QR Codes for Learning

by Phil on April 2, 2011

There’s a second part to the first week’s activities for MobiMOOC. It is to consider how you would use some suggested tools for mobile learning.
I’ve chosen to look at QR codes.

QR Codes
If you think about an ordinary barcode, it is read linearly left to right and represents a number (e.g. ISBN) – this is one dimensional. QR codes are usually square (though they can be any shape – circular is also popular) and are consequently 2 dimensional (so they often known as 2D bar codes or matrix codes) and contain much more information (such as URLs or address book entries (vCards)). It’s quite common to find them today as part of the labelling on packages delivered by courier companies, embedded in print media adverts or even on circuit boards. The most common way to see what is embedded in a QR code is to use a mobile phone with a built in camera – there’s probably a reader for every camera-phone these days. I have about 4 different apps installed on my iPhone, but the one I use most is NeoReader.

Educational uses for QR Codes
Earlier this week I was at the Open Source Junction conference and at the end of the first day they projected a PowerPoint slide with a big QR code on it, so you could scan/photograph it from the back of the room. Embedded in the QR code was a GoogleMaps URL that showed where the post-conference social was taking place – most QR code apps will open the appropriate app to handle whatever is embedded in the code (URL = browser, vCard = address book, phone number = phone (or if accompanied with text then SMS app)).

  1. In Lectures
    OK so going to the pub wouldn’t normally be associated with formal learning, but you could imagine providing a QR code providing the URL to the online location of your slides at the end of every presentation. Taking that a little further, you could also have QR codes pointing to resources that you want your students to use during a lecture (e.g. www.polleverywhere.com ).
  2. Treasure Hunts
    A couple of weeks ago I was at the Game To Learn conference and throughout the conference there was a Treasure Hunt game that used QR codes to provide the clues (see SupeFly). It was a game to get participants to network and meet each other and it’s not hard to imagine how it could also be used for things like orienting people to a new environment too (such as for freshers at a new campus, town, library or on a field trip). At the same event they also demonstrated geocaching to one of the breakout groups and again this seems like something that QR codes could be used for (as the caches) – actually it might work quite nicely with the 7Scenes mobile story telling web service.
  3. Museums
    QR codes can also be used in museums (and similar exhibit spaces) to provide additional information and resources associated with exhibits (there’s a good discussion about it on the powerhouse museum blog). Of course an added benefit of providing these resources in the digital realm is that they could make extensive use of multimedia in a way that traditional note cards on exhibits can’t.
    One thing I’ve been thinking about is that our museum is having to locate to much smaller premises and much of it’s extensive collection will no longer be regularly on display. Using QR codes, it would be possible to extend the physical displays with links to related items in a virtual space too. Another idea I had, due to the fact that usually you can’t handle exhibits or even see them from all sides, would be to provide a virtual object, accessed via QR codes, that could be rotated and explored on a mobile device (much like the Ford Ka advertising campaign).
  4. Augmenting Reality
    In the previous item it could be said that the QR codes were augmenting the physical environment. While not strictly QR codes, this can be taken further using QR code-like pictograms. While they work like QR codes in that they trigger to fetching of digital assets, the assets are usually a 3D model and is often animated – the main other distinction being that the model gets located (superimposed) wherever the pictogram is in physical reality. Although people have been experimenting with this for around a decade, it is only recently that we are starting to see this become mainstream. Instead of just fetching supplementary digital materials, the digital realm can now be blended with the physical world around us. Incidentally, you don’t need pictograms, it can also be done using location/orientation aware devices or real object recognition. You can see various examples of the possibilities in my YouTube Augmented Reality playlist.

The implications for learning about the world around us while we are actually in it (rather than in a classroom) seem quite profound.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Phil April 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm

You know what? We haven’t even begun to imagine all the possibilities … http://rainbowhill.tumblr.com/post/4281314066/this-augmented-qr-code-resume-is-just-scratching


Cath Findlay May 30, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Hi Phil

Yesterday, as you will see from my Blog, I came onto this site. Your site spurred me into investigating and making my own QR code for my works web site.
Someone had made a treasure hunt for Adult learners week, last week, and we had got people to download QR readers onto their phones. I thought, ” that looks like a lot of hard work”! Once I found a site, got over my initial worries, and got down to making a QR code, very simple. Thanks


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