QR CodeQR codes, or "Quick Response" codes, are two-dimensional barcodes, generally black and white patterns arranged in a square, which can store all sorts of alpha numeric information. Most conveniently accessed by scanning the code with an app on a Smartphone, QR codes have become increasingly popular in advertising and are now showing applicability in education.

What kind of information can a QR code store?

A QR code can store many types of text information, including:

  • A website URL.
  • Contact information.
  • A phone number.
  • A geographic location.
  • A text message to be sent to a phone number.
  • A plain text message.
  • A calendar event.

Advantages and disadvantages

According to High School Technology and Learning Coordinator Jeff Utecht, 2011 was the “year of the QR code.”

Of course, there are downsides to using emerging technologies in the classroom. QR codes are no exception as middle school technology teacher Patrick Cauley points out at ITBabble.com. You will still have access issues, parents who may not understand the technology, and sometimes it’s just inefficient to go through several steps instead of one to access information. A Mashable.com article, while touting Why QR Codes are Here to Stay, points out their transient nature (outdated links) and occasional unsatisfying payback (the link offers information of little or no interest to the user).

But when used properly, QR codes can add value to an educational experience. Curiosity, or “the need to know” as educational collaborators Aubrey and Emily so eloquently describe it, prompted me to scan my first QR codes. They generally led to websites, Facebook pages or contest information. But my “a-ha!” moment arrived when I scanned the barcode on a placard in front of the Castanea crenata (Japanese Chestnut) with my smart phone on a visit to Longwood Gardens. The scan took me directly to a website filled with facts including acquisition data, trunk circumference, height, details and images of the tree’s foliage in different seasons.

QR codes also have their place in special education classrooms as these suggestions from QR Codes as Assistive Technology show:

  • As an alternative to writing down long URLs, phone numbers or addresses for students with motor skills.
  • To create a visual phone or address book for quick access.
  • To supplement or summarize class material.
  • To create flash cards.
  • To provide audio information or directions.

Preparing to use QR codes

There are several “how to” videos, including QR Codes: Applications in Education on You Tube and Jeremy’s Weebly Website’s videos in the article QR Codes in the Classroom. You can also download the PDF manual Barcodes in the Classroom to find a teacher’s guide filled with practical demonstrations and handouts.

QR Code Classroom Implementation Guide from Cool Cat Teacher is an excellent walk-through of tips and tricks for QR use. Educator and “inspiration advocate” Vicki Davis takes you through the steps from the software you’ll need to know how to generate the code, how to save it to your computer, and some problems you might encounter (lighting, shadows, slow reader software, incomplete mobile websites and unreadable codes). She provides four steps for teaching QR codes and gives examples of how she uses QR codes in her classroom.

Cybraryman’s website is the ultimate QR code information webpage with links to QR code creators; how to set up treasure hunts, geocaching, interactive mobile games and scavenger hunts; QR code readers; tutorials and classroom lessons. Ellen Cordeiro’s site is a close second with a good assemblage of QR Code resources at QR Codes in the Classroom.

Curriculum integration

QR Codes in Schools is a blog filled with suggestions for different ways to use QR codes. These ideas are easy to start with:

  • On a field trip to a museum, supplement plaques on the exhibits by providing a worksheet with QR codes.
  • A QR code can take the student to a quiz at the end of the trip. (Take a look at an experimental iPad app, Square Crumbs, designed to enable teachers and instructors to send feedback to students in real time.)
  • Place QR codes on school flyers to promote special events and  important school news.
  • Provide codes that parents can scan to have access to the students’ homework and assigned projects.

Twelve Ideas for Teaching with QR Codes includes suggestions for saving space, making your classroom greener and creating interactive labs. Ten Ways to Use QR Codes in the Classroom offers these creative suggestions:

  • Add a QR code to school letterhead that points to the school website.
  • Hide the answers to a study guide behind a QR code. Copy the code onto the study guide so students can check their answers.
  • Have students record book reviews and attach the QR code to the inside cover of the book.

Four Ways QR Codes Could Revolutionize Education are:

  • Digital portfolios for students – adding copies of papers, projects, tests and quizzes to the QR code on a student’s report card gives parents a broader picture of their child’s grade.
  • Connecting with parents--on back-to-school night or during open house, post QR codes throughout the classroom linked to information about the classroom curriculum or student displays.
  • Engaging students – with textbooks or study guides.
  • Easing the transition to college – virtual college tours.

A virtual tour of interesting ways to use QR Codes in the Classroom is 45 Interesting Ways* to Use QR Codes to Support Learning, an online, crowd-sourced (multiple contributors), SlideShare presentation that describes the creation, content, software and classroom application of QR codes. An example is “Book Fair Promotion.” The author took pictures of staff looking at a flier for an upcoming book fair and audio taped them reading a book talk, then created a poster including the picture, and finally, added a QR code that linked to the audio file. An added incentive encouraged students to visit the book fair and name one of the books from a poster to win a prize.

Fifty Great Ways To Use QR Codes In The College Classroom has great ideas not just for college or advanced students, but also for using QR codes to organize your time and extend your lessons.

Join the Wiki page QR Codes in Education for more educator generated links and explore the menu of direct curriculum ties, introduction to QR codes, and how to use QR and Flickr, QR and Poll Everywhere and more.

Librarians rank among some of the most innovative users of QR codes with the award-winning Daring Librarian website’s QR Tutorial , HOT QR Codes in the Classroom and Library and the parent tutorial at QR Scanning for Parents. Get directions on creating a dynamic classroom book display from Digital School Libraries. And New Jersey librarian Martha Hicks has compiled a comprehensive Delicious list of QR code articles and websites.

QR Codes - Periodic Table of Videos is an interesting and often cited image tha t uses QR Codes in place of each element to take you to a video about that element. QR Codes on Campus is a PowerPoint downloadable as a PDF document that can be used to show examples of QR codes in everyday life. Understanding QR Codes and Their Potential in the Classroom is a worksheet teacher teams can use to brainstorm how to use QR codes and you can share videos from the QR Codes in the Classroom Presentation. McGuffey School District in Claysville, PA, has posted a video showing the various ways QR codes are used across the district, from libraries to science labs, on calendars and posters and in language classes and band class.

Patricia Bruder, president of Linchpin Solutions LLC, consults for the Educational Information and Resource Center (EIRC) located at the South Jersey Tech Park at Rowan University, Mullica Hill. EIRC is a public agency specializing in education-related programs and services for teachers, parents, schools, communities, and non-profit organizations throughout New Jersey. Learn more about EIRC at www.eirc.org or call 856-582-7000. Contact Patricia Bruder at linchpinsolutions@gmail.com.