Information is only as good as its delivery system and, in this age of rapidly-advancing technology, finding the best way to link meaningful messages to multiple, fast-moving audiences is the No. 1 goal of communicators.
West Virginia University has embraced the technology explosion, using a broad spectrum of communication modesfrom text messages and Youtube videos to interactive social networking Web sitesto reach a variety of audiences that include current and prospective students, faculty and staff, alumni, donors and visitors. Joining this new frontier are Information Stations, which WVU quickly developed into living information tools that bring the campus and culture to a diverse constituency.
These stations are a new way of breaking through the information landscape,said Christine Martin, vice president of University Relations.Were getting information out to people where theyre at, in real time and with capabilities far beyond a CNN video stream or time and temperature display.
The Panasonic LCD screens, ranging in size from 12 to 56 inches, are placed at high traffic areas around campus with the information also available to 6,000 residence hall rooms via a cable television station. Each screen displays a steady stream of information in two- to three-minute waves, with features as diverse as WVU athletic schedules and concert listings to short video clips of students talking about issues in the news or giving study tips. The latter function is part of a user-created content initiative unveiled early this year.
Chakara Johnson, a freshman from Welch majoring in exercise physiology, has found the Information Stations particularly helpful.
I first noticed one of the screens when I was coming home from a football game,Johnson said.It told you how long it would take for the PRT to get from (the Medical Center) station to the downtown station.
Johnson was one of thousands of students, faculty and staff who used the system to watch live coverage of Barack Obamas inauguration. The screens also displayed Tweets from WVU students, faculty and others with campus connections who attended the event.
I walk everywhere because I dont have a car, so while Im getting around, I always look to see whats on the screensporting events that are coming up, concerts that are coming up, the weather,senior Julian Spraggins said.
Like the inauguration itself, the system represents a cultural shift. The Internet and cell phone technology made information and communication available at the click of a button. The stations are expanding on the concept, delivering information to an audience on the go, including students who are not likely to seek newspapers or news via the Internet.
The school plans to add more screens at different campus locations and tweak the ways it disseminates and presents the information.
One of the great things about the Information Stations is our ability to use micro-targeted messaging to tailor information to buildings, rooms, and even specific individuals. But the information also has legs,Dana Coester WVU vice president for branding and creative direction said.With widgets, cell phones and the ability to receive and save information on home computer desktops, all of the information about our campus, campus lifeany messaging we want to dois available to our alumni, faculty and other constituents. Were doing these things now and getting great response.
In December, the school created a widget which pulled from Informations Stationsfeeds and served as a promotional tool for the Mountaineersappearance in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. It proved wildly popular with more than 14,000 hits in just a few weeks and began appearing on social networking web sites like Facebook and MySpace. More widgets are on the way, with campus news feeds tailored to the interests of current or prospective students or alumni. Plans are in the works to make the information fed to the stations downloadable to personal computers and mobile phones.
Its an open box,George Cicci, professional technologist at WVU TV Productions said.There are so many possibilities. Were not closed in by anything.
Or out-paced by the rapidly-progressing communication landscape.
Originally thought to be a mechanism to deliver emergency communications in the wake of the 2007 Virginia Tech tragedy, a team at WVU Television Productions quickly realized much broader possibilities. They applied their own ideas to a vendor-bought signage plan and came up with an Internet protocol-based system that pulls from databases, RSS and XML feeds all over campus while also importing headline news from all major media outlets. The result is a system miles ahead of other institutions and organizations because of its hybrid nature. The original vendor-bought system is now an amalgam of commercial products and WVU ingenuity.
Weve had a lot of fun marrying the numerous technologies together to make this project work and were proud to be able to promote the Universitys messages through this system,Spencer Graham, manager of WVU TV ProductionsEducational Networking said.
Time and temperature are constantly displayed on the screens along with three or more other types of information pulled from databases or other intra-university client-generated sources. Often, an event schedule is framed by a headline news ticker streaming across the bottom of the screen. The sleek design of pages, incorporating photos and graphics, give the visual appearance of motion, although video is used minimally.
The clients maintain control over their content and the information stays current,said Jennifer Gillum, professional technologist at WVU TV Productions.
Overlaying the feeds and shifting visualsis a transparent emergency page which can be activated and made viewable instantly by WVU s Department of Public Safety. In its first real applicationa strong-arm robbery close to campusemergency information was displayed in nine seconds.
And best of all, it was displayed all over campus, where the information was most accessible to the WVU population.
The old Web-based model relied on people coming to you, rather to you going to them,Coester said.Were exploring a new way of messaging, creating a dynamic system that we will continue to develop.