Colleges use digital signage to warn students of campus emergencies.

From revenue-generating message boards at concession stands and athletic venues, to point-of-sale displays at campus bookstores and alumni gift shops, to distance-learning applications and asset-reservation panels outside lecture halls and conference rooms, to giant video walls in football stadiums and basketball arenas—digital displays are becoming ubiquitous at colleges, universities, and even in some K-12 facilities.

Nearly 20 percent of U.S. colleges and universities now use digital signage in some form, according to industry veterans attending the 2011 Digital Signage Expo (DSE) at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev., Feb. 22-25. DSE is the official show of the Digital Signage Federation.

These electronic displays come in virtually all sizes and shapes. Some are stand-alone, self-contained units.

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Others are linked to the internet or a university network and can transmit news and entertainment programming, commercials and announcements, and emergency messaging instantly throughout a campus. Some feature 3-D images – viewed with and, sometimes, without special glasses. Some offer touch-screen functionality.

Newer digital signs even contain cameras and tracking software to capture viewer characteristics and behavior with an emerging technology known as video analytics.

At the moment, except at research facilities in settings such as Carnegie Mellon, few universities are using video analytics, but as digital signage increasingly becomes a source of advertising revenue for schools and colleges, advertisers are sure to demand information about who is seeing the messaging and how they’re reacting to it.

And that’s where smart signs come in.