It was actually earlier this school year that I learned what QR codes were. My Year 8 students were making photo doctored magazine covers as one of their projects in my class and one of them included a QR code on their finished work. After doing a bit of research online, I started to figure out how they worked and what they were used for. I even realized that my phone actually had a QR code reader. Pretty soon, I was seeing these scanable (which, apparently, is not a real word, btw) codes everywhere and the urge to scan them with my phone was addictive. It got me to thinking that if these little codes could get me motivated to scan them to unlock the secrets hidden within, then maybe they could get my students engaged as well.
For the yet uninitiated, QR codes are closely related to the barcodes we’re all familiar with on most products we buy in the supermarket. Like traditional barcodes, QR (or, Quick Response) codes can be scanned to reveal information. These codes contain alphanumeric text and often contain URLs for users to easily follow for more information. So far, the most common uses seem to be for marketing with codes adhered to locations such as product labels, billboards or magazine ads but I’ve been thinking about how they could be used for education.
According to research done by Nathan King, about half of people had either seen or heard of QR codes and about a half of those people had actually scanned one. Japan has been quick to embrace these little codes especially for logistical, business purposes but others are managing to use them in more innovative ways. For example, art galleries may have QR codes posted on a plaque alongside the art that leads scanners to more information about the artist. Essentially, QR codes seem to be a great way of linking the real world with digital, online resources.
When I looked into how QR codes were being used in education, the results were still rather minimal. Most of the references I found came from higher educational institutions and for the most part, they seem to be used in clerical ways such as grading or submission of work. Probably the most significant adopters thus far is Bath University in the United Kingdom. Andy Ramsden has set up a blog relating to the use of QR codes at Bath University and their trials with the use of QR codes.
Some of the examples that Mr. Ramsden gives about the use of QR codes at Bath include cataloging library books, lining to activities from handbooks, and in marketing materials from various departments. He describes a few things that are holding back the more effective use of QR codes. Firstly, awareness is still an issue. If only a quarter of the population have actively used a code, it may not be the most efficient method. Secondly, many websites or online resources are not well set up for mobile internet and thus offer poor usability. Lastly, at this point, not everyone has a mobile phone with QR decoding capabilities.
Does that mean that QR codes aren’t a worthwhile means of sharing information? Not necessarily. As new mobile phones are released, they will undoubtedly be QR code compatible. Similarly, people are bound to become more familiar with these codes and their use. As the use of these codes rise, website design will learn to better accommodate mobile users. It seems that for the moment, QR codes are still in their infancy so what better time to introduce my students to them. So to answer the title of this blog in no uncertain terms, ‘Maybe!?’ It can’t hurt to try.
Thankfully, at my school, NIST, students in the secondary school are all equipped with laptops and each of those laptops has a built in camera. With the simple installation of a desktop QR code reader such as the one by Dansl, the technological limitations of QR code reading has been solved. The awareness issue will quickly be resolved when we discuss in class what these codes are all about. The biggest challenge now is trying to think of ways to use these in a way that enhances the students’ learning. As a means of getting my students to use technology to interact with their surroundings and get them out of the classroom, I will probably start with a campus-wide scavenger hunt in which students will solve clues by scanning strategically placed QR codes around the school. Hopefully, the discussion that follows will help to unlock some ways that students could see themselves using the technology to enhance their school experience.
If any educators out there have successfully used QR codes in their school, no matter how simply or how advanced, I’d be very interested to hear about it. I’ll report back after I get my students on board with this. In the meantime, share this code with your friends and maybe they’ll have some ideas for me too.