Editor's note: Today’s guest blogger is Alicia Shires, Classroom Technology Specialist at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.At Washington and Lee University, we pride ourselves on our clear communications to everyone on campus—and if we have to cancel or change classes or events, we want everyone to find out as soon as possible. Our 13 digital signage screens, positioned in key places across campus like the Commons building and several dorms, alert staff and students to the events at the University, along with updates on our sports teams and local weather. When we installed Google Chromeboxes to replace the crash-prone Windows machines running the screens, it became much easier to bring news to the campus while it’s fresh.
The personal computers we were using to run display screens had several problems, with unreliability at the top of the list. They were slow to update, and would often crash, leaving the screens completely offline. That meant a delay in delivering information to students and staff until we could reboot the machines remotely. The machines were also slow. When we uploaded information to be displayed, it could take 30 minutes before viewers saw it.
These delays could become a big deal if we wanted to deliver time-sensitive information to screens, like weather-related campus closings or emergency situations. Without fast notifications, students and professors could waste time traveling to classes or events that weren’t happening.We knew we needed better hardware to solve the problems of speed and instability.
Rise Vision, the developer of the free, open-source platform we use to create and manage our display content, suggested we replace the PCs with managed Chromeboxes. We discovered that because Chromeboxes run Chrome OS, they update automatically, so updates don’t interfere with the displays. We can operate Chromeboxes in Kiosk mode so we can run the digital signage software at full-screen, which makes our displays look better. Management is largely hands off. I don’t have to touch the boxes and the reboots are fast and automatic.
Each Chromebox is several hundred dollars less than one of the PCs we were using before, so that’s a big plus for us. They’re extremely reliable and super-fast—when I upload new content from my office, it appears almost immediately on the campus display screens. It’s hard to believe I’m not working directly on the Chromeboxes themselves. They’re also powerful enough to run rich media like HD 1080P videos without choppy playback.
Perhaps the best thing about using Chromeboxes for our screens is that we’ve finally been able to kick our emergency notification system into high gear. If we go through another difficult winter, we can quickly push out emergency notices about schools closings, weather delays, and event cancellations. Operating our screens with fast, reliable Chromeboxes is helping us keep everyone on campus not just well-informed, but safe and sound.