The digital signage upgrade that didn’t break the bank

Open-source software and existing devices form the backbone of one district’s big signage upgrade

Ed. note: Author Wayne Fulton will be a panelist on DSF’s May “Hangout” discussion, “How to Leverage Signage in a K-12 Setting,” on Wednesday, May 11 at 2 p.m. EST, available free to members and nonmembers. For more information, visit the DSF website.

It all began with our front desk receptionist, Cloteele.

When visitors historically entered the central lobby of the Manor Independent School District in Texas, they were warmly greeted by Cloteele. Whether they were there for a meeting with the superintendent, a professional development session, or new employee orientation making sure visitors know where to go has always been one of Cloteele’s many responsibilities.

But there are times when traffic volume to the central office is high, and visitors had to stand around waiting to ask questions or find out where they were supposed to be. Directing visitors personally adds a friendly touch, but it isn’t always the most efficient when people are in a hurry. Cloteele needed help.

When we thought about it, what we needed was a way to display a list of all events, training sessions, and meetings taking place that day with their respective room numbers—preferably on a large flatscreen, centrally placed.

The central office began brainstorming solutions, but they all seemed cumbersome and difficult to manage. So we began looking for an enterprise-level digital signage solution that would be easy to deploy and manage at a cost that could be considered “education-friendly.”

With that in mind, we took a serious look at alternatives and found an entirely cloud-based solution that didn’t require any additional physical or virtual servers in our data center. The system we chose, Rise Vision, is also non-proprietary, so the appliance software runs on almost any Windows, Linux, and Android device connected to any display, which allowed us to use our existing equipment. But the biggest advantage we found was the cost. It was cloud-based and completely free for anyone to use.

At Manor ISD, we’re always pretty mindful of expenditures. We searched our warehouse for devices we already owned that could be used as appliances to connect to the displays and run the digital signage software, and found some old Dell Latitude netbooks that had been taken out of commission. The technology team then installed a lightweight Linux Distro, along with the software.

From there we turned to our Facilities and Maintenance department, which helped wall mount the displays and install electrical outlets where necessary. We also made the decision to install Ethernet drops at teach display in an effort to avoid oversaturating our existing wireless network with the demands of a 24/7 digital signage network.

Once we had the digital signage network up and running in our central administration building—following a smoothly-run pilot—our campus principals started to take notice. They saw first-hand how powerful the displays were as a communication tool and began to ask how they could get a digital signage network going on their campuses as well. They understood the benefit of being able to communicate instantaneously not only with staff and students, but also with parents and visitors as well.

It was clear that digital signage solutions were needed district-wide and our solution of choice could scale to accommodate our new needs. We started out with a single display in each of the campus front offices with a designated staff member responsible for managing their particular campus’ signage. After a brief training period—and before I knew it—they were coming up with some really creative signage ideas. Soon, lunch menus, announcements, local weather, school Twitter feeds, student art, and more were popping up all over our district’s digital signage network.

Our signage network is now in its fourth year and it continues to expand. Some of our campuses have expanded their networks to include signage in hallways and cafeterias. We’ve also replaced the old netbook appliances with Raspberry Pi’s and Chrome boxes for even less power consumption and easier management.

Currently, we are in the process of opening three additional campuses in the next two years and digital signage will certainly be a part of those campuses to provide effective communication and stimulating engagement district wide.

Overall the response was overwhelmingly positive from all stakeholders, students, staff, and parents. The decision to implement digital signage has been instrumental in assisting us as we strive toward our district’s goal to “implement effective communication strategies throughout the District.”

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