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Prevention through information: Promoting social norms awareness with digital signage

A small liberal arts college located in the heart of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (HWS) are home to one of the most progressive and successful alcohol and drug prevention programs in the nation. Developed by Professor of Sociology H. Wesley Perkins and Professor of Chemistry David Craig, the purpose of the Alcohol Education Project is to better inform our community about the social norms of alcohol and other drugs, and address the problems of abuse.

At the heart of our program is an understanding that most students misperceive social norms, assuming that it is typical for their peers to engage in risk-taking behavior. To combat these misconceptions, we gather credible data about behaviors such as drinking and tobacco and other drug use, and then communicate the actual healthy norms to students.

We’ve been using the social norms approach at HWS for more than 15 years, and up until last year, the communication aspect was achieved through the use of paper posters and screen savers on campus computers. Over the last few years, however, these methods began to feel dated. In addition, only one message could be communicated per sign. We were looking for a way to deliver our social norms content in a high-tech format that would engage students and increase exposure through multiple messages.

As it happens, some of our staff saw a digital signage network at Le Moyne College in Syracuse that had been installed by integrator VIZIONefx and is powered by X2O Media software. We immediately saw the potential of such a network for our Alcohol Education Project. It could be used to promote social norms awareness — from alcohol and drugs to other socio-cultural issues such as bullying and anorexia — to help students make better decisions in their lives. In addition, we could use it to keep students and staff up to date about campus news and events. With this in mind, we made the call to VIZIONefx between semesters in 2011.

(Next page: Implementing and using the digital signage)

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