Inspired by a ProfHacker article from a few years back, I decided to try using Twitter to create a digital sign outside my office door. That way, I can let students know if I’m available for a drop-in conversation or whether I’m prepping for class and don’t want to be disturbed. It also lets me update from a remote location via my phone’s Twitter app if I’m stuck in a meeting or running late for an office appointment.
As it turns out, the project is really quite simple. All you need is an old tablet computer (mine is a first-generation PanDigital Android e-reader) with a web browser and a wireless internet connection. You also need a cheap wall mount for a tablet, like this one (I use one that allows me to remove the tablet at the end of the day for safe keeping). You may also want to download an app for the tablet that will keep the display from timing out, so your posts will always be visible. Depending on the battery life of your tablet, you may be able to do all of this wirelessly—otherwise you’ll need your mount close enough to a power outlet to plug in.
Next, you need to have a Twitter account to use for updates. I created a dedicated account that I only use for posting messages on the office door display. You could opt to use your personal Twitter account, but then your followers will get 10 messages a day to the effect of “I’m in my office. Come on in!” or “I’m at lunch. Be back soon!”–which, in my experience, may annoy them more than a little.
Finally, you will need to find a way of displaying the Twitter feed on your tablet. Tweetdeck is ideal, although it isn’t compatible with my old e-reader. I’ve found that Tweetwally is also a great solution. All you need to do there is create a Tweetwall and have it search for all tweets from your dedicated Twitter account (or a particular hashtag from your regular account). Here’s what my Tweetwally page looks like.
Once you have all of this set up, just open the browser on the tablet and navigate to your Tweetwally page. Then mount the tablet outside the door. Whenever you tweet from the dedicated Twitter account, it will update the message on your door.
The advantage of having an electronic office sign is that you can remotely alert people as to your whereabouts or let them know whether or not you are available for drop-ins before they interrupt you by knocking. The one downside is the possibility of theft (which is why I use an e-reader no one would want). Also, your students (and colleagues) may make fun of you for being a geek.
A small price to pay for such delightful gadgetry, no?