muse: n. a source of inspiration

QR Codes in Education: What’s the Point?

I’m so intrigued by QR codes – those little square boxes that look like messed-up barcodes. You scan them using a smartphone or other mobile device and, voila, you get some kind of message, or you get transported to a website or a video pops up.

Since I first discovered them, I’ve been determined to identify authentic ways to integrate them into education. Oh, there are lots of things I’ve found, but some of them don’t seem to make sense..

Here’s an example I saw this morning via Twitter… “Use QR codes for a scavenger hunt in your school” Well, that looked promising. But, upon further inspection, the QR code scavenger hunt is merely a set of questions for which you generate QR codes, and then you stick them around your school. No web access necessary – your students use a QR scanner to read the QR code, read and answer the question, and then move on. Seriously, people, that’s the best we can do with a smartphone? Turn it into some kind of 21st century decoder ring? That’s not worth having your students bring mobile devices to school. Sure, it’s cute, but it’s nothing more than a gimmick and we are cheating our students and lying to ourselves if we indulge in meaningless gimmicks and then pat ourselves on the back because “we’re integrating technology into our classroom.”

Here’s another one: an educator for whom I have a great deal of respect tells me, “oh, I use QR codes all the time.”

“Really?” I respond, impressed.

“Sure,” she responds. “I write messages like ‘happy birthday, Steven’ and generate a code for it.

And then?

“I stick it up and people scan it.” More decoder ring technique.

Lest you think I have found no bright spot in my QR code quest, I do want to share Rabbi Adam Simon’s technique for adding multimedia functionality to the timelines that he places around his classroom. Timelines are typically flat affairs, you know? Mere words on a sheet that we teachers typically stick too far up (at the ceiling, right?) for kids to use effectively. Well, Adam takes his timelines to the next dimension by adding QR codes that link to multimedia resources at the appropriate places. So, when his students are learning about a particular date they can access movies or other media. Now, that’s authentic. It uses cool technology – the smartphone, QR codes and the web – to enrich his students’ learning.

In another example, I spoke at length at a regional tech conference with a man who teaches kids with disabilities that make it impossible for them to type URLs in browsers. He generates QR codes for them and prints them out. Using a QR code scanner and a computer webcam, the kids can scan the code they need in order to access the website. Brilliant. Gives the kids autonomy and frees the teacher from typing URL after URL.

My favorite is the librarian who puts QR codes in the front of books. The codes lead to online reviews of books. I want to do that with my sixth graders’ book review podcasts.

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

My internal QR code debate is just another example of the “are we pursuing technology for the right reasons?” question.

So, my friends, I request that you ask yourself simple questions when introducing QR codes. Is this adding some kind of functionality that you could not get in some other way? Are you taking advantage of smartphone technology?

Most importantly, are you going for something other than the cool factor? Because the cool factor doesn’t carry you very far.

It’s a smartphone, not a decoder ring.


July 23, 2011 Posted by | Technology | , , | 15 Comments


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