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When the American University of Sharjah decided that it needed to update its existing video education distribution system, it turned to Cisco.

Tags: American University Sharjah (AUS)Cisco Systems Incorporated
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Please stand by for an important announcement
By  Ben Furfie Published  October 15, 2010

When the American University of Sharjah decided that it needed to update its existing video education distribution system, it turned to Cisco. It was also looking for a way to use digital signage to display information to its faculty and students. What it didn’t expect is to find one solution that solved both needs.

With a campus huge campus, over 3,000 undergraduates and postgraduates, as well as more than 300 staff, the question arises: just how do you effectively communicate messages to them, as well as ensure that they are learning in the best environment available to them?

That was the challenge that faced the American University of Sharjah when it began looking at how to make the most of video technology. The brief was simple: find the most effective way of communicating with students and staff, while at the same time, leveraging any system put in place as another way of enriching the educational experience.

“We were reviewing two separate projects,” explains director of IT at the American University of Sharjah, Ashi Sheth. “One was a digital signage project to improve our ability to service our students, guests and faculty.

“The second was a video distribution system to improve the classroom experience for our students, and improve our ability to involve family and friends in important events that their student is taking part in on campus, such as honours convocation [graduation], global day, commencement etc.”

The university is no stranger to using video as a way of extending the reach of the faculty when it comes to ensuring content is getting to the students. However, the use of digital media as a way of providing information is new to it. This means that in addition to any solution that was to be implemented would require significant investment in hardware.

“The digital signage was all new,” explains Sheth. “We had been running a home grown video portal that was cobbled together using various applications that was not going to support our overall growth projection.”

Despite the short period of time that the system has been active, the university, its staff and students are already finding that the solution has had a profound impact. “The main benefits of the system are in the academic experience of archived video available anywhere, the media relations aspect of distributing coverage of our important events campus-wide, and the customer service aspect of distributing content quickly and easily across the campus using the signage system,” explains Sheth.

“Using the video portal of piece of Cisco’s digital media system we are able to distribute content to anyone, anywhere on the internet. Class material can be reviewed at any time or major events can be revisited months or years later by family members.”

In particular, the digital signage system has exceeded the university’s orginal expectations. “The digital signage module has enabled us to distribute up-to-date information to the campus community, whether it be announcements of events, examples of student or faculty work, or in the worst case scenario, emergency notifications.

“In addition, it means guests do not need to wonder which building they’re in, or where a particular office may be as we roll out building maps via the signage modules.”

While the digital signage and video content distribution system has exceeded expectations in terms of the solution itself, the university has still faced a number of challenges, specifically to do with the creation of the content that is displayed and distributed on the digital screens around the university’s campus, reveals Sheth.

“The largest challenge was – and still is – in the design of content for the signage,” he says. “Establishing the voice that we want to use in distributing signage has proven to be the single biggest hurdle. The Video Portal version 5.2 has resolved many of the initial difficulties we faced with flexibility of both public and private media content, but even 5.1 was a significant improvement over our previous method of distributing content.

The company has also found that being the first to market has its disadvantages, especially when the service is largely a value add, rather than something it uses to compete with other universities on.

“The relative lack of peers within the region from which to learn best practices and roll out plans, has been a challenge,” says Sheth. However, despite the issues it caused, the organisation says Cisco was more than happy to help it ensure that it got the most out of the system. “Much of the configuration work required direct contact with Cisco TAC in order to deploy.

“Two members of the IT team were sent to Cisco authorised DMS training to properly understand the rollout of the DMS solution,” he adds. The only problem the university has faced with the solution is the lack of experience at the organisation in creating specialist content, as he previously mentioned.

“Content design for the signage is relatively straight forward (if a designer can create a website or Flash app, they can publish content to the sign), however, content creation for the digital media can require additional skills or training.”

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