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 | , ,


  1. Hi there! I love your post…you’ve hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve been struggling mightily with these exact questions for the past month or so. All students & teachers in my high school will have the iPad2 this fall…all of the teachers, myself included, are currently wrestling with how we will use this incredible technology effectively in our classrooms. It’s exciting & overwhelming at the same time. I believe that it’s my responsibility to evaluate carefully how I use the iPad…to resist the urge to use something cool, such as QR codes, without making sure that they actually add something to the learning experience that wasn’t there before. So far, you are the first I’ve seen to challenge others on this idea! I teach high school French, and am searching twitter for ways to use QR codes…haven’t found any I’m convinced of yet. Thanks again for your thought!

    Comment by Renee Wood | July 23, 2011 | Reply

    • Renee – thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m so jealous that you’re going to have all those iPads! Of course, it comes with great responsibility. Please keep in touch and weigh in on what you end up doing with them. And, of course, I’m dying to know if you come up with authentic ways to integrate QR codes.


      Comment by Tktchr | July 23, 2011 | Reply

  2. I am starting to think about QR codes in my classroom after seeing talk about it for a while. I read this post by Joe Dale (@joedale) and there are many ideas on how to use them in MFL – here’s the link – what do you think?

    Comment by Fiona Rose | July 23, 2011 | Reply

    • Fiona – thanks for taking the time to comment, and for the link to Joe’s post. There are some great uses included there, and ones that do legitimize the use of QR code technology. Let me know where you’re using them!


      Comment by Tktchr | July 24, 2011 | Reply

  3. Hi! I have been thinking about this same question…what to do with QR codes??? I am a high school French teacher and was intrigued with this whole QR thing. I had the idea of putting a code on a homework sheet linking a reference website or a post on my class webpage so that they could access notes in case they didn’t have theirs with them, etc. I really like the idea you posted about a timeline and adding codes for video, etc. Great idea! I think, used sparingly and in the right context, QR codes could be fun and useful in the classroom! 🙂

    Comment by MegC | July 24, 2011 | Reply

    • Meg – thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Let me know what you decide to do. I think there are a lot of possibilities, but it’s so important that we remember that it has to be authentic and really fit!


      Comment by Tktchr | July 24, 2011 | Reply

  4. Enhancing portfolios is a cool way as well, parents love to scan the code from a piece of work and get transported to a video or podcast or a show me app where their is actually engageg in the peiece in the portfolio. Like all new tech we gotta play with it then after some reflection sit back and take stock.

    Comment by Jason Graham | July 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Jason,

      I love the portfolio idea! What a great way to connect parents with their kids’ media projects! Thanks for taking the time to connect.


      Comment by Tktchr | July 27, 2011 | Reply

  5. Hi Debbie,
    Thanks so much for sharing your views and your research on QR code integration in the classroom. I agree with your views on not needing a fancy code-ring decoder. They can get those out of their cereal box! That doesn’t help to extend their role as (future) digital citizens. However, the timeline idea, and the idea of using QR codes as a means of assistive technology were wonderful ideas. Although I am a regular ed teacher, I am always looking for ways of using assistive technology to help others in school.

    As an elementary school teacher, and the mother of an elementary school student, I don’t see much use of smart phones with my students in the classroom. However, I teach in a prominent area where most of the students, if not all of them, have cell phones and iPods, many even have iPads of their own. I could see integrating some meaningful QR code activities into an after school enrichment club in technology.

    Comment by SonicGeekette | July 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Sonic,

      Thanks so much for connecting! Please be sure to let me know what creative, appropriate ideas you come up with!


      Comment by Tktchr | July 27, 2011 | Reply

  6. Simpatico! How do we make it meaty not fluffy! I agree, it needs to be more than just a gimmick. It will get there.

    Comment by Jennifer | July 27, 2011 | Reply

    • Jennifer –

      I agree, it will get there. And maybe the “fluff to meaty” is part of the process, no? I mean maybe we go from being low risk/low content to the more meaty stuff. Hmmm…I feel a post coming on…

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

      Comment by Tktchr | July 27, 2011 | Reply

  7. I have a web site – – where the goal is to help educators learn more about qr codes in education. I added a link to your blog post to the Resources area – you bring up several good points. I would hate for people to use them just because they’re the in thing to use at the time. But hopefully people will be able to use the Resources and Ideas areas of to get some good ideas from a variety of users rather than just use them for the examples you gave.


    Comment by Matt | July 29, 2011 | Reply

    • Matt,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment! I’d love to continue to revisit this to see how it’s being used. I agree – I think there are lots of potential, meaningful ways to use them in education – we just have to get there.


      Comment by Tktchr | July 29, 2011 | Reply

  8. I am currently looking into the possibility of using video and qr codes to encourage self assessment in young peolpe (aged 16 – 25)who were not very engaged with learning in schools. Just wondered if anyone had any more info or experience tin this area?

    Comment by Zoe | July 16, 2012 | Reply

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