QR Codes: The nuts and bolts #QRCode #edtech #ukedchat

I’ve had some amazing discussions with some colleagues recently about QR Codes and how we can use them. When I got over the initial “huh?” response as to what they are, and they understood that the code can contain type of data, we started to get somewhere really quite quickly.

So, this post is really to consolidate my previous posts and to make it slightly more graphical – images are often easier to follow.

What is a QR Code?
In my first post about the codes –  – I quoted this definition of a QR Code:

“A QR Code is a matrix code (or two-dimensional bar code) created by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave in 1994.” Source: Wikipedia

Let’s face it, that doesn’t mean much to the average person. I explain it to people by explaining how it has already been used: Pepsi used them on bottles to give access to special games and competitions not available anywhere else on the web; they were used to advertise the release of the DVD for ’28 Weeks Later‘ film; and Calvin Klein used them to entice you to see their advert, “uncensored”.

There are plenty of links around (if you search) talking about how US realtors (estate agents to us UK folks) are using them on for-sale boards – instead of having to phone the agents when you see a property you like as you drive around, you simply scan the code on the for-sale board and get the low-down, price, photos, details, etc there and then. Marketing companies are seeing the potential, now it’s time for education to join them.


  • You see/find the code,
  • You scan the code,
  • Your phone decodes the code, and
  • Your phone displays the text, link, e

Like this …

What kind of information can you contain/embed in the QR Code?
When you create the QR Code you will have to assign something for it to hold, to contain, to embed. This is text, always text, but what the text is is up to you. it could be;

  • Plain text (“Hello”, “My name is … “, etc)
  • Your phone number
  • Your contact details (name, email address, phone number, address, etc)
  • SMS / text details (including your number and a short message)
  • URL / web address

The method the user will use to open and decode this information will decide on how this information is used. If you stick to the above then it is highly likely that all QR Code Readers on the different platforms will know what to do.

  • Plain text – display text on screen
  • Phone number – ask if you want to dial the number
  • Contact details – display and/or store the details to your phone memory
  • SMS – create the text message and prepare for you to send it
  • URL – display and/or open the specified web address

All very powerful stuff.

Where can I generate the code?
There are many good and reliable places/websites you can go to generate your own code (for free), and here are a few I have tried and continue to use:

  • Kaywa qrcode.kaywa.com/
    The first one I found and still one of the best
  • Create QR Code createqrcode.appspot.com/
    Another good one I’ve reported on before, although not as many options
  • Mobile Barcodes www.mobile-barcodes.com/
    Options to create a vCard, email, SMS, etc, and different sizes of QR Codes
  • Snap.Vuwww.snap.vu/
    This is good generator website as it has a basic (very basic) stats package behind each generated code, and puts a shortened URL in the actual image to help direct users who are unable to scan the code to the same content (see below). The image you download is good enough for print, so should be ready for all uses you can think of. The shortened URL refers to your code on Snap.vu so accesses/scans are monitored.

In my post QR Codes: In the Classroom I gave some examples of different content (link, text, etc) that had been coded to the QR Code and the different size and quality of the resulting code. It is imperative you take note of this as there is very little ‘loss’ of quality that is accepted by camera and applications before it cannot be decoded – use shortened URL websites (like bit.ly or is.gd) to create short, concise links to make good quality (and easier-to-read) codes.

Whenever you post a QR Code it is essential, in my mind, that you also put a textual element to it – if you’ve not used them before you might need to explain what they are. if nothing else you put a shortened URL along with the code on the page so people without the ability to read the code can still participate. This is why I like Snap.vu – it adds the short URL to the image.

What use are they in ‘education’?

So far the examples above are showing how they can be used in marketing and sales … but what of education? Can they be used? Well, of course they can, and we are only limited by our imagination and abilities in getting all the little bits of the process set-up and working together. By this I mean there is no point in using them around campus (a campus tour / adventure game, for example) if the Estates Group will remove them thinking they’re graffiti.

I listed a few ideas for uses in the classroom or educational settings in my post QR Codes: In the Classroom which included;

  • lectures and lecture slides,
  • hand outs and printed materials,
  • surveys,
  • textbooks,
  • libraries (linking to eBook versions),
  • assignments,
  • induction activities,
  • campus tours,
  • etc

How these things can be used is very dependent on the topic you want to cover; if you’re talking about the UK Spending Review and changes to the funding for Higher Education why not use them in your printed literature to point to

  • YouTube video(s) of the demonstrations to illustrate a point;
  • Google Maps of where the demonstration happened;
  • Copy of Lecture slides hosted on Institutional VLE or somewhere like SlideShare;
  • If nothing else, you could store your contact details in the code, or link to your vCard so students can scan and store your details for future use in their phones (name, office location, surgery hours, email, etc);

The list of possible applications go on.

Are you using them with your students or colleagues? If you are, or planning to, then please share how you are doing this (going to do it) by leaving a comment.

  • Thank you. That is the first clear explanation I have seen. We want to be able to link our App forms for iPhone iPad etc (www.NumeracyApps.co.uk) in margin notes within textbook material so that they are fired when student desires.

  • @thirdgradeterri

    What would be cool is a hand held reader for lower elementary. It is not likely they will have smart phones but would dig the technology. I would love to do this with my third graders.
    Need a reader….

  • Nice post David, they’re certainly gaining traction! Are you going to be at Learning Technologies? It would be great to meet up – my session is on the 27th at 2.30pm and will include QR codes :) http://bit.ly/92Tfuw

    Shameless Promotion: for those interested in how to implement QR codes within a branding strategy including App development, Mpayments and custom designed codes, we’re now offering a full agency service with consultancy, strategy and design. http://simbeckhampson.com

    • Anonymous

      Morning Paul.

