QR Codes and education

What do I think? Scan the QR code below and find out!


If you don’t have a QR reader or know what one is, then just read on past the break to get my take on QR codes and education. I think it will be worth your while. As always, be sure to leave a comment. Omar and I love those things!

Well, I think they’re kinda stupid and gimmicky for classrooms. So let’s get a quick background of what QR codes are and then we can get into it. They are two dimensional codes (like the one above). The QR stands for quick response. They’ve been around for more than fifteen years and can found on billboards, in magazines, on TV, just about anywhere.In order to view it you need a smart phone (iPhone, Android phone, Windows Phone 7, etc.), a program that lets you scan them (many are out there and free) and you must have access to the Internet at the time you scan it. When That info can be a link to a website, a file, a message, etc. They are primarily used for advertising, but over the past two years (probably longer) teachers have been talking them up as a cool and effective tool to be used.

Cool? Yes. Does it make for better learning? That I’m not quite so sure about. What I’m going to do now is take a bunch of ideas I found on the old Interwebs (let me tell you, there were a TON out there) and quickly discuss other ways to either achieve or why it’s a bad idea.

The Scavenger Hunt
This sounds cool and I’m sure it is too. Have kids scanning QR codes with their phones to get the hints on the next clue. The problem: not every kid is going to have a several hundred dollar phone that has a data package (the ability to get online without WiFi). I teach in a pretty affluent school and I still see high schoolers without the type of smart phones required to unlock QR codes. Below, I’ve offered a different solution:


Instead of a QR code and an expensive smart phone, what about index cards? It’ll set you back $1.49 (from staples.com). The result is the same and everyone can participate. No real socio-economic boundaries anymore. Also, it’s a lot easier to recycle paper than cell phones.

Replacing Flashcards
Some people have said, it can also be used to replace the simple rudimentary flash cards. Why not use the index cards mentioned above? Even better, if you want to use technology with this idea, you can’t really go wrong with Quizlet.com?
Let me explain what’s wrong with the QR code and this concept. So you’re studying some Chinese and you have the character and a QR code underneath. For all the rice in China you still can’t remember what that character means, so you pull out your trusty smart phone, load up the app, scan the QR code and wait a few seconds to see the meaning of the word. To me it just seems like it’s an extra step that is not necessary. The QR code does not improve the flashcard concept at all. It’s just another form and one that takes a little bit more time than the traditional or by using Quizlet.com. By the way, if you want some pre made Chinese flashcards on Quizlet click here.

Using QR Codes to assign homework assignments
I’ve also seen the idea of embedding a homework assignment in a QR code and then making that QR code accessible to whoever needs it. Again, we go back to the problem that not every student has or can afford a smartphone. Also, this is something that parents may not understand as well and if a child doesn’t do her/his homework and that parents are upset, I don’t think that sitting down and explaining their child did not use the QR code correctly or at all would be a good argument. I’m sure many parents would fire back with the suggestion of just writing the homework out, putting it online (class blog, Moodle, Edmodo, class website, I think you get the idea) and leave it at that. The problem again my friends is we are adding another step to something that doesn’t need another step.

Using QR Codes to Link to Important Forms
This was suggested and I guess this idea isn’t terrible, but wouldn’t a hyperlink on a website work just as well? The QR codes would certainly draw the viewers eye, the problem is, these codes are meant to be viewed (primarily but not exclusively) on a mobile phone. If they have a PDF to fill out, it would be much easier to download it to a computer than a mobile phone. Once again we are adding unnecessary steps. If a form needs to be filled out and the deadline has passed, are you going to email the form home or email a QR code home with instructions on how to access to form?

Using QR Codes to Give Feedback
I saw this idea on the blog Primary Bits and Bytes (great blog) about putting a QR code on the front of a student’s folder and you can give feedback (in pretty much any form) to that student anytime and the student could access it at anytime. The problem is anyone can scan and view it. What if the feedback was a bit critical or something that the student may not to really want everyone to have access to? Well, this possess a problem because anyone can scan it (you don’t need to be three inches away, you can scan from quite a distance). There are better ways, email, Edmodo, Moodle, or how about a face-to-face meeting?

Using QR Codes for Polls
The idea here is there is you have a question and some choices. The student scans the QR code and immediate feedback is given. You can quickly see which answer the students have picked. Why not use Polldaddy.com or another similar site to create it, post on Edmodo, Moodle, your blog, or class website and there you go. Just as effective and no one has to pull out there phone to take a picture of a code. If students don’t have a computer but a phone, then they can bring up the poll on their phone just as easy.

There were plenty more ideas out there these are just some that really stuck out to me or that I read more than once.

