21st Century Schools

A Signage Solution

An Ohio high school finds that the digital signage it originally installed for sports results in benefits that reach beyond its athletics program. The digital scoreboards have also had a big impact on student relations. In the five years the school has used the system, digital signage has helped to bridge the gap between athletes and student "techies," two previously often polarized groups.

The two basketball scoreboards in the gymnasium at Bishop Hartley High School served the Columbus, OH, school well for 35 years. But over the past 3½ decades, the scoreboards became outdated eyesores, unable to accommodate the school's growing needs.

So in 2006, when officials at the small Catholic high school began making plans to renovate the gymnasium, upgrading the scoring system was close to the top of their list of priorities. They decided to install four projector screens and digital signage software that would allow the school to not only keep track of points for basketball games, but keep track of all the sports that used the gymnasium, as well as all the other school activities that take place there.

Because they had worked with Radiant Technology on projects in the past, school administrators chose the company to develop and install the new digital signage system. Using the Omnivex software platform, the company customized the system to meet the school's needs and dubbed it HawkVision, after the school mascot.

Even before the digital signs were installed, Bishop Hartley was known for its advanced technology program. It was one of the first high schools in the nation to provide an entire senior class with tablet PCs, according to Bishop Hartley Technology Director Kenneth Collura. The school has a media-rich lecture hall designed for innovative educational options, including videoconferencing and distance learning. In addition, Bishop Hartley has won state and national awards for technology innovation, and has been nationally recognized for integrating technologies such as Smart Boards, high-speed wireless access, mobile computer carts, and digital music and video studios into education.

Bishop Hartley, with 16 types of sports, is also known for its robust athletics program--so upgrading the technology in the gym was an easy choice to make. "We have been innovative for the past 20 years bringing technology into the classroom," Collura says. "When we were doing the gymnasium, we realized it was one of the main areas that we hadn't reached with technology."

Success With Adaptability
Doug Freutel, director of business development at Radiant Technology, says the Omnivex software is designed for adaptability and allows digital signage to be used for a variety of sports and activities.

"In the gym, the old technology was designed for basketball," Freutel says. "The neat thing is [that with the new technology] we can actually create unique scoreboards for each sport. The volleyball team is able to [say], 'We're important too. We actually have something that's ours,' and it creates an atmosphere that caters to their particular needs.'"

The digital signage solution makes the gym feel more like a major league sports arena, displaying player statistics, video, cheers, and sponsors' advertisements at every game.

The gymnasium project was so successful that the school installed a 14-by-30-foot LED video digital sign on the football field in 2009, using the same digital technology to display images and energize the fans. It's also used for soccer, lacrosse, and track.

Resources for Digital Signage
A number of digital signage companies now cater to the K-12 market, offering a variety of hardware and software solutions to meet the varied needs of schools. Here's some information to help get you started on the search for the right solution.

Black Box Network Services (blackbox.com)
Black Box is a one-box, one-company digital solution. Through its iCompel system, schools can create, distribute, and manage content for digital signs. The box gives schools a platform for informing, alerting, and notifying students and faculty about emergencies and also allows them to display graphic content from the school website, campus TV studio, or central administrative office.

CQ Media Networks (cqmedia.net)
CQ Media offers two digital signage applications through its Hypersign software. One is Hypersign Alert, which displays vital information during an emergency, such as warnings and evacuation routes. The second application is KidGopher, a secure child pickup system that utilizes photo identification to ensure that children are getting into the correct vehicle with the appropriate guardian at the end of the school day. Digital signage is used to display children's names in the staging area where the children are waiting to be picked up.

Omnivex (omnivex.com)
The company's software manages all aspects of digital signage networks, including content creation and management, acquisition and distribution of real-time data from multiple sources, and monitoring and controlling remote hardware devices. In addition, the software can tie into emergency response mechanisms (such as fire detection systems) to automatically display local or campuswide security messages.

Scala (scala.com)
Scala's software powers digital menu boards in cafeterias, listing the lunches for the week, prices, healthy options, and nutritional values. The company also offers technology for school messaging systems that communicates morning announcements to each classroom via streaming video or news templates and RSS feeds. 
ViewSonic (viewsonic.com)
The company's NMP-640 X86-based media player can be seamlessly partnered with all of ViewSonic's ePosters, commercial displays, and commercial TVs. ViewSonic also offers large-screen TVs that, when set up with the networked media player, can automate school communications.

The football team became state champions this year for the first time since 1986, and the volleyball team has won six consecutive district championships. While other factors obviously contributed to the wins, the digital scoreboards certainly didn't hurt, says Dave Thompson, athletic director at Bishop Hartley. He says that the scoreboards are a great way to energize a sports program, and they have had a big impact on morale. "The technology has made us more visible and created a sense of excitement, giving a unifying sense of purpose for our fans and students," Thompson said. "Football Friday Night is huge in Ohio and it just gives us another thing to get pumped up about."

Beyond Sports
The digital scoreboards have also had a big impact on student relations. In the five years the school has used the system, Collura says that the use of digital signage has helped to bridge the gap between athletes and student "techies," two previously often polarized groups.

Students in the school's advanced computer independent study program were responsible for developing the digital signage content and loading it into the system. "One student couldn't participate in a sport because he was physically challenged, but he ran the scoreboard, making him feel very much a part of the team," Collura explains. "This has turned out to be much more rewarding than I thought it would be. There's no large division between the jocks and the techies. There's a lot of crossover. It's been great."

The new technology has brought out the students' creativity, too, says Collura. During one season, students produced a video series that featured the school's mascot, and a different episode aired during each game. Students also designed a video that includes the national anthem, a waving flag, and a flying hawk to introduce sporting events. It has become a standard at every game.

The digital signage systems are used for more than just sports at Bishop Hartley too. They're used to display photos for graduation, videoconferencing at faculty meetings, and message boards during assemblies and open houses. Collura says the school has even started to use the digital signs to generate revenue, selling advertising space to colleges, local orthodontists, and general boosters and supporters. One local business donated a flagpole to the school in exchange for advertising.

But while the potential is there for fundraising, it has taken a while to materialize. "That's the next step everyone is looking for," Collura says. "Can we put some advertising on there to support the program? That's been done, but not as extensively as I would like because it's still very new. A lot of businesses don't understand it yet. We don't know how to price it, especially on a high school level."

Freutel says that the scoreboards are also good marketing tools for Bishop Hartley, and Collura says the school has received phone calls and letters from other schools wanting to learn more about the technology. "The fact that this little, economically diverse school is able to have this kind of technology makes it a very exciting place," comments Freutel. "It really helps with their recruiting efforts."