classes, and so on. In the administrative offices, screens show messages that focus on things like financial aid, admissions, etc. “Of course, everyone wants their content to be shown everywhere on campus,” Jackson says, “and sometimes it will be in all the playlists. But other times it makes more sense to target specific screens with a certain message, and the fact that we have one media player per screen allows us to do that.”

Some events don’t happen every day, so they can also target not just specific locations, but certain days of the week as well. For example, there’s a hands-on tech workshop on Tuesday and Thursdays, so those messages only appear on those days. “This kind of smart scheduling really makes a difference,” Jackson says.

In addition to the large screens showing messaging and wayfinding, Coppin has 40 or so digital room signs, plus another 60 electronic paper room signs from Visix coming to another new building. All scheduling is done through a centralized calendaring system, and each room’s schedule for the day is displayed right outside the room. Any changes are immediately reflected on the room signs, so students always know what’s happening where, and which rooms are free at any given time.

Jackson and her team recently conducted surveys of the students to see what was most effective. At the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, she presented a poster session titled “Digital Signage as a Strategy to Transform the Student Experience” in which she presented her findings:

  • 94% of the students said they’d seen at least one digital signage display
  • 84% said they regularly pay attention to the displays
  • 82% said the content on the digital signage was informative
  • Over 75% of the students said the digital signage made them feel connected to the university
  • Music and videos grabbed and held students’ attention more often and made the digital signage more engaging

The students also had some advice to make the system even more appealing, including changing layouts frequently “to surprise the eye”, and adding digital signage to the cafeteria, so people can see daily menus and evening food options.

“We learned that content has to be visually appealing and that we need a wide variety of content and design styles,” Jackson says. Coppin also plans to start offering training sessions for students, so they can create more effective content that engages as well as informs their peers.

Coppin has seen a lot of participation in their digital signage program, with 445 requests being submitted between August 2016 and EDUCAUSE in October 2017. “It used to just be submissions through email,” Jackson tells us, “but we’ve created a new workflow that seems to be far more effective. People submit a request using a form that also has basic guidelines to make sure the content looks good on screens. Suggestions include using a landscape orientation, a sans serif font and having good contrast between the font and the background.” The Office of University Relations, the university’s marketing department, looks at the submission to review the content, grammar and spelling, then sends it on to Jackson, who decides if it’s conducive to a digital signage format. “We all work well together and make suggestions to the original creator on how to improve the message. Once it’s as good as it can be, we go ahead and schedule it.”

Jackson continues, “Ever since we put in this new workflow, we’ve really seen an increase in interest and participation.” In just the most recent six months, they’ve had an additional 100 submissions, increasing the total to 580 submission requests. More students and student groups see someone’s content on the digital signs, and then they also want to put things up on screens. And things are going smoothly for Jackson and her team as well. “The whole process has really been seamless since we implemented the new workflow.” They even use the screens to promote the digital signage itself and the website to access the submission form.

Coppin State is terrific example of using the power and potential of digital signage and AxisTV. Their successes keep multiplying, and by getting useful feedback from their audience, they can continue to streamline and improve the system to make it more engaging. This all reinforces the university’s motto: Nurturing Potential… Transforming Lives. By transforming their communications, they are transforming their campus and their community.