Black Box Corporation, a provider of voice communications, data infrastructure, 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.