QR Codes


Just about a year ago I predicted that 2011 would be the year of the QR Code. That we would see these little squares popping up everywhere especially in America as smartphone sells continue to climb. 

Looking back over the past year I’ve given quiet a few talks on QR Codes their power and scenarios for best us. When used propertly QR Codes can add value. When not used propertly they’re just wasting space. 

QR Codes should be used to connect

something in the physical world

to something in the virtual world.


This is the phrase and idea I focus on when talking about QR Codes and where I believe their true power in connecting information lies. 



A great example and my most common use of QR Codes in society is when I am shopping. Last summer while helping my sister-in-law pick out a new refridgerator I was able to scan the QR Codes on each refridgerator at Best Buy get more detailed information about that product and customer reviews. The amount of information that I was given would never have fit on the refridgerator. It would have been covered in details. I was able to scan the 5 refrigerators she liked compare them side by side and help her make a choice. Linking something in the physical world (refridgerator) with something in the digital world (more information) in this case allowed me to be a better more informed buyer. 

QR Codes on a webpage is a no-no You don’t see this as much as you did even 6 months ago. But QR Codes on webpages really just don’t make sense. Linking something digital to something else digital is much easier with a hyperlink then it is with a QR Code. Plus many QR Readers have a hard time reading QR Codes that are on a computer screen. 

QR Codes on posters/billboards QR Codes on posters and billboards isn’t a bad idea as long as you understand that you can’t read a QR Code when you’re moving in a vehicle. Which means they really only work on billboards that are focused on predestrian traffic. Also the farther away you are from the reader the bigger the QR Code needs to be, taking up valualbe space on a billboard.

Posters or advertisements can have QR Codes but it’s important that the link takes the scanner to more information. Nothing drives me more nuts then scanning a QR Code to read more about a product while I’m walking through an airport to only be taken to a Facebook Page that I’m suppose to Like. 

When using QR Codes on posters or ads it’s a good idea to keep two things in mind.

1. The QR Code is going to be read by a mobile device. Make sure the website/content you are taking the scanner to looks good on a mobile browser and different mobile devices.

2. Tell people where the QR Code is going to take them. A simple “Scan here for more detailed information about this product” or “Scan here to watch a video demonstartion” gives people a heads up about what they will be seeing after they scan the QR Code. 

QR Code Desktop Reader One major piece of the whole QR Code system that is still missing is a really good QR Code reader for laptops. Every laptop has a built in camera and there are free ones out there, but none that do a really good job that I have found. If you have one please let me know about it. 

Use in Education I still believe that QR Codes have some great uses in education. QR Codes on books in the library that link to book trailers, author websites, etc. are a fantastic idea. This very much fits the idea mentioned above about buying products. In this case the product is the book and the information will help inform the “buyer” about the book.

There are a lot of ways to use QR Codes in the classroom as long as students are allowed their mobile devices in the classroom as well. 

Remember that students will be reading QR Codes on mobile devices so view the material via a mobile device to see how it will look to students. Nothing worse then trying to read a full webpage on a Smartphone……really just painful.

The Future of QR Codes Keep in mind we’re still in the very early stages of this technology and many people still don’t understand how to even read them…..then again it took years before Twitter took off as a mainstream technology. They’ll be around in the future and we’ll continue to refine their use and find what their best use is for. Personally I’ll keep playing with them and scanning them as I see them…as I find where they take me intersting…unless it’s to your Facebook Page…then that’s just frustrating.

See how they are starting to be used in Asia. 

OK….so the title made you click and read this post…and that’s what I’m hoping will happen with our student body. I got a brillant…stupid idea the other day to see if I could engage the student community in using Facebook and FourSquare to promote our up coming Softball Spirit Night (I’m Asst. Coach to boys varsity softball….we play softball instead of baseball at school…so don’t judge me!)

