How to create and use QR Codes in the classroom
Great pace in lessons: a phrase I have heard many times before in relation to good or outstanding teaching, both from senior leaders and Ofsted alike. So how is this pace achieved without rushing? How do you move your pupils onto a task quickly without their interest dwindling? How can you simplify transitions so they run more smoothly? The use of tablet computers could well hold part of the answer.
When I first broached the idea of introducing Apple iPads into my school, there were one or two colleagues who were understandably cautious. We already had an excellent computer suite with one machine per pupil as well as a couple of desktop machines in each classroom, so why did we need tablets? It would have been easy to have focussed on how portable they were, or how easy it was to edit a video on them etc., and of course these are great features, but they'd soon be superseded by something new and better! Instead, I chose to focus on pedagogy; how could this technology help increase the pace of teaching and so improve learning?
One of the unique features of most tablet computers is the inclusion of an integrated camera. This can of course be used to take photographs and videos, but also to scan what are known as QR Codes. You may well have seen these little images made up of tiny black squares before in adverts in magazines or even on the sides of buildings, but what exactly are they are how can they be used within the classroom?
What is a QR Code?
A QR Code is effectively a barcode that contains embedded information. In the same way that a barcode is scanned in a shop and the price appears, so too a QR Code can be scanned and some text will appear. This may include a web address, a telephone number or a short paragraph. Anything that can be typed can be embedded into a QR Code.
How can they be used?
So what's the point in hiding text in QR Codes and how can this increase the pace of lessons?
Let's imagine you've found a great resource on the internet that you'd like your students to use. Of course you could give them the web address to type in, but this slows the pace of learning, especially if it's a really long web address. That's assuming it's even entered without any errors; so many times before I've seen students sit with their hand raised waiting for help because the web address 'didn't work', only to find they got one letter wrong!
The alternative is to create a QR Code that has the web address embedded within it. The student simply points the camera at the code and the web address is opened in the blink of an eye. What may have taken 2 or 3 minutes before can now be done reliably in just a few seconds, improving the transition into the task, helping to maintain pupil focus.
How to make one?
There are a number of free resources available that will create a QR Code for you, including applications that can be installed on a computer or web pages that do it all for you online. One of the easiest to use is goqr.me. Here's the aproach:
- Find the URL (or text) you wish to embed
- Copy this to the clipboard on your computer
- Paste it into the QR Code creation tool
- Download the QR Code image that is created
Once you have created a QR Code, you're ready to make it available for your students. You may wish to embed it in a slide in a PowerPoint presentation, add it to a worksheet, stick it to a flashcard or add it to a display. It's important however not to make it too small; around 2.5cm x 2.5cm should be the minimum.
Some tablets will be able to interpret QR Codes automatically from within the 'camera app', whereas others may need an additional 'QR Code app' to be installed. There are a number of good free apps available, although many embed advertisements. I use and recommend 'Scan', a paid QR Code reader.
In addition to embedding web addresses in QR Codes, they can also be used to hold other short pieces of text. For example, the answer to a question could be embedded within a QR Code, or a hint to a problem. Whilst all this could be done with paper, the use of technology will often motivate students, keeping them more focussed on the task at hand; think again about the issue of pace and how the eagerness to 'crack the next QR Code' could stimulate students to work more fervently.
With a little thought, there are a broad number of applications for the use of QR Codes within and beyond the classroom. Why not use them to:
- Direct students to support material for their homework, such as tutorial videos on YouTube or Studyzone.tv
- Link to extension activities
- Link to web pages that can be used during research
- Provide links for students to 'find out more' on classroom displays
- Provide clues for a learning scavenger hunt around the school
- Link to documents on your school website for parents
If you've got more ideas, add them to the comments section below.
Studyzone.tv makes extensive use of QR Codes to provide quick links to all lessons; the printable student login cards even contain the codes, so students can simply scan the code and are logged in to the site automatically. I have found this to be particularly useful during early work, with my students up and running and working on a task in seconds.
This article was originally comissioned by Imaginative Minds for their E-Learning Update publication.