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What will the digital communications experience look like as colleges reopen?

Colleges and universities will reopen their campuses this fall after substantial disruptions to “normal” campus life. As new students begin their university journey and others return, how these institutions communicate will need to evolve to meet new expectations.

One medium that colleges have used in the past—digital signage—will again be a tool for messaging. But how will they leverage these solutions, and what will the experience look like in this new era?

The desire to seek information digitally hasn’t changed

Most students are from generations that are considered digital natives. Technology has been a major player in their lives from day one.

Their smartphones are always on, and they expect communications in digital formats. The pandemic didn’t change these feelings, as they adapted to full-scale eLearning, and they may even need to acclimate to being back in the classroom and on campus. 

They’ll look to digital communications even more now and have new expectations about how they interact with it. One probable trend is that this will no longer be a one-way communication vehicle.

Let’s look at some expected trends that will reshape the use of digital communications in higher ed.

Digital signage and mobile app integrations

Apps are foundational to how the modern world operates, and it makes sense to empower integrations between apps and digital signage. There are many opportunities in higher ed, specifically in improving communication between their library of apps and digital signage.

For example, if a university has a scheduling app for students to keep up with their class schedule, it could sync with a wayfinding sign to figure out the best path to that location, taking into consideration other pieces of data like weather and crowd size. 

Another option would be a dining app that sends information both to the foodservice provider and digital signage. Students know when their order is ready, because they see it on the screen. It could also communicate expected wait time to them before they order. 

Real-time messaging remains a key part of higher ed digital communications

digital signage at collegesOne of the most powerful applications of digital signage on a campus is its ability to share real-time information, including transit schedule, news, weather and emergency alterts. Many times, these emergency alerts act as a secondary communication channel complementing texts or emails. Digital signage can tie into backend systems and alarms that automate this messaging. 

It’s been key in alerting to severe weather, active shooters or building outages. Colleges and universities could find it’s a suitable means to communicate health information regarding COVID-19 clusters or other contagious diseases. Campus health organizations have this data, and an alert regarding outbreaks doesn’t break patient confidentiality, as, in this case, it’s a public health concern. 

IoT’s impact on digital signage

Connecting digital screens with other technology isn’t new, but colleges and universities have adopted it less than other industries. However, it can bring real value to their communications, because the information from IoT (Internet of Things) devices provides context. IoT and digital signage could work together to provide real-time information on availability. 

The known use case for this is something like parking or traffic. However, schools could take this a step further and deliver data on wait times to reduce queuing issues or other limited space areas, as social distancing continues to be critical to reducing the spread of illness. No one wants to wait, and the traditional sense of a “line” is in the past. New technology allows for better processes, and using digital communications in this way has proven to be effective. 

IoT can also minimize touching for kiosks. Users can use their smartphones to control the screen. Voice activation is also an option. The world went from touching everything to wanting to touch nothing at all, and that’s likely going to linger.

Amplification of student voices

Decades ago, the way to get the word out on campus about an association or meeting was to tape a sign on a post or pin it to a bulletin board. Digital signage makes sharing information signficantly easier. Digital information screens spread across campuses provide a great way to clubs, faculties, sports teams, and even the administration, to share events and other important information. Integrating these screens with social media enables individual students to share their own messages and get them more involved with school. Digital signage software provides tools for submitting content and approvals workflows.

Crowd control and convenience at events

The social aspect of being in college is why so many students are eager to return. Cheering for their school on game day, attending productions and other events will look slightly different. Most should be at full capacity, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t the need for crowd control and convenience. 

On the crowd control front, digital signage can elevate wayfinding by advising where the least congested exits are or where seating is available. For convenience, mobile apps could play a role in ordering food and drinks from seats, reducing congestion in popular areas.

How will colleges use digital communications to engage students and manage information?

As a decision-maker for any higher ed institution, you face challenges for the 2021-22 school year. Some are new, while others persist. Keeping students informed and engaged is critical, and digital communications are a great tool to have. Explore how Omnivex can help your college or university today