QR codes (also called matrix codes, so you can see why I might feel an affinity with them!) are gaining in popularity in North America (they’re already big overseas in Japan and elsewhere). With more students buying smartphones, and more professors interested in developing mobile learning solutions, QR codes in the classroom are worth considering.
A QR code is a fancy “quick response” barcode. It can be decoded (scanned) with smartphone software (available free for all phones) and once scanned, it sends the smartphone to a website whose URL is embedded in the code. It’s a pretty painless process: open QR code app, hold phone up to QR code, take a photo, then click to follow the embedded link. Or, you can set up a QR code so that scanning it causes the user’s smartphone to open an email program and auto-insert an address, or to open the text messaging feature and insert a pre-fab SMS.
In business, these QR codes serve many purposes having to do with linking the physical and the virtual worlds. Pasted on store shelves, product labels, or machinery, they can provide user manuals, background information, user reviews, or mobile coupons on-demand and in-hand. The QR trend is catching on quickly in the real estate industry. Posting QR codes on roadside For Sale signs means mobile house hunters can instantly access all the listing details—and contact the agent right away.
QR codes are one way to “close the loop from print to mobile,” says Ted Ianuzzi, VP Sales and Marketing at Didmo. And as such, they are efficient “mobile Trojan horses” that can be used to distribute all kinds of digital content “on the spot.” So then, how might we use these fancy barcodes in teaching?
When I spoke to developer Erik Goldhar from QRe8 about using this technology on campus, he suggested that from an industry point of view QR adoption in North America “is no longer in its infancy—in fact we believe it’s now at the ‘toddler’ stage and growing fast.” Supporting that growth is the BlackBerry Messenger 5.0 upgrade, which allows QR scanning —and essentially makes any newer BlackBerry device a barcode scanner, right out of the box.
Goldhar also suggested that QR codes are the ultimate in environmentally-responsible mobile learning technology—because they can be used to cut down on paper in so many ways. How? Link your slides, lecture outlines, or homework assignment to a QR code instead of printing endless copies, for a start. Including a QR code on the course outline could point to a lab report or weekly assignment template.
Placed on the last slide of your powerpoint, it could direct students to a quick poll or quiz (and thus discourage skipping out). The codes can also be used as an SMS polling device to get quick student feedback on the lesson. The code could send students to a resource page with supplemental materials to support learning. Of course, for best results, if directing users to a website, that web content should be optimized for viewing on a small screen—something to consider. If posted in the lab, the code could embed safety and instructional information, or link to a sign-in site/form, or email feedback to report an incident.
Interestingly, Moodle is already QR-code ready: if users print a page from a Moodle site, the software can automatically generate a QR code on the printout, so that the user can quickly retrace their steps online and return back to the specific page they printed.
Some universities are using QR codes for campus tours, which means they would be a great way to get students learning outside the confines of the classroom—old fashioned mobile learning, as it were.
The idea of using QR codes has one immediate drawback. Smartphones account for less than one-quarter of mobile phone adoptions. Perhaps on some campuses that percentage is considerably higher, but the fact remains, this is not a universal solution to mobile learning needs. When in 2008 The University of Bath was involved in pilot programs using QR codes (and they are widely recognized as the earliest adopters and regarded as the go-to QR experts by edTech types), they found that 70% of students did not have cellphones with cameras. How much has this changed in two years? Do half (or more) of your students have web-enabled cellcams in their knapsacks today? This becomes a non-issue for institutions and programs distributing smartphones, iPodTouches or iPads to all students. Yet some barriers remain: there are obvious implications for using QR codes in a class that includes visually impaired students.
Of course another aspect of the accessibility issue is to consider that QR codes increase access to mobile learning opportunities for students who are not equipped with PCs and laptops. These codes make eLearning activities available to people who do not have computers.
Interested? If you’d like to generate a free QR code for your course and test it out, try Kaywa. Or try scanning the one on my course website. Need a QR code reader app for your smartphone? Here’s a roundup on apps for various platforms, and here is another one.
Here is a tool roundup if you need to mobilize your course website. And you might want to download Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know about QR codes flyer. Need more proof that Librarians are tech innovators bar none? Check out this online resource roundup documenting how QR codes can transform the library services experience—pretty amazing stuff!