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ERBs around campus face challenges in widespread adoption and functionality

The electronic displays on the Washington State University Vancouver campus have been met with a degree of trouble. The WSU Vancouver campus’ purchase and installation of these devices was a deliberate, involved process that has faced issues, but the people involved have stated they are working as hard as possible to get these devices up and running.

Michelle McIlvoy, WSU Vancouver’s Student Involvement Manager, said that the process began with student government. ASWSUV was the body to make the initial request for electronic display boards, and pushed the agenda along to get them purchased. These boards are intended to provide a high-visibility platform for getting messages out to the student body while simultaneously reducing the paper waste that came from printing and distributing leaflets. The first outdoor reader board was funded in the 2008 fiscal year, and installed in 2010.

Part of the reason for the long gap between securing funding and the final installation was the process of taking bids from contractors, as well as determining exactly where the new board would be placed. McIlvoy said that the original plan was to place the first board towards the middle of campus, but Hal Dengerink, Chancellor Emeritus of WSU Vancouver and chancellor at the time, wanted to ensure the placement of these boards would not interfere with any of the scenic views WSU Vancouver’s campus was designed around, with particular respect to the view of Mt. Hood. These criteria ultimately lead to the first board placed outside the Firstenburg Student Center.

By 2013, two additional boards were put into place, including the most recent addition outside the Multimedia Center; however, that summer, the original reader by the Firstenburg Student Center ceased functioning, and was replaced by a smaller board. As compensation, the campus was given an additional board to make up for the downgrade. While it was, like all other boards, still under warranty, it was part of a rash of outages that began occurring. McIlvoy said that one of the challenges in getting an outage repaired was that the boards have two different companies responsible for their components, and the Office of Student Involvement, consequently, needs to work with both companies and WSU Vancouver’s own maintenance department when getting repairs done.

For some, an outage is not simply an inconvenience. Clubs who have favored the electronic reader boards over more traditional methods have found that an outage can endanger their ability to publicize an event. Kaitlin Perkins, president of the Environmental Science and Sustainability Club, spoke about her experiences trying to advertise their waste audit earlier this year.

“[The boards] were malfunctioning for most of the time period our flier was up. The boards weren’t out, but they weren’t displaying correctly,” said Perkins. She said they would regard the boards as “a side-thought.” While the boards have advantages, with their large, high-visibility nature and the fact they give their full screen to one image at a time rather than being crowded with many messages like a bulletin board, the malfunctions they have demonstrated have left groups like the environmental science and sustainability club a little more gun-shy about them.

When they are functional, the electronic reader boards work to fulfill their purpose as originally envisioned: giving a prominent platform where an event, activity or piece of information can be hoisted up for all to see; however, frequent malfunctions can undermine their use and steer student groups back towards traditional methods of getting out their message. The chances of them gaining widespread acceptance and use may ultimately come down to their ability to stay functional when they are needed the most.

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