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.