Black Box Corporation, a
provider of voice communications,
and networking products,
has released an independent study of how
college administrators can communicate
better with students on their campuses.
The research study, Communication
Effectiveness in Higher Education, looks
at the various communications methods
and technologies used by schools to
inform and alert students.
West Chester University in Pennsylvania
Prepared by the Platt Retail Institute
(PRI), a marketing research, consulting,
and analytics firm, the detailed research
report advances key findings about how to
enhance the administrator-to-student communication
process on campus.
According to Steven Keith Platt, Director
and Research Fellow at PRI, “This investigation
into campus administrator-to-student
communication is the first study that
addresses the effectiveness of communication
that considers different types of information
being delivered via various channels.”
Research involved interviews with various
universities to gauge the different
approaches, as well as surveys of students
querying their preferred delivery method.
Researchers established methods of comparison
to define and evaluate perceived
communications impact and usage gaps.
“This study confirms that students prefer
to receive information through newer
digital media channels, including text messages,
digital signage, e-mail, and a school’s
Web site,” Platt said. “Use of these channels
is helpful when addressing another
research finding, which is that universities
often relay too much irrelevant information
to students, with the unintended consequence
that relevant, important messages
tend to get crowded out.”
Application in academic settings
It is clear that University students prefer to
receive information through digital channels. Of these, digital communication networks
(DCN) offer various unique properties,
which are discussed here.
A DCN, like other communication
channels, is able to relay various types of
information. Yet, there are several major
advantages associated with a DCN. The
first is its flexibility to display a vast range
of targeted digital messages. That is, messages
can easily be changed based upon the
needs of the school at any particular time.
For example, at Santa Clara University,
the DCN distributes information about
campus events, class updates and safety
concerns to the campus community using
video, scrolling text, and static text formats.
The second major advantage is that messages
delivered by a DCN can be altered and
displayed real-time. Messages in response
to unanticipated events and critical information
can be distributed almost instantly
to a specific screen or campus-wide. This is
a major advantage when compared to other
communication platforms. For instance,
consider the following in terms of communicating
an emergency message on a
campus of 40,000 students:
• It can take up to two hours for an
emergency e-mail to be sent.
• 20 to 40 minutes for this same message
to be sent via text message (which
is a voluntary sign-up service that not
all students have access to).
• Just a few minutes to enter a username
and password to log on and publish a
message via a DCN.
Other benefits associated with a DCN
include the ability to instantly connect to a
large number of dispersed screens campuswide,
and the ability to display dynamic
content that captures audience attention.
A college campus can be viewed either
as one massive audience or can be divided
into various target audiences. While some
messages may be relevant to the university
as a whole, it is often necessary to communicate
to a specific student demographic.
A closer look
A different way to use cross-campus messaging is by
creating an emergency alert system with digital displays.
When West Chester University in Pennsylvania deployed
a 22-screen digital signage network, one of their major
reasons for doing so was to increase campus safety. The
screens are installed in 13 different locations across
campus and run on software that allows emergency
information to override all other content. Similarly, at
East Carolina University, its 100-screen deployment can
be taken over quickly in an emergency situation.
Santa Clara University uses a communication system
that has the flexibility to incorporate various communication
media. The school’s digital screens are used primarily
to display real-time content such as last-minute class
changes, emergency notifications, and event information.
University of Bedfordshire uses shared corporate
branding on screens at all five of its campuses to ensure
a professional look throughout.
The key success factor of a network, however, is the
ability to deliver relevant messages. Message relevancy
is dependent, in turn, on the ability to understand your
audience and to constantly create new and updated
content. This can be expensive if outsourced, so many
schools are allocating network content responsibilities
to school staff.