“No!”, says John Kinchin, emphatically, “This is not a one-off experiment. I see it as very exciting and important for the future.” Mr Kinchin, who is the Assistant Head Teacher and the head of Physics at The King’s School in Peterborough, has been the motive force behind their deployment of an extensive network of CODA screens. But, for them, finding the right solution took some time.
“Starting four years ago, we looked at a number of solutions. The first were TV-based, and would just send the same thing to every screen in the school.” Then they started to explore PC-based digital signage, and the first systems they tried “almost gave me a nervous breakdown!” Having a PC with every screen was just too hard to manage, so the search for a suitable solution continued. “One provider quoted us silly amounts of money for an all-singing, all-dancing Rolls-Royce system. We’re pretty sure he had heard about the budget we had available and thought it was all for IT – he hadn’t realised that it included the buildings!”
It was at this point that they discovered Camvine’s ‘CODA’ system – a networked signage solution that worked over their existing network infrastructure and didn’t require any software to be installed anywhere. After their first meeting with Camvine the project began to move rather faster. “Things just grew from there to the point where we actually changed the design of the new science labs to incorporate the CODA system. CODA was cheaper for us, and was actually a better solution. So we’ve since gone a long way in a very, very short time.”
The initial funding at King’s came from Project Faraday – a UK government incentive to promote practical and innovative science facilities which would inspire both the teachers and the pupils. Now, however, Mr Kinchin thinks CODA would be compelling for them even without that extra budget. “What Faraday allowed me to do was take the time to do the thing properly. We did it the long way round… we started at A and got all the way almost to… well… W, before discovering you [Camvine]. For most schools now, they could come along [to the Camvine product list] and say, ‘Oh, we need one of those, one of those and… we’re done.’ Because that bit is easy.”
Early experiments mainly showed non-critical content (such as promotions of particular events or regular school activities – the Book Club, school trips) but they enabled the school to gain a real understanding of what they could do with the system, what type of content formats were most effective, and where the system could complement or even replace existing school communication processes. They then started to deploy more screens and to use the network for critical daily communications such as timetable changes, exam deadlines, the day’s ‘duty prefect’ rota and even for canteen menus.
Pupils take an active interest in the screen network, participating in studies to improve the design of the content, and actively contributing to its creation. A particularly eye-catching slide advertising the school’s carol concert turns out, surprisingly, to be a student’s work. “These are the advertising executives of the future!” Mr Kinchin comments. “The whole idea is to get students to work in this medium, because at the end of the day it’s there for them… and they’re going to have to work more and more in this world.”
Many teachers who were previously indifferent to the screens are now much more positive and are requesting that screens be placed in their particular department. And it’s not just the teaching staff: Margaret Glover, the catering manager, is also a major contributor, producing themed canteen menus based, for example, around events that took place on this day in history. During National Science Week, the items on offer included ‘Galapagos Asparagus’.
Through one of its key education-sector specialist partners, GovEd Technologies, Camvine has provided The King’s School with a system that allows them to schedule and deliver content to 11 screens around the campus, and this will be expanded to 17 screens very soon. The entire network can be managed from anywhere, including from the admin office or from Mr Kinchin’s home, just using a standard web browser.
Another attraction of the CODA system is the ease with which up-to-date live data can be incorporated. Mr Kinchin has no shortage of plans:
“We want to mix seismology data from our own, local sensors, with other seismology data from around the world. We have pollution sensors, too – we’d like to display our local pollution data and compare it with stations elsewhere.” But one of the biggest hits with the pupils has not been the timetables, the carol services, or the promotions for school trips, but the daily images from NASA. “They just love astronomy pictures!”
To find out more, please contact Brian Boakes at Camvine: 01223 852132 or brian.boakes [at] camvine.com.
Cambridge Visual Networks Ltd (generally abbreviated to Camvine) creates new ways of deploying and interacting with visual information. It is a highly agile privately-owned company based in Cambridge, UK. The team has an excellent track record in the creation of innovative products and has been involved in the founding of several other successful high-technology companies. Camvine creates powerful but environmentally-friendly visual communication systems which embrace the opportunities of the internet age.