Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Invasion of QR Codes

Have you noticed those strange-looking square bar codes lately? If you haven't noticed them, you need to work on your observation skills because they are EVERYWHERE!

The rest of you are probably wondering, "What the heck are those things and why are they all over the place?"

The answer: QR Codes! Think of them as bar codes on steroids. They are getting more and more popular (almost annoyingly so) and don't seem to be going away anytime soon.

What are QR codes?

QR Codes (short for Quick Response Codes)  are used to encode information in a 2-dimensional space (such as a website, magazine article, or product packaging). Normal bar codes encode information horizontally, but these codes can store info horizontally and vertically, allowing them to store different types of data and much more information. They are meant to be accessed quickly and easily through the use of any  phone or tablet with a camera. All you need is an Internet connection and some free software that is able to "translate" these codes.

How to read QR codes...
To start with, you will need to make sure your phone is capable of reading these codes. Unfortunately, you need a "smart phone". Normal cell phones are not capable (as far as I know) of being able to scan QR codes. Many Android and Blackberry phones are capable of doing this right out of the box. If you have an iPhone or iPad, you will need to download one of these free apps first. All you need to do is take a picture of a QR code using the app, and it will open it up for you.

Recommended "QR Reader" Apps:

Why are they so popular?
QR codes were invented at Toyota in 1994 to track automotive parts. They have become increasingly popular with the mainstream population for two main reasons. First, they can be accessed easily and quickly. All you need is a phone or tablet with a camera, the right software, and an Internet connection. Second, they can encode LOTS of different types of information.

If you scan a QR code with your camera, it may display plain text or act as a link to a website. This alone saves a lot of time trying to remember or having to write down the website address. (This means you can also link to public Google Docs and any file in public Dropbox folders.) BUT, it doesn't stop there. These codes may send you to pictures, YouTube videos, events, Google Map locations, phone numbers, email addresses, or social media information. Hopefully you are beginning to understand why so many people are using these codes to share information. It's easy, immediate access to the information we want.

How to make your own QR codes...
There are numerous apps and websites that let you generate a QR code to store information. As far as I know, each QR code can only store one type of data. In other words, a single code could display plain text, but it cannot store plain text, an image, and a website all at once. There are many websites and apps that let you easily generate your own QR codes. is my favorite because it has a lot of options that are not always available.

As you can see in the image above, you must first choose the data type you wish to encode in the QR code. There are a lot of options to choose from! You then choose the output type. The QR code can be download as an image, printed, or emailed. If you're not sure how you want it, I would download the code as an image. This can always be printed or emailed later on.

How can QR codes be used in education?
To start with, students need access to the appropriate technology. This means allowing them to use their personal devices (such as their own smartphone or iPod touch) until the 1:1 iPad system is fully implemented. I would estimate that at least half of the students at OMS already have a device capable of reading QR codes. Even when the iPads are distributed, I believe the camera function is going to be restricted due to privacy concerns. I'm hopeful we can have the cameras activated for purposes like this.

Below is a public Google Presentation that currently includes 43 interesting ways to use QR codes in the classroom. As you watch it, you will see ideas for students to:
  1. Read teacher-created codes
  2. Create their own codes to share with the teacher
  3. Create their own codes to share with other students

    I leave you with the following Periodic Table of QR Codes. Enjoy!

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