Using QR Codes in Higher Education.

In an attempt to embrace the Technology Enabled Learning phenomenon, there are a number of technologies that I have attempted to use in my teaching, one such being QR codes.  This post aims to explain briefly what they are (for those that are new to QR codes), how use them (both creating and scanning) and a little bit of my own experience of trying to use them in teaching.

QR Codes Explained.

So what are they?  For those new to QR codes, the QR stands for ‘quick response’ and they are the square shaped barcodes that are becoming ever popular in a wide variety of places, as shown in the example above (if you scan it, you will find a shameless plug…).  By scanning the QR code, you will then be forwarded to additional products, services or information, linked to the nature of the source of the code. My first experience of a QR code was on the back of a Bulmer’s Cider bottle (please don’t judge me on that).  On scanning the code, it took me to a site where I could win a branded Bulmer’s glass.  Not one to give up the opportunity of a free drinking vessel (I was hooked by the marketing ploy, now they send me emails every week…), I promptly filled in the forms and hey presto, the glass was mine.

This is just one example of how QR codes can allow an individual to get to additional material around a subject area.  QR codes can be made for websites, YouTube clips, interesting blog posts or social media account details and as well as recent journal and newspaper articles.  I’ve also seen QR codes used for App links, contact details and even google maps locations.  QR codes provide us (and allow our students) an opportunity to access additional content or data, with the quick scan of a code.  These can be seen as the hard-copy version of weblinks, that can be placed anywhere and everywhere, and can be accessed on the go with our mobile devices.

Scanning QR Codes.

OK, so how do we scan the codes?  There are a number of different apps available across the different mobile platforms.  Each is slightly different in the way that they function, but all with the same end result.  See the list below for a number of different options:

QR Reader (iOSAndroid)

Scan (iOSAndroid)

NeoReader (iOSAndroid)

QR Code Scanner (Blackberry)

This is not an exclusive list and a simple search on any of the platforms’ app stores will throw up hundreds of other apps, both paid and free (all of the above are free apps at time of writing).  Once the apps are downloaded on the device, it is as simple as opening the app and hovering the viewfinder over the code as if you were taking a photo.  Upon reading the code, the app will take you directly to the information that it holds.

Creating QR Codes.

If you are planning on using QR codes to guide people to various types of information, knowing how to create them is also important.  There are apps that can be downloaded for mobile devices such as QR Creator (iOS) or QR Code Generator (Android), although these tend to lack features. My best recommendation would be to go to www.qrstuff.com that has lots of different options and allows you to create codes in 4 really quick steps.  If you have an Apple OS product (Macbook Pro, iMac etc.) you can get QR code creator apps in the App Store (I use QRencoder on my Macbook Pro, which is really useful).  The latest version of Safari, with Extensions, also has a great new QR code generator tool that drops directly into the Safari toolbar allowing you to create a code for the website that you are visiting at the click of a button.  Once you have the QR code, the world is your oyster.

My Experiences Using QR Codes.

Following my Bulmer’s Cider experience I was QR ‘hooked’ and have since spent my time trying to incorporate QR codes into my teaching.  I initially saw them being used in a presentation at a conference, though by the time I had got my phone out of my pocket and opened the app, the presenter had already continued onto the next slide (not so ‘quick response’ on my behalf…).  This got me thinking though about embedding QR codes into my lecture slides.  Of course this couldn’t be important info that is required for the module as it would exclude those who were not able to scan the code.  The content of the QR codes needed to be additional information that would guide students to supplementary content that would help to build on their knowledge around the subject area.

As it happened the content was the least of my worries. The issue came with the placement of the QR codes.  My initial approach was to place the QR codes amongst the information on the slide so that students could scan at their leisure, with minimal disruption (see below)

Embedded QR Codes
Embedded QR Codes

Even though these were projected on a screen, in a classroom environment, these were still too small for all students to be able to scan effectively.  In my next attempt I tried enlarging the QR codes to the full size of the slide (see below), though this seemed to cause too much disruption to the flow of the session and again the QR codes were not always able to be scanned.

Fullscreen QR Code
Fullscreen QR Code

Whilst trying to go paperless wherever possible, I have succumbed to the fact the best way to get the codes to the students is via QR code handouts.  One thing I have learned is that students want to know where the code is taking them, so a short description helps and that they are discretely able to scan the code and access the supplementary information as the session continues around them.  My QR codes that I use generally take students to additional journal articles, YouTube clips, blogs and more recently twitter accounts if I think someone is worth following, all related to the subject content for that particular session (see example below).

QR Code Handout

So there is my version of QR codes in HE (so far…). I am planning a small research project to look at students’ experiences of using these and will post any findings related to this.  For me, QR codes are becoming an excellent technology that ‘enables’ not replaces learning and enhances teaching by giving students access to more knowledge at their fingertips.  I would like to hear your thoughts and experiences on the use of QR codes in teaching and learning, as whilst they may be a dying breed in certain areas (see How QR Codes Work and Why They Suck So Hard) I think there is a growing trend for their use in education.

Please follow this link to a recent conference presentation that I did on QR codes in HE.