Let’s get digital

Neil Emery, Director at TrilbyTV, discusses the rise of digital signage in education

Over the last six years I’ve been extremely busy delivering iPad focused training in schools up and down the UK and beyond. During these six years I’ve had a unique insight into how technology is used or not used in schools. 

One technology very much not used in schools is digital signage and hence I’m now a Director of the only digital signage platform developed specially for education, TrilbyTV. I would happily say that in around 90% of schools I have worked in, digital signage has either been switched off or playing content that had no relevance to any stakeholder connected with that school.

My top three reasons behind ineffective digital signage would be:

  1. Heavy IT managed systems born from the corporate space.
  2. IT departments managing what effectively are marketing and promotional tools.
  3. Schools not understanding why they bought digital signage in the first place.

I would go as far to say that schools actually see the TV screen as being the digital signage and not what’s actually playing on the screen.

When purchasing digital signage, schools should have a very good idea of the following:

  • What content will be playing on screens
  • Who will be managing and moderating content
  • How content promotes and markets the school
  • How this content is shared and showcased to the wider community

So, how do we measure the effective use of digital signage within schools? One education model I have thought about using is the SAMR model, and I want to thank Greg Hughes at The de Ferrers Academy for giving me this idea. SAMR stands for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification and Redefinition and is often used to help measure the effective use of technology within teaching and learning. Technology purchases that are used predominately for substitution and augmentation have been shown to have little or no impact on educational outcomes. But start using technology to modify a classroom task or totally redefine one and educational outcomes see an increase with student gains.

Signage as Substitution

Most staff rooms I walk into will have a physical notice board on one of the walls. What I often see digital signage being used for in these schools is the direct replacement of this notice board. Content is very flat, message based and usually housed in a very typical screen template accompanied by a school logo. Systems are managed by IT, by reception staff or, like the school I was in on Friday, by the head teacher. There’s no encouragement of student voice or ownership and certainly no sharing of best practice from teachers. The content rarely changes because it’s being managed by someone who is already very busy. Giving control and management over to one person is an issue and restrictive because others are afraid to approach, even if they do want to share and showcase classroom successes. This substitution model outcome is one that has no impact on student learning, teacher sharing or the wider community. An outcome that often ends with screens being turned off because of the lack of interest in driving content to them.

Signage with Augmentation

The school I was delivering training at on Friday had a slideshow playing of their last school trip. Hosting up to date content with students involved shows some augmentation from the previous substitution model. Although the screen was being driven by a PC in reception still using static slides created in Powerpoint. This was being managed by the head teacher, again offering little opportunity for students, teachers and the wider community to utilise the screens.

A lot of digital signage systems sold into education have been developed for the corporate space making uploading and managing content difficult. Backend systems require a level of expertise and understanding that goes far beyond your average teacher. I have visited some schools that have been using a YouTube playlist but for some teachers storage of content outside the UK is an issue as well as hosting content directly next to nudity or cats on skateboards, etc. Signage with augmentation would see schools trying to use their signage to host their own content but because systems are IT heavy or not fit for purpose, content is rarely changed and so viewing is uninteresting and screens again often end up being turned off.

Signage and Modification

Since the launch of the iPad nearly six years ago students more than ever are able to create rich media content rather than just consuming historical educational content. Media products are personal, engaging, and inspire learners to do more and better. Rather than just hiding such content on devices, this needs to be shared and showcased for all to see. Fellow students, teachers and the wider community should be able to enjoy the excellent teaching and learning achieved at school on a daily basis.

The Modification signage model sees the uploading of content by pupils from the classroom to a platform where moderation can happen quickly. Once moderated content is instantly shared to screens around the school and if required made available to the wider community such as the parents. Such a digital signage platform shouldn’t be IT heavy, shouldn’t be managed and should allow the opportunity for any stakeholder to upload content for the possibility of it being showcased. Voice and ownership is so important when it comes to students teaching and learning and most importantly has impact on outcomes.

“Head very impressed and children even more so! Shared work direct from classroom — the children said and I quote ‘that’s very cool’! High praise! Also we put QR codes into books and displays………not bad after one day” Vickie Bacon, Apple Distinguished Educator and Classroom Teacher — Barns Green Primary School.

Signage and Redefinition

Very much the same as modification but with ownership almost totally given over to the students. Uploading, moderation and management of the signage system is handled at a student level. Imagine how powerful is it for a student to own a CV that states “I manage the digital signage at my school”. Certainly a great statement for any student looking to gain employment or a place at University when leaving school.

Portsmouth College is a great example of this redefinition model where students create digital resources for fellow students and staff. This content is then shared to digital signage around the college campus for all stakeholders to access. It puts students on a different level where they have to think about the quality of content they are producing and the medium that it is being shared by. For this to work the signage platform should not be IT heavy, managed and give the opportunity for any stakeholder to upload content. Of course a signage platform should include moderation and administration but this should never outweigh voice, ownership and pride of seeing your content playing around your place of learning.

‘There is nothing more powerful than our student Apple Ambassadors creating video resources to support fellow students and staff.’ Simon Barrable, Deputy Principal, Portsmouth College.

To finish with I’ll share a story with you from an iPad training session I delivered with Year 9 students. One of my Year 9 students was sitting on a table on his own with no others willing to sit with him. I was running my project rebrand session where students have to think of their favourite product before renaming and then adding new features. The outcome is a 30 second media rich advertisement of their new product. All finished adverts that day would be shared and showcased on the school’s digital signage using TrilbyTV. After the session and during lunch the Year 9 student returned to tell me he had just watched his advert on the screen. He then told me he had never felt so proud as he had just been when watching his work being played back instantly.

It’s not rocket science, it never is. So, encourage student voice, teacher sharing and the wider community with TrilbyTV and switch on your signage.

W: www.trilbytv.co.uk