QR codes, or Quick Response codes, function as hardlinks between objects in the real world (often newspaper, magazine and book pages, advertising posters and billboards, or museum and gallery signs, but potentially any materials with printable surfaces, ranging from balloons to clothing!) and digital data (which is typically relevant to the object being scanned and/or the environment of that object).
Users with appropriate QR scanning software, or apps, on their mobile devices can scan a QR code and be taken directly to a webpage, a business card with contact details, or a text or media file. Offering a simple way of integrating the real world and the web, QR codes are part of a broader phenomenon which Tim O’Reilly has referred to as ‘web meets world’. A more sophisticated and more automated version of the same phenomenon can be seen in AR technology. While some researchers argue that QR codes are a transitional ‘manual’ stage in the rollout of AR, there is an important difference: the creator of a QR code can control what content is seen by users, whereas AR technology may expose users to a wider, unfiltered range of digital content.
In essence, QR codes can be used to promote situated learning, with students accessing digital information, questions and tasks relevant to their setting. QR codes can be used as the basis for treasure hunts or learning trails. Students can also create such treasure hunts or learning trails for peers, or can simply use QR codes to attach multimedia materials to texts they compose or posters they create.
There are two steps to creating and using a QR code. Firstly, a QR code must be generated with a QR generator, most of which are web-based. Secondly, the QR code must be scanned with a QR scanner in the form of an app which is opened up on a mobile device, can register the QR code it is pointed towards through the camera viewfinder (see the image at the top of this page), and can then link to the attached digital content. Most QR generators and scanners are available for free, while a few generators work on a freemium model where basic functionality is available for free, but users pay for more advanced functionality.
A QR code for the homepage of the Digital Learning website is shown below, generated with the Kaywa service. Other QR generators include Go QR Me, QR Code & 2D Code Generator, QR Code Generator, QR Code Monkey, QR Stuff, QuickMark and Visualead. Some of these services allow you to create QR codes in different colours and with logos or images embedded in them.
Common QR scanning apps include NeoReader, QRReader (for Android or iOS), QuickMark and ScanLife (now ScanBuy). A quick search of Google Play, Apple’s iTunes, or any other app store will turn up dozens of QR scanning apps which can be downloaded for free. The web service ZXing will decode QR codes uploaded from your desktop or laptop computer as images.
For more ideas on how to use QR codes in teaching, see:
- 8 ways I make learning fun by using QR codes in the classroom (Anna Mauk, 2017)
- 10 interesting ways to integrate QR codes in your teaching (Educatorstechnology, 2018)
- QR codes for innovative learning possibilities in the classroom (Navya Muralidhar, 2020)
- QR Codes in the Classroom (Tabitha Carro, ongoing, on Pinterest).
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