Why All the Fuss Patrick?
Well, I read a piece on Mashable about how QR codes are here to stay and that they have grown over 4000% (that is not a typo folks) in the past year. That’s fine and I’m cool with that. I just don’t think that QR codes offer any real engaging learning opportunities. If they do (as mentioned above) I feel there are better methods to achieve your goal than having your student whip out and take a picture of a QR code. Of course Mashable it talking about the use of QR codes in marketing and advertising in that piece.

In my research I read a lot of articles about how great QR codes. I did not find one article (though I’m sure there are some out there) who criticize these codes as a learning tool. To me it just seems very gimmicky to get a student to look at a file, a website, or some information. If the students have their phones out and are scanning these codes, they can also quickly jump on Facebook, send a text, quickly check their email. The temptation to be distracted is also another factor. While many educators will take steps to limit this distraction, they can never eliminate it.

Some Ideas I Liked
There were some ideas I came across that I did like. One teacher put up posters with QR codes on them all around the school. The idea was to generate buzz and awareness about an upcoming event. Good idea and I can see it working. Another teacher used QR codes as a way to tell a digital story. While this idea was referred to, I never saw any details about how it was done. I guess I needed to dig a little deeper, but it sounds cool, I just can’t think how it would work though. If anyone knows, please let me know. I’d appreciate it. Another teacher uses it to compile a list of all their sources for a presentation. Clever and an easy way for people to get that info too. I liked it so much scan and check out my sources (wow that sounds bad eh?) below. Another one (it can be found here) was a Periodic Table entirely made out of QR codes. When they are scanned it takes you a YouTube video about the element. Kind of clever but certainly time consuming.


I don’t hate QR codes and I don’t think that teachers using them in their classrooms are bad educators. I just can’t see spending lots of time trying to tie this into my units or daily routine. I use Edmodo and blogs to reach out to my students and parents and I can’t see the QR code adding anything to the teaching and learning process that happens in my room. I could be wrong but I don’t think so.

As Always . . .
If you disagree or agree, leave a comment. I’d especially like to hear from the people who think I am an ignorant fool who doesn’t know a good thing when he sees it. Let me know where I’ve gone wrong and try to change my mind. 🙂

31 thoughts on “QR Codes and education”

  1. I teach middle school and I am always looking for ways to engage an age group that would rather be just about any place else than school. When I mentioned poetry, the boys groaned. When I mentioned technology/QR codes they perked up. I had 5 of them stay AFTER SCHOOL to discuss how to create a purposeful lesson using the codes. The students and I understand the need to have the lesson be driven by the content and not the toy.

  2. I have just published a children’s book written entirely in QR Code. It is a little counting rhyme and should be fun and easy to decode. I have no idea whether this has any educational value but if a teacher would like to play around with it, I’m happy to send them a PDF. I’m interested to get some feedback.
    This little story is told in a language that can only be read by machines. It can be read by human beings with a little help from a QR Code reader. QR readers are freely available on all smart phones as free apps. QR stands for Quick Response and is widely used in advertising. It is a relatively new technology and is fun to explore. So tune up your smart phone and enjoy this little rhyme.
    CreateSpace eStore: https://www.createspace.com/4099137

  3. I work with students with dyslexia and am always looking for additional ways to provide oral administration with printed materials, assignments, and tests. I was thinking that adding a QR code which contained the audio description of a handout or assignment might be another good way of providing that oral administration. The student would only need a device and ear buds to receive that accommodation, and we have a number of iPad and iPod Touch carts available for teachers/students to use. QR codes could provide an additional option for the classroom teacher when planning for my students…the non-dyslexic peers would enjoy the activity, but the audio could provide critical support for my students. I want teachers to have a variety of tools in their tool box. Whether the QR code is used individually or with the whole class, any use that would provide audio to printed materials can be beneficial for my kids.

  4. Good variety of ideas in the post and comments so far.
    I am a first year primary teacher and am looking at different ways to use technology in everyday teaching. I originally thought of the scavenger hunt (I go with quests) idea but set up in a way so that students can use iPads or iPods that are provided. This does mean that maybe only 2 or 3 kids in the class will have access to the information at a time. To get around this I would structure the quests as a fast finish activity or extension activity as part of a reward. Or it could work on a rotation system where students would have access to an iPad for a day individually, paired or grouped, really whatever works best. I think students would enjoy the gimmicky style of learning as a change but also think until you can get an iPod touch for every student QR codes can only be used in the class for minimal activities.

