Teaching in the 21st Century

Traci GardnerTraci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.

QR Codes for Composition Teachers

posted: 6.14.11 by Traci Gardner

That 5810925772_5c84039036_tblack and white image on the right is a QR code, or a Quick Response code. Once decoded, it would give you the URL for the home page to the Bedford Bits blog.

You may have seem similar QR codes on products at the store, in advertisements, on billboards, or on posters and promotional material at a convention or nearby library.

Recently I found a collection of QR posters from the  Delaware County District Library. The posters introduce the library staff to patrons with upbeat images and related personal facts and questions about the pictured librarians. Kelly’s poster, for instance, asks where she worked previously and hints about her favorite book character. To find additional details, library patrons use the QR code included on the poster.

When I found the posters, via YALSA Blog Tweets of the Week, I immediately began thinking of classroom uses, but before I jump into that, let me explain a bit about what they are and how they work. A QR code is a 2D or matrix barcode, one that packs in far more information than the 1D barcodes comprised of vertical stripes that you’ll find on the back of a book or a can of soup. Where the 1D barcode will decode into a series of numbers that must be interpreted further, a QR code, when scanned and decoded, might reveal a URL, a phone number, a chunk of text, or an e-mail address. You could find any alphanumeric message of up to 4,296 characters. That’s a nice chunk of text! To gauge the length, I’ve used about 1,400 characters so far in this blog entry. It’s enough space that the Books2Barcodes project has been converting novels into a series of QR codes!

So how does a normal person decode the squiggly black-and-white codes? The most popular way is to install a QR code scanner on your smart phone and then use that software to scan and decode the code. Apps are available for Android, iOS, Palm, and Blackberry. I’ve managed to get a scanner working on my three-year-old smart phone, so you don’t even need cutting-edge equipment. There is also Adobe Air software that allows you to use a Web cam attached to your computer to scan and decode the codes.

In the classroom, QR codes can be used to point students to further details online or as part of the assignments that students compose for the course. When I saw the Delaware County Library staff QR code posters, I imagined asking students to compose their own poster introductions to others in the class, having teachers make posters about their research and upcoming courses they are teaching, and, my favorite idea, asking students to design posters on literary or historical figures or events—and all those posters would include QR codes with the answers to the questions listed and additional details on the people or events.

When I posted those ideas on Twitter, Clinton Gardner suggested creating posters that introduced tutors in the writing center. From a programmatic or departmental perspective, you could think of even more ways to use the strategy: posters about the curriculum for majors and minors, special information about the writing program, details on special events, and so forth. Students would scan the QR codes and then receive more information directly or get a URL to a site they can visit for more details.

The codes are especially popular with librarians, so it’s no surprise that I found a QR Code AT-A-Glance Comic Tutorial composed by Gwyneth Jones, known online as The Daring Librarian. For even more ideas on using the codes, also read her HOT QR Codes in the Classroom & Library. I love her use of comic book design for the posters. You’ll also find teaching ideas in Mark Warner’s QR codes in the Classroom, Tim Wilson’s Exploring QR codes, and Sidneyeve Matrix’s Teaching with QR codes and Mobile learning with QR codes.

Next, you need to know how to create QR codes. Check out Mashable’s HOW TO: Create and Deploy Your Own QR Codes for the basics, or simply head over to Kaywa QR-Code Generator and use the form. Other tools you can try are Qurify and Delivr. Some sites also have built-in capabilities to create QR codes as well, like the Bit.ly URL Shortener; and as Sidneyeve Matrix points out in the piece linked above, even Moodle has a tool for creating a QR code for any page. If you’re up for a challenge, consider these stylized QR codes used by some advertisers.

Finally, I want to talk about digital access. Though there are several ways to decipher the meaning of the QR codes, it’s wise to include a URL or other way to reach the information printed on the document to ensure that all your students and colleagues have access. The staff QR posters from Delaware County Library, for example, point patrons to the YouTube tab on their library Web site. That alternative ensures that everyone has a way to get to the information, even students who don’t have the right mobile tools.

I’m sure there are dozens of other ways to use QR codes in the classroom. Take a look at this QR Code and Resume mash-up, for instance. If you have used them already and have suggestions, or you want to share an idea you’re thinking of trying next semester, let me know in the comments. I’d love to find more ways to use QR codes for writing and visual design.

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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One Response to “QR Codes for Composition Teachers”

  1. Michael, High School English Says:

    Continuing with the idea of posters, I thought about students making posters or other media to promo different books offered in a classroom library. Then students browsing the books can scan codes to find out more information.

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