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Using outdoor digital signs to boost community engagement

When your school needs to communicate effectively with its wider community, how can it do so effectively and affordably?

Posters, memos and handmade signs, previously standard for school noticeboards, will no longer suffice. Communicating in this style is not only out-dated, it’s also impractical and time-consuming. Posters and signs get ripped or forgotten, busy teachers can forget to hand out notices, and office staff may find themselves dealing with parents upset to have missed out on a vital message.

Today we have digital technology to speed up communication, and schools are turning to large-scale, digital signs to deliver messages quickly and effectively – to students and the wider community.

These signs are user-friendly, weather-proof – and secure from hackers, says Tony Mitton from sign manufacturers Proto Electronics Ltd. “Outdoor digital signs are made in the same way as those used by outdoor advertising companies and are designed to be weatherproof. Hacking is not an issue since we supply our own dedicated wireless control system or hard wired system. The signs are not connected to the internet or WiFi or Bluetooth. And they are usually installed at a height exceeding 2.4m so they are not easy to touch.”

Benefits of using digital signage
Speed
The key advantage of using large-scale digital signage is speed. The signs can be easily updated via the school network – simply type in the message and press go.

With features including multi-user roles, comprehensive scheduling and playlist management, most of the work is done by the digital signage control software. Users can simply “set and forget” the content, reducing the manual labour required.

Community engagement
Community engagement is one of the eight principles in the New Zealand curriculum that provide a foundation for schools’ decision making. “The principle of community engagement calls for schools and teachers to deliver a curriculum that is meaningful, relevant, and connected to students’ lives,” states the Ministry of Education (MoE).

“Community engagement is also about establishing strong home-school partnerships where parents, whānau, and communities are involved and supported in students’ learning. Effective community engagement is imperative in this process.”

A digital sign outside your school can keep the community in touch with what is happening on campus in only a few words. Exam time – shh, School starts Monday May 1st or Welcome to visitors from Tokyo are straight to the point, and easy to read even for passing drivers.

Safety
Keeping students safe is a top priority for all schools. When integrated with an emergency alert system, digital signage that is positioned at the front gate or at the entrance to the assembly hall, for example, can help to alert students, staff and visitors to any emergency i.e. flooding, landslip or lockdown. Signage can also explain what action should be taken e.g. Hall flooded, meet in library or School closed for emergency repairs. Check website for updates.

Publicity
Whether the fundraiser is the junior school disco, the term three stage production, or a school-wide gala, your school can get the message out loud and clear and at minimal expense. Your outdoor sign can spread the news to all passers-by, serving as a low cost, high visibility alert to the school community and thus boost ticket sales and attendance to key events.  

School spirit
Large-scale signs can also be used to drive emotional support for the school and boost school spirit. A simple message – Kowhai v Rimu: 4pm can help to create an exciting atmosphere during competitions between teams, houses and syndicates.

Proto Electronics Ltd in Christchurch manufactures electronic scoreboards and digital signage for indoor and outdoor use. The scoreboards, which are user configurable including electronic team names, can also display to show school logos, messages, pictures, sponsors and advertisers. 

At St Thomas of Canterbury College, the gym scoreboard has been a hit. “The scoreboard has full LED display and our school logo was pre-loaded which was a fantastic surprise to us when we turned it on,” says teacher Brad Milne.

In addition, the responsibility for updating scoreboards can be shared with students. “Anyone can operate them using the instructions provided and they are completely secure,” says company director Mr Mitton.

Scoreboard costs vary according to size and the features required, but a general guide would be $9,000 for a gymnasium, $13,000 – $20,000 for a full basketball court and $12,000 for a rugby/hockey scoreboard, says Mr Mitton. Single-sided entrance signs costs start around $9,000 and double-sided signs costs from around $16,000. (Prices exclude installation and power supply).

Using your digital signage for success
Campaigns
Campaigns are much more effective than one-off messages. When you’re planning for events or school-wide initiatives, drive interest and moment with a series of reminders and a countdown-style format. For example: Talent contest: entries by Friday followed by Talent contest: tickets on sale Wednesday and so on.

Start advertising early, and use different message styles to convey information in new and engaging ways. This will spread the word and create anticipation.

Keep it simple
Short and sweet is the golden rule. Students are busy and distracted, parents are focused on drop off and pick up, and drivers are watching the road; keep text to a minimum and add images or logos when possible.

About Anna Clements

Anna Clements is the School News print and digital editor. She has a background in journalism spanning 25 years across newspapers, magazines and television, and spent six years working as an editorial advisor to a group of ECE centres.

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