BLOG POST: Quick Response required – Steven Albury

Steven AlburyA couple of years ago I remember a colleague telling me about a new technology that was going to be used everywhere in education and would change things forever. My normal response in these situations is to tune out for a few minutes and rejoin the conversation when they have stopped telling me about “the next big thing”. Thus it was that the QR code passed me by, until last week when one of my students asked if he could use them in a project he was doing for his Foundation Degree. After some quick catching up I almost , but not quite,regretted my less than evangelical take on every new technology I am told about. The great thing about QR codes however  is the ease with which they can provide access to a variety of information types, especially from a smartphone. They look a bit like this:

Image of QR Code

If you have a smartphone, and have downloaded the QR code reader app from your favourite app store, then you can scan this code and find your phone’s browser taking you straight to this blog. They are basically 2 dimensional bar codes and are thus easily reproduced and easy to copy onto a wide range of physical objects.

Although some research of their potential for use in education has been carried out (JISC have produced a number of informal case studies  at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/ltig/qr.aspx) they are not a mainstream tool yet. The Horizon Project annual report feels they are still 2-3 years way from entering the mainstream of educational technologies  (http://wp.nmc.org/horizon-k12-2010/) although this may prove to be an optimistic assessment.

In terms of usefulness then a range of possibilities in areas such as museum education, where QR codes can add significant information on artefacts without needing expensive in-situ technology, are early candidates. There are also more prosaic but extremely useful applications such as the assignment cover sheets now being trialled at Bath University. These allow for fast processing by administrators of student assignment submissions and provide instant confirmation for students of submission. It has speeded up the process whilst reducing the number of potential errors. Although not always viewed by researchers into educational technology as an area where learning and technology interact these types of administrative system help improve the speed of availability of feedback.  This plays a valuable role in providing students with a richer learning experience and gives lecturers early notice of students who struggle to hand work in on time.

I don’t know if QR codes are a technology that will be part of classroom life in the future but I can certainly see them creeping in to the education system slowly and incrementally as more uses for them are uncovered. When they were first developed for the car industry by Denso Wave (a Toyota subsidiary) I doubt they thought they would be printed on plates used in conveyor-belt sushi bars, but they are such a resilient and flexible data storage medium that a little imagination might yet see them becoming a core technology without anyone realising. That makes them one of my favourite types of innovation.

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