Those annoying QR codes reach the classroom

I’m not a fan, as you might have gathered, but I concede that they are a concise way of transmitting information. QR codes are those rather clunky splodges of black and white pixels that we see in print ads, on billboards, on packaging. If any of you have ever had a boarding card sent to your mobile, that comes in a QR code. The QR stands for “quick response”, because they are faster than traditional barcodes and contain much more information. A reader (usually an app on your smartphone or tablet camera) scans the code , which then displays information, opens a video, activates an app, opens a gate… The technology is fascinating, and most people find them fun, which may well have something to do with why their use in school classrooms is taking off. But what on earth does a barcode have to do with education? Read on…

using QR codes

Yes, the use of these barcodes in schools presupposes that all the students in the class have a smartphone or tablet. Which, let’s face it, is increasingly the case in the western world. My daughter’s school is still prehistoric in that even today smartphones are not allowed in the class, and not all students are given iPads (Ana is in one of the lucky classes that does use them). More and more forward-thinking education administrators require either or both, and it is only a matter of time when our kids are telling their kids about a time before tablets went everywhere with you. Assuming tablets haven’t by then been replaced by something lighter, faster and easier… But let’s not get off the subject.

I’m not going to go into the technical details of how they work (if you’re interested, this is quite a good article). I do want to look at the creative ways in which they are being used in schools, and why.

learning through QR codes

(image via New to Teaching)

The “why” is threefold:

1) They are convenient. They’re very easy to produce, reproduce, distribute and display. All you need is a qr code generator, and a black and white printer. The QR code generators such as or are ridiculously simple to use. Type in a url, and hit enter. Some web link shorteners, such as , do it automatically – you just add “.qr” onto the end of the code, hit Enter, and there’s your QR.

2) They compress a lot of information into a tiny space. That little splodge can contain text, even code, but is usually used to transmit a web address, quickly. Sure, you could open your phone or tablet browser and type in the url, but why do that when you can point, click, and there you are?

3) They’re quirky, gimmicky and fun. Why would QR codes appeal to students so much? Let’s go back in time here, do you remember when you were little, those books with little cut-out windows on the pages that you had to open to see what was behind them? I loved those books, and so did my kids. Or, the English and American advent calendars at Christmas, with little pictures behind the numbered squares? (The Spanish calendars have chocolates, not images, a different reward structure.) We all loved the satisfaction of “seeking” out the information (opening the flap). Some of my advent calendars while growing up had terrible illustrations, but I loved them anyway, for the thrill of discovery. QR codes give us a similar thrill, and are so much more exciting for the students. Excited students are engaged students.

class using QR codes

(image via Planet Mensing)

Now, for some examples of how QR codes make mundane school activities not-so-mundane, and allow new ways of engaging the students:

Class reading materials can be enhanced with multi-media. QR codes can be included in printed handouts, or can be incorporated into paper textbooks (whose days are probably numbered) through stickers. Sure, you could just write the url up on the blackboard, or print it at the bottom of the page, but what’s the point of including an url in a text if there’s no easy way to access it? QR codes eliminate the frustration of having to type in long strings of letters by taking the students to the website quickly.

You can post the solutions to an exercise in a QR code which you print out and stick on the classroom wall in various places. True, you could just stick up the solution, but a QR code is easier to manage (no formatting required, less printer ink) and can contain an almost unlimited amount of information. And, it’s more fun for the students!

A QR code can quickly take a class to an online poll (such as Twtpoll, Easypolls, PollMaker or SurveyMonkey), to choose the next book, or to rate a documentary, in a much faster and more dynamic way than opening browsers and typing in complicated sequences.

twtpoll example

QR codes can take the students to multiple-choice quizzes, which you can easily create using Socrative, Quizstar, Classmarker or Twtpoll. These have the huge advantage of being automatically graded (more on creating those later), with virtual badges and stars awarded for good marks.

Worksheets can have each problem next to a QR code which leads to a video tutorial. That way the information is delivered in a way similar to a class lecture, but the students can work at their own pace.

QR codes lead to a link, not necessarily to concrete information. You can print a QR code for a web page for a school event, a contest, or a class project, and change the web page as many times as you want without changing the printed code.

Imagine a media-rich school newspaper. Instead of printing miniature versions of art submissions, a QR code takes you to a large, colourful gallery. A QR code at the end of a review of the school play could take you to a video of the event or the after-party. QR codes sprinkles among the articles could take the readers to interesting videos, links on the school website…

You could advertise a class trip with a QR code, which would lead to an online page of information, with links to the destination’s website, other sources, and after the event, photographs, videos, essays, etc.

QR codes can take students to an online “library” of other students’ work on a particular subject. The library can be continually updated, without needing to change the codes. Imagine an artwork that contains a QR code that leads to other artwork… Talk about layering!

I think it would be so much fun to organize a school-wide scavenger hunt via QR codes. Each QR code opens a clue to where the next one is hidden… Not difficult to organize, and it would make the school day much more interesting.

QR codes can make learning more efficient, and more fun. The novelty may soon wear off, but not before a significant positive effect in class participation and engagement. And the technology will no doubt continue to develop and introduce more novelties and efficiencies.

The over-use and mis-use of QR codes in advertising is annoying, that’s true. Click here and here for some head-scratching examples (QR codes on a cupcake??). There’s even a blog called “wtf QR codes”, which definitely produces a chuckle. But for use in schools, I think that they are much more than a gimmick. They’re efficient, and they’re fun, and anything that increases students’ interest and engagement at virtually no cost is definitely worth a try. Could it be that QR codes, generally criticized for being absolutely pointless in the marketing world, are perhaps finding their true calling?

(And it’s definitely not this:)

stupid QR code positioning

Inappropriate positioning on so many levels…






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