Q is for QR codes

QR codes unlock learning anywhere

QR codes unlock learning anywhereThese simple workhorses of technology — ink and blank spaces on a screen or page — can be incredibly powerful in making learning an anytime, anywhere endeavor, and turning the world into a classroom.

Embed your learning in the landscape

QR codes unlock learning anywhere
Saratoga Springs also has this giant severed foot. Why? Scan the QR code on it and find out!

It’s something of a joke in our office that I love my QR codes. And I do. I love them possibly WAY TOO MUCH.

I put them on every print publication we do. I paste them onto posters for conferences. There’s at least two on the door to the office (Visit our website! Download our ARIS game!)

Over the holiday break I wandered around Saratoga Springs with my sister and brother-in-law and we scanned all the QR codes that town had to offer, because in case you’ve never been, Saratoga Springs is full of horse sculptures and horse art and random bits of US history lying around and they’ve put a QR code on everything so you can cheerfully wander about in the freezing cold, zapping all the art without touching it and getting a peek into the history of the place we were shivering through.


QR codes are place-based learning gone to 11

The deceptively simple power of QR codes is this: they form bridges between the real world and web 2.0 tools that can provide history, reflection, multimedia explanation and the rich wealth of resources that can tell the story of a place. They’re the fulfillment of the promise of augmented reality, in that you can use them anywhere to turn a smartphone or tablet into a guide to the world around you. People with smartphones can scan QR codes in their town or one they’re visiting over the holidays, and get text, audio or video backstory about the landscape they’re moving through.

And students can create content and QR codes to tell their own stories about a place.

What would it look like for your students to team up with local historians and scientists and political figures to create a guided tour of your town, powered by QR codes? What would it look like for visitors to your school to take a self-guided tour narrated by students? You have a lot of augmented reality tools at your disposal, but QR codes are by far the quickest and easiest to deploy.

How educators are using QR codes to kick down classroom walls

QR codes unlock learning anywhere
Students at Edmunds Middle School got a chance to play Fairbrother’s QR code scavenger hunt.

Georgia Elementary/Middle School educator Angelique Fairbrother created a geometry game for students on the ARIS platform. The scavenger hunt-style game can be set up anywhere as long as you have the QR codes.

Students move around a prescribed area, locate and scan the QR codes, and then perform math calculations in order to advance through the game’s levels. The QR codes are attached to small portraits of invading, math-hungry aliens (go with it) that the students collect through QR-code scanning and geometry. It’s a great game to use to introduce the ARIS platform, which was designed for educators and students to build their own mobile place-based games.

QR codes unlock anywhere learning
Cabot School students locate the first QR code in the Franconia Notch scavenger hunt.

At The Cabot School, in Cabot VT, educators took the middle level students on a field trip to nearby Franconia Notch. Students moved along the trails taking note both of the history plaques, and of QR codes that their teachers had seeded the park with (with rangers’ full permission. No scofflaws at Cabot!)

Each QR code presented students with a challenge to execute based on capturing their reflection about the surrounding landscape and its history and geology. Students used Pic Collage, Touchcast (“The Wolf & Bear Grylls Show” was a personal favorite), Shadow Puppet and other apps to reflect on their experience at the Gorge.

Here’s a sample challenge posed by the Franconia Notch Scavenger Hunt QR codes:

QR codes unlock learning anywhere

In case you’re wondering, Franconia Notch is not a park equipped with wifi, and the devices did not use either that or phone/data service. That’s right: QR codes can be constructed to without wifi.

What else can you do with QR codes?

This student presents a compelling argument for using QR codes as real-world “bookmarks” for frequently consulted websites in the classroom:

And here are Edutopia’s 12 ideas for teaching with QR codes, a very thorough basic guide to getting started and 5 off-beat ways to use QR codes.

Need to catch up on your edtech ABCs? Check out the full series here.

Audrey Homan

Audrey Homan is a Vermont-based digital media producer, and producer of The 21st Century Classroom podcast. She's worked in non-profit communications for more than a decade, and in her spare time writes tiny video games and mucks about with augmented reality and arduinos, ably assisted by five dogs. Interviewing students and yelling in PHP are the best parts of her job.

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