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Show and tell

AV technology and digital signage have many uses in educational settings. Simon Fry shows the way

Posted by Hannah Oakman | December 19, 2016 | Facilities

The proliferation of audio visual (AV) technology in classrooms and lecture halls in recent years goes hand-in-hand with pupils and students using tablets, smartphones and laptops in their home environment. AV technology brings such benefits as interactivity and the scope to draw upon innumerable educational resources, giving educators the chance to maximise learning. Outside of the learning space, digital signage offers the chance to do far more than merely provide directions.  

Digital signage was once the reserve of only the largest and wealthiest universities, but with innovations in the technology this is no longer the case. The aim of TrouDigital is to deliver digital signage solutions to everyone, from even the smallest of primary schools. They passionately believe in student communication and are committed to making the technology as popular in schools as the interactive whiteboard. In order to achieve this, software has been made user-friendly and affordable. 

TrouDigital provides a cloud-based content creation studio letting users design presentations for their screens. Designed for a non-technical user, the platform uses a simple drag-and-drop interface with a menu of widgets to make sophisticated designs as easily as possible. With the ability to create playlists and assign them to particular screens or groups of screens an entire network of displays can be fully automated, scheduled in advance and managed centrally from any PC with an internet connection. 

TrouDigital offer an inclusive package, accessibly priced for all educational institutions via an affordable monthly subscription, with no hidden costs or additional upfront charges. This package includes a media player for each screen (worth £100-£150), installation, onsite training and remote support for free.

The future is bright for AV and especially digital signage in education. Web software is becoming more powerful and the hardware is reducing in cost. With data integrations, the use of open data and new technologies (such as contactless pupil registration) to explore, digital signage is becoming an increasingly integral tool for ever-more-committed educational institutions.

Technology’s centrality to our everyday lives is mirrored in our education system, according to Damien Weissenburger, head of corporate and education at Sony Professional Solutions Europe. “We live in an age where students are far more tech-savvy than their teachers – according to ‘The State of Video in Education 2015’, a Kaltura Report 2015, 40% of students would describe themselves as having ‘very good’ digital literacy, compared to only 23% of teachers. AV technology is becoming more prominent in the classroom, with an increased use of interactive displays and projectors and a wider emphasis on mobile technology, encouraging a BYOD culture. Today’s digital classroom is increasingly being defined by mobile-friendly, feature-rich solutions as the way students consume content evolves.” 

Supply is changing to meet demand. “AV manufacturers are responding to this shift with wireless presentation systems allowing multiple devices to connect to a central display for content-sharing and collaboration. There are also some parallel shifts in favoured display hardware. Until recently, the UK’s primary and secondary education market was characterised by a high penetration of interactive display technology in classrooms, with rates approaching 100%. Now interactive flat panels are supplanting existing projection-based whiteboard solutions. In 2015, flat panels accounted for over two-thirds of interactive display sales in the UK’s education market, compared with less than 20% in 2013. This figure will only rise in the future.”

   

Challenging times are heralding new solutions. “The education sector often faces budget constraints. Thanks to projector/projection technology using a laser light source over traditional lamp-based models, educators can obtain lower operating costs because virtually no maintenance is needed. Over the last few years, there has been a shift from lamp to laser projectors. According to Futuresource Consulting, in 2015 over 5% of installation projectors of 5,000 lumens and above, sold into the European market used a laser-based light source, and by 2019 this figure is expected to rise to 73%.” 

Sony recently worked with the University of Bath to bring a cutting-edge technology solution to its teaching spaces. One of the main challenges was ensuring the technology would be cost-effective to run. Following the first installation of six VPL-FH500L and 51 VPL-FH31 projectors to create an immersive, informative learning environment, Sony then installed another 10 laser projectors, ensuring the image and video quality presented was of the highest standard, whilst providing reliability and low ownership costs.  

Quality is a key factor as, according to the aforementioned Kaltura Report, the majority of education decision-makers think video content will play a major role in the future of education. This decision highlights the importance of projector and display technology, demanding the need for crystal clear 4K imagery, with 4K technology also future-proofing the institution and enabling them to stay at the forefront of imaging technology.

Midwich’s Solutions Team was launched in 2015, specifically to provide expertise directly to integrators and to help engage with end users to provide complete AV solutions for projects and advise on specific technical products. Steve Goodwin, Midwich’s solutions business development manager – education said, “Digital signage has the potential to deliver real-time and individualised messaging. If the signage platform is combined with technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) or near field communication (NFC) (found in many mobile devices and electronic ID cards) the information can be tailored for that individual. Many digital signage systems can also interpret data feeds and signals, for example, linking to emergency systems or using the weather forecast to promote hot or cold meals in the café.”

Digital signage’s use in universities and schools differs markedly. “One cannot realistically compare the physical number of signage deployments in a university to a school, purely down to the number of buildings and areas that could benefit from a signage screen. However, proportional to the size of the organisation, universities are way ahead.  Several factors may affect this, including budget and also the time taken and the availability of staff to manage and look after the system, which will affect the number of displays the institution can handle; often a school may deploy a screen in reception and not recognise the potential benefits of installing screens into other areas for motivation and specific subject and key-stage information.” 

Lucy Meredith, Panasonic’s UK marketing specialist for visual systems predicts ongoing advancement in this field. “AV technology has the potential for schools, colleges and universities to inform students about important information and extra-curricular events – everything from what’s happening in terms of clubs and societies to where the free computers in the library are, or the canteen’s menu. Digital signage is continually improving, with the workflow required to get content up on display getting simpler thanks to OpenPort technologies and System-On-a-Chip designs removing the need for older complex Wintel systems. Today’s digital signage displays are incredibly bright and colourful and, increasingly, standalone.” 

Panasonic liaises with the education sector to help integrate this technology. “Panasonic’s network of dealers and distributors work to understand and select the best type of technology for the end user to meet their needs, as each AV installation is typically very dependent on what the user is looking to get out of the technology, as well as the physical environment and scope of the installation itself. For example, how many people does the user intend to see the display? How big is the room? What are the light levels in the room like? Integrators take these considerations on board and use their wealth of experience to identify and install the best combination of AV equipment to effectively meet the end users’ needs."   

With AV technology bringing ever-greater learning materials into the educational environment, the physical restraints of the classroom and lecture hall become less binding. Once learners are sat at their school or university desk (after, in some cases, following digital signage,) educators are able to engage with them in ways unimaginable to previous generations. The coming years are set to bring still more amazing advances. The signs are all here. 

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