I’m sure there are going to be people that read this and think I’m insane, think I’m putting kids in danger, or a host of other reasons why this might not work…but I do have to say on this one I actually got it approved through the school admin and our very switched on Atheltic Director is in full support. (In full disclosure our Dean of Students, Dennis Harter did my job before me…and our Atheltic Director Andy Vaughen is a COETAIL graduate and a huge user of technology in both Atheltics and Physical Education)

Here’s the plan: Spirit Night is this coming Friday as the softball team takes on the International School of Kuala Lumpur

I first made a special on the school’s FourSquare page (see this post about using FourSquare at our school) that you can see in the image above that outlines how to win a prize if you attend Spirit Night. 

Basically kids have to do two things.

1. They have to check-in on FourSquare between 7-8pm (during the game)

2. They have to post on their Facebook Page a status that reads “I’m at Spirit Night are you?”

Monday morning the first 10 students to come to my office and show me that they accomplished the two things above in the time frame win a prize donated by our PTA via our Athletic Director. 

Next step….how do I get the word out to kids? Sure I could have put it in the bulletin that not every student reads, but instead I decided that using the network fully would be an interesting test. So I found 5 very active ISB Facebook groups, joined them and posted a message outlining the details of the compitition to get this in front of kids and get them talking about it.

That’s it…we’ll see what happens tomorrow night…I’m excited to see if this works…or it might be a total flop as kids will look at this and think “There goes Mr. U again and one of his crazy ideas.”

Either way….I’m having fun! 


Just a quick announcement that I will be running a Webinar as part of the Intel Education Community on December 1, 2010 5:00pm PDT/ 8:00pm EDT (click on the link to register.)

Here’s the discription:

Using Cell Phones and Scan Codes in the Classroom
QR CodesYou’ve probably started seeing these scan codes popping up around your neighborhood, in stores, on packages, and in airports. If you haven’t then you will be seeing them soon. They’re called QR Codes or “Quick Reference” codes and they are taking the world by storm. Join Jeff Utecht and explore the possibilities of using QR Codes in the classroom and with the larger school community. Click the date below to register to attend.
December 1, 2010 5:00pm PDT/ 8:00pm EDT

Hopefully some of you can join me. We’ll have some fun…look at some sites and have a great discussion around how QR Codes can be using in the educational environment.

I’m so confident in my pick for what 2011 will be about that I’m publishing it before Thanksgiving Holiday in the States.

Before we begin let’s take a look at the history of my predictions.

2007: The Year of the Network (Can we say Twitter and Facebook)
2008: The Year of the “Live Web” (Ustream.tv and other services take off)
2009: Bringing Social Learning to the Masses (Education goes deeper in understanding social connections)
2010: The Year of the Mobile Web (iPad, Android, iPhone do I need to say more?)

I’ve never been as confident as I am this year about what we’ll see explode onto the scene in 2011. These little black and white 2 dimensional bar codes are going to start showing up everywhere. QR Code QR Codes or Quick Response Codes have been around for a couple of years now (1997 according to Wikipedia), and like most technologies we’ve seen them the past couple of years start to creep more and more into our lives. The power of QR Codes and why I think this is the year for their explosion has to do with my 2010 prediction being the year of the mobile web. Now that SmartPhones (still don’t like that name) are becoming more and more the norm and will continue to gain in popularity in 2011, we have a reason to use these perfect little squares of information. The second reason is because the level of skill needed to use the QR Codes has dropped significantly in recent years.  You basically need two things. 1) A QR Code and 2) A QR Code Reader

The QR Code:

Some rights reserved by Adrian Short

Take a moment to make one yourself. Head over to my new favorite website http://qrcode.kaywa.com/ where you can enter a link, text, a phone number, or text message and click generate.

In an instant you’ll have yourself a fantastic looking square. Now what do you do with it? That’s up to you. I like to right-click on the picture and choose “Save Image As” and download the .png file. Now that it’s an image you can: put it in a document, print it off, or put it on a website. Anything you can do with an image you can now do with this information.

The QR Code Reader:

Next you need something to read the QR Code with: For your Desktop download this one (Windows, Linux, Mac): http://bit.ly/bRLO3C For iPhone, iPod (need a camera) users: i-nigma is my favorite at the moment and they have readers for basically all devices that have a camera now. For Android users: QuickMark is a good choice There are hunders of them out there now….search and find one for your phone/platform that you can live with and you’re ready to go.

