According to some experts, 2020 will be the year of the QR Code. Remember QR codes? They were interesting for a while but also annoying because you needed an app to scan one. However, with Apple and Android adding native QR scanning capability to their cameras, QR codes are on the rise. Most view QR codes as a marketing tool, but they also have tremendous classroom utility.

What is a QR Code?

            QR Code means “Quick Response Code.” Notice that it is capitalized. QR Code began as a patented and trademarked matrix barcode system, invented by the Japanese automotive industry. At a basic level, they are two-dimensional, matrix barcodes that contain data, such as a locator, identifier, or tracker that points to a website, file, or application. QR Code uses four standardized encoding modes – numeric, alphanumeric, byte/binary, and kanji, and a code image can store up to 7089 characters. In other words, it’s data – a lot of data in a tiny image. Matrix barcodes store more data than a Universal Product Code barcode (the back of your cereal box). A UPC can only store 20 digits.

Why QR Codes in the Classroom?

            Matrix barcodes can be useful in the classroom in many ways. The value lies in the amount of data that may be stored in one image and engaging the student with kinetic activity. One matrix barcode can replace a cluttered mass of information on a Power Point slide, and forcing students to use a device (that they’re probably already using for something other than class) for an academic purpose, brings back their focus while reinforcing the visual and aural cognitive pathways.

            As all professors know, students are distracted by phones and laptops, even with the most dynamic PowerPoint slide show and lecture happening. An interactive slideshow can be worthless unless all students have it open and are participating. When you ask students to scan the code, for example to visit an in-class quiz or survey, they are engaged kinetically, a learning domain that is difficult to reach in higher education classrooms. Placed strategically at certain intervals of the class period, the professor can use matrix barcodes to revive focus in students who are near checking out.

            Matrix barcodes help to declutter information-packed slides and web pages. The general rule of thumb is to limit the verbiage in a slide show. Yet, when you know students revisit slides to study, it’s tempting to load them with as much information as possible, including URL’s to more information. Matrix barcodes allow greater information density without visually burdening the reader or presenter. For example, a professor could create a page in Canvas, BlackBoard, TWEN, Lexis Classroom, or CALI, that contains all of the information ze would like to include on the slide, and one simple matrix barcode could link to the webpage.

            Similar to visual clutter, data-dense presentations may also create slower application or computer hardware responses. For example, rather than embed a pdf as a large object, why not simply create a matrix barcode to point to it in your cloud storage? That solution also allows students to download the document, whereas a secure PowerPoint presentation (you secure your documents, right?) doesn’t allow downloading of the objects contained in it.

How to Use QR Codes in the Classroom.

            Matrix barcodes eliminate the need to type-in a lot of data. For example, rather than type a URL, you simply scan the barcode. Taking it a step-further, they can automatically create a v-card, follow someone on social media, open applications, connect to wifi, send text messages, and open an email addressed to the barcode’s creator. The barcode may be static (never changes) or dynamic (you can edit the information later). The utility is limited only by a developer’s creativity.

            The webpage offers a simple “how to” example for matrix barcode development. Let’s say, I want a code to place on my CV that directs readers to my website, www.jajonesjurist.com. First I need to grab the URL, so I copy the URL. Then I go to a QR Code generator. I like the free QR Code Generator website, but there are many apps available. I paste the URL in the text area (you can also upload a file), and the website does the work. I download the jpeg, and then, I can use the barcode in documents and presentations. Voila. Go ahead, scan it.

Title: QR Code to Access JAJONES Jurist - Description: Click here to visit www.jajonesjurist.com

            This week, in my legal writing class, I had a few matrix barcodes in the PowerPoint presentation, and I placed them at points during the class session when I know students tune out a bit. Students who don’t participate very often were suddenly engaged at the novel idea of scanning something in class. Even those who did not have the slide show open on their laptops were able to scan the barcode from the projection screen. The first code was placed about 20 minutes into class and went to a recent Indiana Supreme Court opinion. After reading the opinion, a second code took them to a quiz on our class Canvas site. At the end of class, I reminded them to register for an upcoming workshop, and I included a matrix code that linked to the RSVP form on Google Forms.

Best Practices

            Accessibility – documents and presentations must always be accessible. When inserting a matrix barcode into a document, remember that it is an image. You must provide alt text, and for example, if the matrix code redirects to a website, include that hyperlink information so that the screen reader can open the website. For printed materials, you should use the “Berman Corner,” a 45-degree cut on the top, left corner of the page that indicates there is a matrix barcode within 3.5 inches of the cut.

            Other Services  – the action of a matrix code is up to its creator. Think about how you can use the code to cross reference materials stored in your learning management system, social media, YouTube, and other services.

            Purpose – too much of anything can be bad. Use matrix barcodes sparingly and with purpose. Strategic placement during the class/lecture can help engage students who lose focus.

            Static v. Dynamic – if you have reason to think you’ll need to edit content later, for example if you might move information to a different webpage, consider using a dynamic code rather than static. Static QR codes can also rot or become orphaned like URL’s.

            Experiment – don’t be afraid to try. As with all technology, your first time using a matrix barcode in the classroom may be a flop. Keep at it, and you’ll discover new and useful ways to pack lots of data into the short span of your class time.

If you have questions or ideas about using QR Codes in the classroom, send me an email! Happy scanning!

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