Five ways QR codes can enhance your teaching and your classroom

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What could it be? Scan it with your phone or tablet to find out!
What could it be? Scan it with your phone or tablet to find out!

What’s a QR code?

See that blocky thing up above? That’s a QR code. Just like the UPC barcodes adorning everything you buy, QR codes are a visual way of storing strings of data. Using a smartphone or tablet, you can “scan” a QR code and find out what the data is. Most commonly, QR codes are used to store web addresses (URLs) of websites, files, videos, or other types of media, though they can also be used to store plain text, people’s contact information, or other nuggets of data.

How do I scan a QR code?

  • For Android devices:
    1. Download a QR code scanner app like QR Droid or QR Barcode Scanner.
    2. Open the app and point your device’s camera at the QR code.
    3. Beep! You’ll see the contents of the QR code on your screen.
  • For iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, and iPod):
    1. Download a QR code scanner app like Scan or ShopSavvy.
    2. Open the app and point your device’s camera at the QR code.
    3. Beep! You’ll see the contents of the QR code on your screen.

How can I make QR codes?

There are many websites which will generate QR codes for you for free. Some of them include:

Simply type or paste in the text or URL, generate your QR code image, and save it to your computer! You can then add it to documents, websites, and presentations just like you would any other image.

How can I use this in my teaching?

Glad you asked! I give five ideas below, but a tool as versatile as the QR code can be used in innumerable ways.

jfkspeech1. Provide students with supplemental multimedia resources on handouts. If you’re teaching a foreign language, add a QR code to a vocabulary handout which links to a video or audiorecording of you pronouncing the vocabulary words. If you’re teaching history, don’t just mention JFK’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech—link to it with a QR code. Students can use their own smartphones or tablets to open the video in class or at home. (Scan the code to the right for a demonstration!)

 

self link2. Provide links to digital versions of classroom posters or presentations. It’s great if you provide course materials online in a central repository for your students, but students might feel overwhelmed by the amount of material and fail to take advantage of that resource. Create a concrete, intuitive link between the visual materials in the classroom and the digital materials on the Internet by having the visual materials link to themselves on the internet using QR codes. For example, each page of a PowerPoint presentation might have a small QR code in the corner pointing to that very same PowerPoint presentation’s URL on the Internet. Anyone scanning the projected slide can access the original PowerPoint file for later reviewing. (Scan the code to the right for a demonstration!)

 

pt33. Easily survey your students about your class and your teaching. Trying something new in the classroom and want honest feedback? Create an anonymous survey online about the topic, distribute it to your students using a QR code, and let your students complete it on their phones or tablets outside of class. Without you there to stand over their shoulders, they’ll feel free to give more honest feedback. (Scan the code to the right for a demonstration!)

 

pt44. Make a digital suggestions box. Similar to the survey idea above, you can enhance your students’ agency by posting a piece of paper in your classroom with a QR code on it pointing to a digital “questions/suggestions box.” By scanning the link, students can write you notes, signed or anonymous, about questions or problems they are having in your class. (Scan the code to the right for a demonstration!)

 

5. Have your students create portfolios incorporating digital materials. As more and more course content and activities move into digital modalities, students’ work can become fragmented across physical and digital spaces. For example, students in a digital music class might create both sheet music as well as audio recordings and videos. Tie the physical and the digital back together by having students create portfolios with concrete copies of their physical work alongside QR codes pointing to their digital work. In the music class example, a student could affix a QR code to some sheet music which points to a video of that student performing the piece.

Because QR codes can link to anything on the Internet, their uses can be as rich and varied as the Internet itself. Have you ever used QR codes in the classroom? What did you use them for? Do you have any other ideas for how to use this technology? Sound off in the comments!

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8 thoughts on “Five ways QR codes can enhance your teaching and your classroom

    • You’re right, of course! I didn’t do that in this entry both because the “caption” feature is quite bulky and ugly and because I suppose I wanted to force people to try installing and using a QR reader app. But for classroom deployment, one must allow for other types of access! :)

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