QR Codes in Education

QR code scanning. CC0

QR codes are slowly become more prevalent in North America. While they have caught on in advertising, they have been slow to catch on in education. One self-proclaimed American social media “expert” (there is no such thing) has gone as far as stating that QR codes are dead. I don’t believe QR codes have gone the way of the dinosaur, but I do believe that many people and organizations don’t understand how to use them properly.

Like most new technology, people tend to jump on the bandwagon simply because the technology is different and fun. QR codes have taken much the same route. Now that we have (hopefully) gone beyond the “different and fun phase,” we can start to use them properly. This begins by asking the age-old question, “What’s in it for me?”

In the world of education, the educator who creates the QR code must be able to clearly identify the benefits to the learner using the QR code. Educators must go well beyond using QR codes in place of a URL. Simply stated, do not use QR codes simply because they are easy to generate.

During a lecture, many educators refer to websites and distribute handouts, such as assignments. These are easily posted on the course’s website where learners can click on the link or download the handout as a Word or PDF file. Some students may prefer to have the link or handout on their smartphone, and this is one area where QR codes shine.

Educators can create the QR code that will take learners to the URL where the educator has posted the handout or directly to web page instead of the link to the website.

QR codes are, therefore, used to provide information to users, even though they are more labour intensive to the educator. The educator must first create the content, post it on a web site, and then create a QR code that will take the learner to the site.

The downsides of using QR codes are improper use (“What’s in it for me?” Nothing.), and the extra steps the educator must take to make the information accessible to smartphone (QR code generation), and duplication of material for non-smartphone users. It seems as if QR codes have little to add to education. But his is not so.

As a former advertising professor, it’s impossible for me NOT to read ads. I recently saw subway posters advertising books that contain QR codes. After activating the QR code the user downloads the first two chapters of the book onto their smartphone. Similarly, posters for movies include QR codes where the user can view the trailer or purchase tickets at the local theatre. An ad for soup or cheese may also include a QR code that takes the user to a recipe. Just imagine being in a supermarket and using a QR code on a product that provides a recipe. Instantly, the user will know what other ingredients to purchase while in the store.

Clearly, the QR codes add value to the product. They engage the consumer and draw and provide them with useful information. This is exactly how educators must think prior to using QR codes in class.

Advertisers are providing valuable information to support their products. To successfully use QR codes, educators must do the same. Some students want to learn just enough to pass, or get by, while other learners want to know more because they have a thirst for knowledge. Still other students may need extra information to help them understand the topic. It is these last two types of students that QR codes, and educators, can help.

Here is an incomplete list of ideas that will help educators generate ideas for the QR code use:

  • YouTube videos
  • Podcasts or lectures
  • TED talks
  • Chapters in textbooks
  • Case studies
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • M-learning modules
  • Infographics
  • Academic papers
  • Revised lecture notes

The list is just the tip of the iceberg of ideas. It is essential, though, to provide timely and interesting additional information to the course. It is, however, important to keep in mind that this is value-added content and the material should not be included in tests or exams as some students may not want to dive that deeply into the topic or have access to a smartphone.

As with all technology, it is only as good as the person creating the content. Use your imagination, but always put yourself in the learners’ shoes, who will always ask, “What’s in it for me?”

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