How to Use QR Codes in Schools

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 11/21/2011 | 12 comments

Sara Peters
Now that the holidays are upon us, the storefronts in New York are sparkling with strings of Christmas lights, sprinkled with sugary faux snow... and spattered with QR codes. Although they're old news in Japan and much of Europe, QR codes are still a novelty in the US. Marketing and sales departments are using QR codes to entice customers to visit online stores, view details of Black Friday promotions, and receive exclusive discounts.

However, QR codes aren't just being splashed across billboards and magazine ads anymore. They're now showing up in schools. Educators are employing QR codes in a variety of clever ways that can save teachers' time, enhance students' learning experience, and increase parents' engagement in their children's education. For example, schools are using QR codes to:

  • Send a user directly to an up-to-date school calendar. Combined with an email or text message notification system, this could be a great way to let parents know when the district has issued students a snow day or issued an early dismissal. The calendar could be updated to state when report cards are being delivered, when parent-teacher conferences are scheduled, when a school play or sporting event has been added to the calendar, etc.

  • Direct students to further reading or other study resources. As professors use more video and audio content as part of the course materials, they need to make it easier for students to obtain those materials. Placing a QR code on a textbook or on a teacher's business card could send students directly to supplemental course content.

  • Provide instructional material. You certainly don't want to leave students entirely unattended in chemistry lab or wood shop -- because instead of waiting to ask the teacher a question about how to safely use corrosive chemicals or circular saws, they might just plow ahead and burn their eyebrows off and slice off a few fingers. You might want to stick a QR code on equipment to send students directly to a how-to video or step-by-step guide on how to safely use the equipment.

Teaching is a challenging job and seems to get more challenging as class sizes grow. For teachers, anything that saves them a bit of time helps. If one wood shop student can quickly find the how-to video that will prevent them from slicing their fingers off without needing the teacher's help, that frees up a few minutes for the shop teacher to help another student.

Also, QR codes can be another way for teachers to have a closer relationship with parents. Ask a seventh grader to bring a note home to his parents and see how many of those notes ever make it to the recipient. Not many. Whether it's a note to tell a parent that his child's grades are lousy or something as innocuous as a permission slip to attend a class field trip, it's quite likely that the student will lose the paper along the way. When teachers put QR codes on their business cards, it encourages some parents to reach out more directly to their children's teachers.

The other good news: QR codes are cheap. Most QR code generators are absolutely free of charge, and analytics services -- if you even need them, which in most education use cases you probably don't -- are affordable.

So, yes there are definitely some compelling ways to use QR codes for education and the price is definitely right. However, in my opinion, schools -- particularly public schools -- should be careful, and know when to not use QR codes.

I feel rather strongly about the fact that public schools should do their best to minimize the impact of economic and technological divides between students. Maybe I'm still smarting from the emotional damage done to me years ago -- when my seventh-grade classmate, Scott Allen, began using the startling, magical full-color laser printer at his mother's office to print out his English essays.

The rest of us still wrote out our essays on pen and paper. Occasionally, for a really important project, one or two kids might show up with a few impressive sheets from a dot-matrix printer. Yet the full-color laser printer was a revelation, and we were all helpless against its charms. I'm sure my teachers tried not to give Scott extra points on his work just for the quality of the printing, but they couldn't help but be dazzled by it, and I'm sure it bumped up Scott's grade point average.

The QR code is today's equivalent to Scott Allen's mom's full-color laser printer of yesteryear. So I implore you, education CIOs: please make sure only to use QR codes as a supplement to other methods of education and communication. Don't ever make them a necessity. Don't ever make students feel that they're being punished for not having the latest technology. It's one thing for retailers to give discounts to customers who scan a QR code. It's quite another to use QR codes to give high school students discount tickets to the prom. The students who need those discounts the most are the same students whose families cannot afford those phones.

Have you begun using QR codes for functions outside of marketing and sales? Are there other QR use cases -- in education or elsewhere -- that you'd recommend? Let us know below.

