QR Codes in the Classroom

QR Codes – You’ve probably seen them around and may even have discovered what they are. Advertisers certainly have, especially in countries like Korea and the United States. The simple fact that they are still a novelty makes them quite effective in marketing. This is also very true, I believe, in the classroom. These things are new to many of our students and the interest that they create is bound to spice up your lessons. And even after the novelty wears off, there are many uses for these little codes that will keep them around in one form or another for a long time.

What are QR Codes?

I had seen them around, but never really understood them until I attended Jeff Utecht‘s QR Code seminar at EARCO’s 2011. These are the square barcode-looking things that we see on posters and advertisements around town.

When the code is scanned using your smart phone or camera enabled computer, a text message will be displayed or an action will be performed by your device. The code can instantly connect you to a website, can initiate a phone call or SMS message; it can send an email or connect you to Google Maps or Twitter. These are a few of the many tasks that can be initiated by the QR Code.

What you Need to Get Started

You’ll need an application to perform the scan of the code. For your smart phone, try i-Nigma, a free application that works very well. For your Mac or PC, QR Reader is a popular application.

Now you’ll need to generate a code. This can be done with only a few clicks in about a minute. There are many websites that do this for you. The QR Code and 2D Code Generator works well and gives you lots of options. You can also go to a site like http://bit.ly or http://qr.net to create a shortened URL and get the QR code that goes with it as well. Chrome and Firefox have these add-ons for their toolbars to help generate code on the fly. Once the code is generated, it’s a simple as right-clicking and saving it to your computer.

Once you’ve printed your code, initiate your QR scanning application and hold the code up to the camera. When it’s positioned well, it will do everything on its own. I’ve found that it works very well on the iPhone, but I’ve had some difficulty getting it to read quickly on my laptops (both PC and Mac). I’m forced to move it around quite a bit and try several times before it reads it. I know others have had better success than I have, so I’m sure I’ll find a solution. I plan to test out an external camera and some better lighting to see if that helps. Any advice would be appreciated.

What Can it Be Used For?

There are tons of uses. But as Jeff Utecht says, these codes serve a specific purpose. They are to connect the material world with the digital world. There is no need to put a QR on a webpage, for instance. Since you’re already on the web, a link would be much more logical. Let’s explore some ways this can be used in the classroom.

Less Typing for Little Fingers

This, of course, is what QR codes are all about. My fourth grade students have a hard time copying down a URL without leaving out a letter or adding a space somewhere where it shouldn’t be. I’m beginning to put QR codes on the top of my worksheets that take students to a lesson podcast or other links that go along with the assignment. I also have uploaded answer keys that are linked through QR codes on the bottom of their worksheets. When they finish, they scan the code and correct their own work. (This is all part of my plan to “flip” my classroom and allow students to move at their own pace. They won’t have to wait for me to grade daily work – instant feedback – ¬†taking ownership of their learning…)

Second Language Learners

QR codes could link to audio files that read the passage to the student. Language teachers could model pronunciation and place QR code links on homework or around the classroom. Students could even access these from the school bus with their smart phones.

Classroom Libraries

My students have begun to prepare video book reviews. We will upload these and paste QR code links in the covers of the books. It is quick and easy to step over to the computer and watch the 2 minute review before committing to reading it. Here the QR codes make a lot more sense than having a long list of URL’s on a paper or even a website of links that would need to be searched.

Scavenger Hunts

Lots of people have talked about using QR codes in scavenger hunts. Students are sent to a certain location on campus. They get there and scan the QR code which sends them off to the next location. Imagine linking this to a Google map with an exact GPS coordinate somewhere on campus. Tim Pettine mentioned that he and another psychology teacher are working on a maze with QR codes in which students make choices and these choices affect the outcome of their quest.

Other Uses

Next year when I take my kids on their planet walk through our model universe that spans across campus, I’m planning to try to incorporate QR codes at each station. The link would display information about the planet and maybe play a video clip. On our next art project, I’m going to put QR codes on the corner of each matte. Passersby can scan the code and hear a short presentation by the artist about his piece of work.¬†Wayne Hodgkinson is working on a project at his school wherein trees and plants around campus are labeled with QR codes. Our theater department put QR codes on the posters that were advertising the upcoming play. The QR code would lead people to the site online where tickets could be purchased. Someone at the seminar suggested using codes at centers as a way to check in. If the code is linked to a Twitter account, the message sent is time-stamped. A language teacher pasted QR codes to a calendar. Students could scan and be linked to a place where they could get homework and resources for that day.

I have just started experimenting with all of this. I don’t have it all figured out yet, but the seed is planted and I’m finding that it’s fun just dreaming up new ways to put these to use. I’d love to hear what you’ve come up with, as well. Please share your ideas.

QR codes may not revolutionize the way we teach. I’m sure a lot of the things I’m trying now will fall by the wayside later and I may revert back to simply posting links in a central location. The novelty will wear off over time and QR codes might fall into the background noise with the other thousands of advertisements we’ve learned to ignore everyday. But let’s poke around and see what we can come up with. The possibilities are intriguing.

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2 Responses to QR Codes in the Classroom

  1. Hey Geoff,

    Great Post! I’m on a QR Code High these days as well. In fact, it’s been my focus for the last unit in two of my classes as a way to expand students’ use of more media.

    They way I stress the use of QR Codes in my classes is in the same way: QR Codes are meant to hyperlink our physical world to our digital world!! In this increasing “connected world” lifestyle, the advent of QR Codes almost seems inevitable. The fact that now with a simple scan with my mobile device, I can be connected to all sorts of media means a lot. It seems weird to say that typing on my mobile device (when I’m in search of more information) is a burden, but in reality that seems to be the case. If for instance, I come across a flyer for a music concert and wish to but tickets. I would first have to pull out my phone, open the web browser, type in the url, and so on…. But with QR Codes, it’s nearly a one step process. More information, quicker!

    But what matters most, in my opinion, is the type of information you receive. When I did some research with my students, in regard to possible implementations in school, we realized that for the QR code to be worthwhile the linked information would need to expand upon the learning in a way that would utilize smart mobile devices – which means more videos/audios/games and less written words. No body wants to be pointed to a book or a wikipedia article when they scan a QR Code!

    Take a look at this video from the McDuffy School District in Pennsylvania, where they have a school-wide implementation of QR Codes called the Noble Zebra Project [http://goo.gl/777Uc]. This video really inspired me and my colleagues on some incredible educational uses of QR Codes. One of my science colleagues, particularly enjoyed the idea of filming labs and then posting QR codes on a calendar. She started implementing it herself!

    I have several blog posts on QR Code implementation ideas [http://goo.gl/qM2Gl], would love any feedback.



  2. Kim Cofino says:

    Tons of fantastic ideas! Can’t wait to hear about the implementation!

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