Now What?

Well let’s have at think about this. One thing the book industry has been having a hard time with is creating a social feeling around the old medium. How do I find other people who have read the same book that I’ve read and discuss the topics with them?

I’m just finishing reading I Live in the Future and Here’s How It Works by Nick Bilton (more on that later) where Nick puts a QR Code at the beginning of every chapter. As you read a chapter you can scan the barcode with your phone or computer and be taken to a website where you can get up to date information, research that didn’t make the book, and comments from other readers who read the same section as you did. 

David Warlick in his new book A Gardner’s Approach to Learning takes full advantage of QR Codes as well. I only wish I would have been more forward thinking in my own book…but hey I completed it and that was enough for book number one!

The airline industry is taking full advantage of these little devices and I’m loving it. I haven’t owned a printer in…gee….10 years plus at this point. So checking in early online for flights still means I have to stand in line at the airport because I can’t actually print my boarding pass. Not anymore! More and more airlines and airports are moving to QR Codes as boarding passes. American Airlines, Delta, Malaysian Airways, ThaiAirways are ones that I have first hand knowledge with and I’m sure there are more out there and more coming. I now check in online and the airline sends me a link that I click on that loads the QR Code. I swipe it at the gate and off I go!

What about Education?

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE? by moleitau Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License

I don’t have all the answers but I do see this as a way to engage students online and offline in and out of the classroom. Try these ideas on for size:

French Class:

A teacher puts a QR Code on everything in the classroom that gives its name in French and students can read the codes with their phones to study the names of items. A fun and engaging way to learn?

Science Class:

Put a QR Code on all the bones on the skeleton in the corner. Kids scan the code it gives them the name of the bone and then links to the wikipedia article that talks about that bone specifically.

Water Unit Fourth Grade:

Students scan a code and the class iPod. It gives them a message and they are thrown into a inquiry based investigation about water. The code tells them to start at the water fountain. When they arrive they find another QR Code that gives them a link to a website that has directions and information to complete a task using the water from the water fountain. Once that task is complete they scan another code that opens up the Maps App on their iPod and puts a dot on where they need to walk next. Using their map skills they learned in 3rd grade they navigate to the next spot which happens to be a tree on the playground. There they find a QR code taped to the tree. They scan it and their next mission is given to them…..etc.

School Library:

OK Librarians you’ve gotta love this one. Create a QR code that connects to Amazon reviews of the book. So kids can find a book, scan the code and it takes them to the reviews of that book so they can see what others have said about it. Or here’s even a way cooler option. What if you have students create reviews for books they read, you upload them to the school library site and then create a QR code that links to that student review from in your school. How cool would that be that kids would be actually writing reviews for other kids in your school about books!

What’s your Idea?

Please leave your ideas on how you could use these amazing little codes in the comments or links to other examples of how they are already being used in schools.  

My Experiment

On my recent consulting tour I’ve been preaching about QR Codes and the possibilites that I think they hold both for learning and for just plain fun engagement. I asked principals to do a little experiement. I asked them to print off a QR Code with a message that says something like:

“Congratulations! You figured out how to read a QR Code. Stop by my office and you’ve won a school T-shirt”

QR Code ISBThen print off the QR Code and just put it on a bulletin board somewhere in the school. No explanation, no directions, just put it there and see what happens. So…I’ve done the same. To the left is a picture of a bulletin board in the high school that gets a lot of traffic (every student takes English) so I’ve put it on the board and we’ll see what happens. I printed it off on Thursday and so far no takers. Do one yourself and let me know what happens and how long it takes. I’ve also printed one off for the middle school and will get the 5th graders their own on Monday. I’m really interested in seeing what grade not just figures it out, but actually is curious enough to try and figure it out. I’ve watched no less than 15 high school students look at the code and even say, “It’s one of those thingies.” My fear is we’ve schooled the curiosity out of them to the point where they can’t be bothered to figure out what it says….and I’m buying their lunch if they do.  Once I get the student body use to seeing them around school, then I have all kinds of ideas of how I can engage them in learning activities outside of class time while they’re at school. Learning outside the classroom…..who would have thunk it?  