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nasimson   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   1/31/2012 9:20:03 AM
Pushing for QR code use
It seems lot of forces have gathered to put their weight behind QR codes. Advertisers, Marketeers, Retailers and now even platform owners are pushing for QR code usage:
Taimoor Zubair   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/27/2011 6:45:24 PM
Re: Not enough tech adopters
I think QR codes, combined with smartphone apps that can read and process them, are certainly very useful in a large number of areas. Recently they have become a very popular means to store contact details of people you come across. Rather than having to manually enter their name and number, you simply have to scan a person's QR code and the contact gets saved in your phone.
Da-11   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 12:17:32 PM
I need a new refrigerator

@Sara; renters wouldn’t need to buy the refrigerators themselves the landlord will have to upgrade the refrigerator at some point, and if all the next generation refrigerators have these terminals than they will be showing up in rentals as well. But I would have to agree turn over for refrigerators is much longer than phones but it is more pervasive.


@ SunitaT; What’s wrong with the bias factor during paper evaluation? The evaluation of a students worth should depend on more than just the merits of his papers or tests; a student who gets in good with the teacher didn’t get there for being mediocre and he should get points for that.     



David Wagner   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 11:16:27 AM
Re: Not enough tech adopters
@Sara- I must take the time to rant about renting and refrigerators. As a grad student, I once rented an apartment that had no refrigerator. I must admit, I didn't notice until after I signed the lease. I made the assumption that there was one in the frshly renovated and beautiful kitchen. When i asked the landlord after i moved in they said, "state law doesn't require us to provide one. We assume people already have one." Of course, that was egally correct but totally inhumane. Anyway, we bought a fridge and then when we moved out two years later, offered to sell it to them, and they said, "That would mean we'd have to maintain it. No thanks."

I bring this up most to say that landlords are mostly horrible humans, but also to suggest that making any asusmptions about what technology people have and do not have will hurt outliers. I would hpe schools make provisions for not only those who can't afford to provide smart phones for teens, but also those who think they're a bad idea or even the Amish.
Sara Peters   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 11:00:18 AM
Re: Not enough tech adopters
@Da-11  I'm not a big QR code user myself, so I can understand your position about them being a novelty, and their charm will wear off. However I can't go with you on this point: while not every one is going to get a smart phone ... Everyones going to get a new refrigerator at some point.   People replace their phones a lot more often they replace their refrigerators, and those of us who rent our homes might never buy one. I've never bought a refrigerator, myself.

Sara Peters   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 10:49:49 AM
Re: Why the Extra Step
@David  Well it depends upon what sort of thing you want to "post." Returning to the wood shop example: Sure, you could print out a bunch of text instructions and stick it to the machine, but if you wanted to direct someone to a video... well you can't slap a video onto your circular saw.
David Wagner   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 2:38:56 AM
Re: Why the Extra Step
@SunitaT- I agree that students have the means to read the codes. What I don't know is why they need to. What is wrong with posting the thing that the QR code is supposed to contain where you post the QR codes? Maybe i'm missing something.
SunitaT   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 12:55:56 AM
Re: Not enough tech adopters
"Other than in the world of shipping, transit and inventory I don't see QR being anything more than a fad "

@Da-11, QR codes can be used in many other places as well. For example we can find QR codes on "Visiting cards". I think we can use QR codes on students batches as well. QR codes can also be used to encrypt the identity of the answer papers written by stduents, so that there is not bias factor during paper evaluation.

SunitaT   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 12:49:41 AM
Re: Why the Extra Step
What i don't understand about the school environment is that it is not a mobile environment.

@David, Offlate we have seen tablets are slowing replacing the traditional notebooks and I guess these tablets can be used to read those QR codes.

Gigi   How to Use QR Codes in Schools   11/22/2011 12:05:55 AM
Re: Not enough tech adopters
Da-11, you are very much right and its true for most of such technologies. We have an initial pull towards new technologies for some times and thereafter it’s like a boring thing.
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