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University of South Florida: Creating Community

Even before ground was broken on the University of South Florida’s (USF) Marshall Student Center, a 230,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility, USF planners knew they wanted it to be a place that combined cutting-edge technology with an inclusive environment where lifelong associations and friendships could blossom and thrive. It was clear early on that a key part of creating that atmosphere would involve communicating with the university’s nearly 40,000 students in a way that fostered a real sense of community. With AxisTV digital signage software, USF has found a way to do just that.

With up to 10,000 students a day passing through the Marshall Student Center, the facility is the key university social hub and a perfect place to get information out to students. The center has been equipped with 18 LCD screens ranging from 37 to 46 inches running off five AxisTV channel players. The screens are located strategically across the facility’s four floors, in heavily trafficked areas such as the food court, ballroom, theater and in the conference wing.

“Since we have five channel players running 18 screens, we’ve divided content into three categories which we call A, B and C screens,” explained the student center’s marketing and communications officer, Brian Schulte. The A screens are dedicated to information from the more than 500 student organizations on campus. “Student groups can send in a request to have their organization’s name, a brief description, and meeting times displayed on these screens,” said Schulte. The B screens are fully integrated with the university’s event management system, allowing information to be pulled from there and automatically displayed on the monitors. The C screens are among the most popular. They are positioned vertically, so they take on the appearance of a poster, and show information about major upcoming campus happenings such as sporting events or social gatherings like the movie of the week. “Turned vertically, they grab more attention,” explained Schulte, noting that these screens are also used to display video content as well.

The AxisTV system is maintained largely by a student who dedicates around 15 hours a week to updating and posting information. Campus departments or student organizations can submit content they want to appear on the system via an online form, and the student then creates an announcement based on that. “When people send something in, it’s really easy for the student to take that online form and create a slide or video,” said Schulte. If a department has already created its own content, they can just attach that to the form and the student can schedule it.

By covering all these options and keeping the information fresh, the AxisTV system has helped achieve the center’s original goals. “From the feedback we’ve gotten, it really seems to add to the atmosphere of the student union,” said Schulte. “We don’t let anything stay up more than two weeks, and usually it’s up just one week, so the content is always new, and this really enhances the vibe of the building.”

In terms of bolstering the sense of community, one of the best examples of success is the student center’s use of the AxisTV system as a cross-pollination tool to boost its audience on Facebook. Schulte said the Marshall Student Center’s Facebook page had been languishing with just 10 or 20 members, but by letting students know about the Facebook option via AxisTV, membership began to take off. “Within just two hours of putting the news of our Facebook page up on the screens, we had 30 new members, and it just kept skyrocketing from there,” said Schulte. Today, Marshall Student Center’s Facebook page now numbers in the thousands of fans.

The AxisTV system’s alert mode, which can be triggered to deliver information and instructions in the event of an emergency on campus, has also proved valuable. “If there’s an emergency on campus, all of our screens go into alert mode, which means they turn bright red and display information about what is happening,” said Schulte. “For a large student center like ours, it’s a huge advantage to have this capability.”

The deployment in the student center has gone so well that it’s caught the eye of others around the school. “The entire campus has been so impressed by what they’ve seen in our building that they’re going to start mandating that any other digital signage on campus is AxisTV,” said Schulte.

While the system has already proved a success, looking ahead, Schulte is certain there’s room for a lot more innovation in the way it’s used. “That’s what’s so good about AxisTV—it gives us so many options, and makes it easy to change things up to keep things fresh,” which is just what a student center needs to create and maintain a lively sense of community.