Raise your hand if you know what that funny looking black and white thing is on the brick wall above. That is a QR code. What, you may well ask, are QR codes? QR = Quick Response. A bit of an unknown here in the U.S., but they are all over Japan (and have been for years) and are starting to make headway in Europe.
Think of them as fancy, 2D bar codes. First introduced in 1994, these are matrix codes that, when scanned, redirect you to whatever digital information has been encoded there (urls, whatever). They are a very efficient and reliable way to provide a url in non-networked situation – e.g on paper, on a billboard, on a painted surface – anywhere. A QR code can hold a lot of information – up to 4,000 characters. Even a simple jpeg can be scanned into a QR code, faxed, and then read at the other end.
But how are these QR codes read? With any one of a number of free QR code readers – free apps that can be downloaded to a cell phone. In fact, most new cell phones come already pre-loaded with QR code readers. Once you have the reader, you just aim the phone’s camera at the QR code, the camera registers the data, and redirects you to whatever information was programmed into the code. If it was a url, your phone will kick start the browser and take you to the desired web site. Bee Tag is the reader that I use, and i-nigma is a very popular one. Here’s a very simple, short video, showing you how it’s done.
And how do you generate these QR codes? With any one of a number of free QR code generation sites. Like Kaywa or QRStuff. You just enter the url (or other data) you want to encode and the site spawns a printable QR code for you. Voila!
Here’s what QR codes look like. This one, by the way, is embedded with all of my contact information, the url for this blog, my skype and twitter IDs. I use it on my business card.
So, how might they be used in teaching? At the simplest level, you could include them in a printed worksheet (for homework or on an exam). Another idea would be to use small QR code labels in a lab – print them on ready-to-peel labels or tape them onto basic lab equipment (microscopes, glassware, sensors, binoculars, cabinets or drawers). The codes would would lead students to teaching videos or amplified safety information. QR codes printed on labels could be applied to bones or preserved specimens to lead students to further information or investigation. Perhaps you could assign students the project of creating these QR codes for your lab supplies and equipment? Another possibility might be to use QR codes in an assessment – they go to the pre-determined site, watch a video or an animation, then answer questions about it. Use them for orienteering in an outdoor education course or on a field trip. The QR codes could connect to maps or destinations on Google Earth. Have students create their own QR codes that they submit as an assignment. Maybe a “get-to-know-the-lab” scavenger hunt at the beginning of the year? Maybe have them printed on t-shirts as end of the year prizes? Put them on business cards, luggage tags or make temporary tatoos out of them! Just for fun, check out this video of a summer project, sponsored by a Japanese company to make a dramatically scaled QR code, out of sand.
What ideas do you have for using QR codes?