  5. As you mentioned earlier, QR codes are cool! I am a beginner and couldn’t believe how fast the connection was once I started a scan. I teach 3rd grade and would love some input on how to use QR codes effectively in the classroom. I was thinking more along the lines of communication with parents but I do see your point of just adding a link. But then again, they are cool! LOL

    1. Brandi, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Karen Mills left a comment saying how she uses QR codes on books. The kids report on the book and then the kids can scan the QR codes and see what students (past and present) have to say about certain books in the library or classroom. This was a great idea I thought. I know some teachers use them for scavenger hunts or to add more information to practice work (for example a practice multiple choice quiz) and when a student scans the QR code they get some additional information about that choice. I hope these ideas help, and let us know how you use it. I’m still a little weary of it right now but I’m keeping an open mind.

      Have a nice day,

  6. Checking out your site – not used QR yet, I have been thinking about it. But, you may want to check your spelling at the top: Babbling about technology and education (eductaion is what you have). I appreciate it when co-workers let me know of something that should be changed! Thanks.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. Omar made the graphic and someone else pointed it out to us. DOOH! We’re going to fix it pretty soon. Omar says it shows character though I disagree. 🙂

  7. Last year, and I’ll do it again this year, my fourth grade tech students generated qr codes for the back of trading cards they created in conjunction with their social studies class. In alignment with state standards students in fourth grade study the animals in our state. Each student generates a report and a trading card on one state animal as part of the students presentation to parents. In my tech classes I had students create qr codes that were printed on the cards they made of the animal they studied. The QR code directed the parent to a web site the student used as a source for their report.

  8. We’re planning to try them out with our vocational-aged special needs students. We’re doing some intermediate teaching that does make the process seem cumbersome with “extra steps,” but our long term goal is to put videos of the steps of a vocational process behind QR codes to allow our kids a little more independence in tasks they do around the building. Right now we have iPads to support it, but if it works out well, we’ll budget (or write a grant!) for iPod touches to make them more independent still!

    1. Andrea, that sounds pretty awesome and definitely a more engaging and it sounds like it will improve the learning process that can allow students to formulate more poignant questions. Kind of like a flipped classroom in the classroom. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment we definitely appreciate them here at IT Babble.

  9. We are going to use QR codes in our library. The students will be creating book reviews and uploading them to their class blog. A QR code will be generated linking to that blog post. These will be printed and out inside the book that the review is about. We are going to purhcase a few iPod touches and we have iPads in the school so students can scan the code and read the book review before they issue the book.

    1. Now that is quite clever and a good idea. It allows a lengthy review in a small amount of space. You’ve got some technology to support it and it is relatively easily to add to the book. How long can the reviews be? Is there a limit to how many characters you get with a QR Code. I used one program and it limited it for me, but I think it was just that program. Let us know how it works out and what everyone thinks about it.

  10. I agree, great post. Im a first year Math teacher and I’ve been thinking of how to use QR code in my class. Although it is a bit gimmicky (like brainpop) I think that students like to be connected to content in special new ways. Just having student interact with math concepts by walking around the school allows thenm to become motivated and intrigued. Sometimes we need to think of how students connect with the material. The best is when children are engaged and learning without even realizing it. I also think students need to be social aware of how to use technology in a positive manner that enhances their education.

    Of course these may be my naive views as a new teacher but I can’t wait to explore how QR codes and other technology can be in the classroom.

    1. Ms. Davis, thanks for stopping by and a big thanks for the comments. Omar and I love to see them. You bring up a good point about having students interact with the materials around them. It gets students up, out of their seats and collaborating with others, and definitely something I missed in my post. I however, still feel that there are better options than QR codes (at least for the time) that can get kids out of their seats and interacting with materials. I’m still keeping my eye on QR codes and I’ll blog about them later on. Do you have a blog by chance? We’d love to check it out.

  11. Good blog post – thanks for posting. I’ve added a link to it on qrc101.com/resources/general. I’ve been adding blog posts and other things about using qr codes in education to the site for a little over a month now and I’ve think I’ve seen only one other blog post somewhat critical of qr codes in the classroom. It’s actually a couple above yours on the page and called ‘QR codes in education: Why all the fuss?’. Personally I think they have a lot of potential in education outside the classroom and I outline those in my ideas and blogs area. Also, I don’t think smartphones are necessarily what will drive them in the K-12 classroom like in higher ed, but rather tablets provided by the schools.

    1. Matt thanks for stopping by and for linking to us on the qr101.com website. Omar and I really appreciate it. I’m certainly not writing them off forever and I hope they develop further in education. I was talking with a friend who lived in Japan for a little while and said that they had become ingrained into the every day culture and they could be used for sooo much. I hope that ingenuity and creativity can be further developed for education. I’ll be sure to but that website on our blogroll and visit it from time to time to see how QR codes are developing in the classroom.

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