So there you have it…..remember that you heard it here first. In 2011 your gonna see these things everywhere in your community. I’m not sure trying to scan one off a billboard as you’re driving is the safest way to use them, but they’re gonna start popping up everywhere so be ready for them and for once let’s embrace a technology as it emerges and not squash it because we don’t understand how it applies to education. Be creative, have some fun, and let’s see where this takes us! Oh…and here’s a little something for reading:


It seems like it’s been forever since I made time to sit and reflect. Then I looked at the date of my last entry and sure enough…it’s been awhile. So I told my wife tonight I was not going to read/respond to any COETAIL blogs but rather my only goal for tonight was to write a blog post.

Last weekend I flew to Sydney, Australia to keynote the New South Wales AIS ICT Integration Conference along with Jenny Luca. What a blast of a conference. First of all the size was great with around 120 people, second of all almost everyone there was in education technology and very switched on. The first day Chris Betcher asked the crowd to raise their hand if they were not on twitter and only about 10 hands went up. He then proceeded to to say “Why  not?”. A fact that was again confirmed when halfway through the first day of the conference the conference tag #aisitic10 was a trending topic in Australia. The tag has stayed alive and well after the conference as well. I haven’t been able to delete it from my Seesmic Twitter App just yet as the resources around QR codes continue to pile up. Today alone there were 10 more updates to the tag.

The two day conference was “brill”. Jenny Luca set the stage Thursday morning (Recording and slides here). I took the red eye Wednesday after school to get there in time to listen to her. I’m glad the committee decided to have Jenny keynote before me as her being Australian I was able to get a feel for what was going on in the country…and then be completely embarrassed by the quality of pictures and presentation that Jenny used in her keynote.

Thursday I opened the day with a talk (listen here) where I was focused on showing ways these tools can be used in a learning environment. Because so many people were already on Twitter, I used Twitterfall to have the tweets show up on a secondary screen. I then asked for three volunteers to take notes on a Google Doc, as well as asked for a visual learner to go to Flickr and find pictures that could be added to the Google Doc notes to help visually represent the ideas. Last but not least for those not on Twitter, or those that wanted another experience, I set up a chat room and had people keep active that way.

Everyone came to this conference with a laptop, and I knew right away that if I did not find ways to engage them actively in my talk then I’d loose them to e-mail, Facebook, etc. I know….because I’ve been there. 🙂 The feedback from the audience was positive. People enjoyed having to focus, and having multiple ways to stay focused, taking notes, watching Twitter and checking on the notes. They also really appreciated that every 10 minutes or so I built in a 3 minute discussion time. Allowing them time to talk, digest, and catch up on notes, twitter, etc.

At the end of it….all I did….was good teaching. Allowing multiple avenues for people to be active in their own learning and giving them time to reflect as they learn.

The biggest take away for me from the conference was what is still filing the Twitter tag. That is the last 10 minute of the whole conference when we talked about QR Codes. Just last week both goo.gl and bit.ly announced that every URL shortened now came with a QR code. I believe this is a HUGE step forward for these little codes and mobile devies in general. After learning about what they were people discussed how they might be used in education. In 2 minutes they came up with:

  • Label all the bones on a skeleton in science class: When kids read the QR code it takes them to the wikipedia entry about that bone.
  • Label all the items in a World Language classroom: Staplers, pencils, clocks, doors, etc. When kids read the codes with their phone it gives them the word for that object in the language.
  • You get the point….it has me thinking now about how I can use more QR codes in my school as well. Most of our students have BlackBerries (cheapest way to text). So first I’ll have to get them to download a QR reader on their phone. Then we can have some fun.

    All in all a great conference. A big thank you to Chris Betcher and the lovely Linda for took me out to see the sights of Sydney on Saturday as well. I promised my wife I wouldn’t actually tour Sydney without her…so it was more of a scouting mission for a future holiday trip. 😉