Friday, July 15, 2011

Thinking Outside-the-Box With QR Codes

by Noah Geisel

I was introduced to QR Codes by Kevin Gaugler's presentation at the 2009 ACTFL convention, when he showed off the Robert Downey Jr. cover of Esquire magazine that employed QR Codes. Simply put, I was wowed. Since then, I've seen a dramatic rise in the use of QR Codes in magazines, on busses and in classrooms but often find the application of the tool to be uninspiring. Marketers (and we educators are in the business of marketing knowledge and skills) employing QR Codes are limited only by their creativity in the uses of this tool and I, for one, would like to see people thinking more outside-the-box.

For example, I recently attended an exhibit at the Denver Art Museum and saw that in addition to descriptions of the art and artists on the placards of each piece in the show, there were QR Codes. Excited for a socially appropriate opportunity to break out my smart phone at the museum, I scanned the code and voila: the same information that was on the placard now appeared on my phone's screen, only many times smaller. Value added: zero.

Last week, I went to what was billed as a QR Code art show. More than 20 QR Codes had been enlarged and hung on the walls. When scanned, the codes linked to a cell phone screen-sized picture of each artist's work. Somewhat snazzy, but again there was no value added. Personally, I'd rather see the full-sized works.

An example of an inspired, outside-the-box approach to using QR Codes is in the photography show of Denver math teacher and travel photographer Paul Knickerbocker. Each picture in his show is named after the town and country where it was taken. Additionally, each picture's placard features a QR Code that, when scanned, links to a Google Map that Mr. Knickerbocker created on which the pictures have been geo tagged and annotated with brief descriptions of the shots. This is a use that adds value! It allows people to learn more about each picture and have multiple ways to connect with them. It opens the door to art patrons conversing with the artist without his having to be at the gallery every day. The QR Codes are used in order to bring something new to the table, not just recycle the same content to a mobile device.

As we seek out ways to engage our 21st Century learners, QR Codes are an attractive option. The challenge is not to find opportunities to integrate them but to do so in ways that, like Mr. Knickerbocker's travel photography show, enhance content and users' experiences. Failure to think outside-the-box can lead to presenting the same information on a smaller screen and that is a tough sell for the learners in our target market.


**Cybraryman's resource page is a great starting place for educators to explore ways to utilize QR Codes in the classroom**


  1. Well put! I was just having this conversation yesterday with my sister who received an advert in the mail from a company. It had a QR code so she quickly whipped out her phone as she thought there was a fabulous coupon waiting for her at the end of the QR code. Instead she was immediately brought to the same brochure she held in her hand - so what's the point?

    I agree that there needs to be value added with the use of QR codes especially in education. Thinking outside the box requires some extra effort but one that will be well worth it for our students.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  2. Just saw a 1 minute John Stewart clip lampooning unimaginative use of QR Codes...skip to the 4:00 mark: (via the aforementioned @gaugler)

  3. have students use QR codes to link to artist reflections for student art shows. The link could be to an interview with student

  4. some basic best practices that you need to follow.

    #1 Mobile-optimized landing pages

    #2 Value exchange with the consumer for scanning (mobile coupon, discount offer, unique content, etc)

    #3 Use a QR code campaign management tool to create, manage and track usage (to improve the user experience!)

    The FREE QR code campaign management and point-&-click mobile web page builder at does all this and more – you should check it out if you are looking for a no-risk way to enter the QR code and mobile web space as a business.

  5. I saw the QR codes at the Denver Art Museum last spring. Can you imagine what something like that can do for a science fair? Another idea would be to have a bulletin board in the lobby of a school building with photos of every staff member and their title and office/room # and a QR code linking a bio. Something else would be a fun scavenger hunt for new students, or the QR codes can be used for a walking tour.

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  7. I have found many uses for QRs, it is an interesting tool be worked with at the school. But as far as I have seen, this tool if for modern cell phones. what happens if the cell phone is old brand? I would like to use this tool with my students, but I don't think it will work with all the cell phones.


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