Nearly half of all U.S. undergraduates, around 13 million people, are enrolled in one of the country’s 1000 community colleges. Valencia College, in Orlando, Florida, won the biennial Aspen Institute Prize for College Excellence in 2011 for being a “shining example of what really matters in community colleges.” The Aspen Institute also cited Valencia’s “faculty, administrators and staff (for taking) responsibility for success of a very diverse student body. Valencia’s unique culture of continuous improvement and innovation has a real impact on student outcomes that is amazing to see.” One of the innovations that has helped them be so successful is a digital signage system running AxisTV deployed across their five campuses.
Todd Treece, Director of Learning Technology and Project Management Systems, tells the unusual story of how they went digital in their communications with students. “We were approached by a company that wanted digital signage,” he tells us. “They partnered with two other companies and then offered it to us for a free six-month pilot run. At the end of that, they decided that they didn’t want such a system but we’d gotten a taste for digital signage so we bought the hardware from them and continued.” There were some issues, however, with the service they received. “It was hosted on another company’s servers, and there was a two or three-day delay in getting messages up,” he explains. “This just wasn’t good enough, so we shopped around for a better solution.” After narrowing their choices to two vendors, they settled on Visix and AxisTV. “It was a more polished product – it offered more options and one of the big things was that it supports PowerPoint, which a lot of people here at the college use,” Treece says. “AxisTV was also really easy to use and was intuitive.”
The students are the focus of Valencia’s communications, so they have placed their 43 displays around their five campuses in lobbies, cafeterias, in front of answer centers and other places with heavy student traffic. Content is as varied as their student body, “anything from important dates and special course announcements to student club activities and student government events.” The modern look of the new system appeals to their audience. Because their students come from a broad spectrum of ages and backgrounds, AxisTV helps the students feel up-to-date. “Students really like this more than the old closed-circuit TVs. These are flat screens, which look nicer and really give the students the impression that they are in a modern school,” says Treece.
Content can be created by anyone – staff, faculty or students – often using PowerPoint, but also other graphics programs and even video editors. Messages are then submitted to Student Services, who approve and schedule them. “It’s a very easy application to use,” Treece tells us. “As we bring in new users – people are transitioning in and out of Student Services all the time – the training for AxisTV is really simple. It’s just ‘Watch these Visix training videos’ and they’re posting content in a day or so.” Treece remembers what it was like before digital signage. “The various groups would create paper materials – signs, posters, leaflets – and that takes so much time to print and distribute. But with this kind of system, you can create and display in no time at all, really. We’ve cut down the resources we have to use and can distribute it amongst all our campuses.”
Though the content can come from a variety of sources, the layout has been standardized with a custom theme pack from Visix. This allows uniformity hand-in-hand with diversity. “With this, we have standardized control over lots of different design eyes and levels of design ability.” Cooperating on the theme pack was a simple process. “Visix set up the initial theme package then sent it to Marketing, who gave a few suggestions on branding, color scheme and so on. Visix then took those recommendations, made some changes, sent it back and Marketing approved it. Pretty painless.”
Treece and his team are also leveraging AxisTV as part of Valencia’s emergency alert program. “We’ve tied it into the emergency system with help from Visix,” he says. “Because it’s connected, if the system triggers an emergency, the screens automatically go red and the content changes to information and instructions.” The alert system can also be triggered manually. “The security office can enter any text they think they need to get out to the students in an emergency.” But the displays are not the only source of information for the students. “It’s also tied into emails and SMS texts – the displays are just one of the ways we can quickly communicate to the college if we need to.”
Winning the 2011 Aspen Award makes Valencia ineligible to compete for the 2013 prize, but by continuing to innovate and use modern methods, such as AxisTV, to include and inform their audience, we are sure that they will continue to get recognition and achieve excellence.