      I was hoping to attend the Exhibition this year again but funds and workload are stopping me – I’ve wanted to get to the Conference ever since I first heard of it but there just isn’t the funds. I hope it goes well, please keep me updated if you produce any kind of write up?

      All the best, David.

  • Great explanation David. We used QR codes heavily in a recent ARG we ran (see http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/617/spring-revival-alternate-reality-game-breathes-new-life-into-old-course-) . A brilliant, free way to pose clues to participants.

    We didn’t offer any sort of explanation for them and not 1 participant knew what they were. But they kept cropping up enough to make someone research them. And sure enough, by day 2, pretty much everyone knew what they were.

    Also saw QR codes popping up more in popular media. The Waitrose Christmas advert carried one at the end; recent DVD’s I’ve purchased have them on the cover to send people to the trailer before they decide to purchase.

  • I am a primary school teacher and would like to set up a QR Code trail at school but am not keen on my small children using my own expensive iPhone to read the codes. Is there a programme that can use our Apple iSite camera to read the codes???

  • I just finished a history podcast project in which each of my students created a video, and then generated a QR code for access to the podcast. We created a nice document displayed in a 2.5″X3.5″ easel with the QR image on it along with the video title, first name of student, and school name for the places of business/organization (that the student chose to create the history podcast about) to display for their patrons to access the student’s history podcast which was uploaded to youTube. The students loved the project because it was so “state of the art”! I will soon have the lesson on my website: http://www.melaniewiscount.com

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  • David – thanks for a terrific explanation – my kids and I are creating a virtual video tour of our school’s technical programs using these codes. I think when the iPad finally gets its needed cameras this technology will get legs in the U.S. – some time mid year I suspect.

  • Nice article! 2011 will be the year of the QR Code! I recently launched http://www.SocialQRCode.com, which is a QR code generator designed for businesses to promote their social networks through QR Codes. Take a look at my YouTube Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dvtSHm3Xmvk

    Turn foot traffic into web traffic for your Facebook fan page and Twitter profile with Social QR Codes!

    Please give it a try!

  • Courtney

    Hi, my name is Courtney. I am a student at the University of South Alabama and I was assigned to read your posts so I can be informed about many new things. I really enjoyed reading your post, I was not familiar with what a QR Code was but now I am informed. I was very shocked to read that even though I didn’t know what they were, chances are I have seen one on various items like you mentioned. I understand the idea behind them and believe they would be very useful in the classroom.
    I look forward to reading more of your posts in the near future.

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  • Jennifer Kelley

    I began noticing QR codes recently, on television and in magazines. Just yesterday, I noticed a very tiny one on the lid of some cough medicine I purchased. I always wondered what kind of information the codes contained. When I began to read your blog, I was amazed at what kinds of information the codes can contain. Your ideas for the use of QR codes in education is something I would have never thought of! What fun things we could do in our classrooms, and a great way to go green!

  • Anonymous


    we believe that QR codes will make the connection between offline and online worlds easier. That’s why we created our QR code generator with social features YouScan.me – http://www.youscan.me. You can add all your info like Facebook profile or fan page, twitter, youtube, etc. and connect with others just by a scan.


  • Awesome explanation thank you.Other applications #QRCode can be used that I have been thinking of are:1) After the #QRCode is created it is printed on a #Braille printer.2) With the Accelerators on an #iphone and #Androidphones the Black and white spaces can be correlated such that one can feel the contours, valleys and peaks and thus making it possible to read / comprehend.ThanksStaff TXTNLRN

  • Mattewens

    We have just started to use QR Codes, I can see the potential benefit for libraries and to tag equipment – I added one to our accessibility kit flyer, so people can scan the code to view what is inside the box. Google url shortener website is useful as well, because you can shorten a url and it automatically produces a QR code.

  • Macy

    Another learning day, another gimmick.
    QR codes are simply a timesaver, something which saves learners from typing out a URL etc.
    I’m getting tired of reading about these supposed ‘Holy Grails’ which actually just serve to disguise the lack of real creativity around learning.
    Having QR codes sprinkled liberally around doesn’t improve lousy content or a lousy educator.
    Actually, sometimes I think these endless gimmicks are generated just to distract people from the same lousy content or teaching… sad but true.

    • Anonymous

      Macy – Is it wrong to save time and make it easier to find or do something? I haven’t made any noise about QR Codes being the ‘holy grail’ of anything but I do like the ease with which they can engage participants.

      I think everyone will agree with you that content is important, but using systems and ‘gimmicks’ might just be the way to engage reluctant students who are more interested in gadgets and tech than the subject.

      Just because we can doesn’t mean we have to, and no one is forcing you to use these codes. However we, as educators and facilitators, would not be doing our job if we didn’t explore the possibilities open to us, even if we then decide to not use it.

      All teh best, David

    • Hi Macy,

      Time to get out of your box and look around. Think performance support. Think working smarter, not just training and courses….

      Here’s a nice long list of examples to explore… 101 uses…


      …and I do agree back end design is vitally important, ie. mobile landing pages, apps – as is the context, content and design. Weld this together the simple fact that it’s so easy to do and that smartphones now account for 1 in 4 in Europe – by 2012… well you know where I’m going with it…

      Think… personalised learning delivered in small doses… easy to digest. Think about generating conversation from static objects – uniting like minds around topics of interest to discuss and debate… think ease of use, point and click. No one would ever type in a URL reference to directions on a Google map!!!

      I’d suggest googling QR codes in Education, you may be surprised with what you find, and once you let your creative juices flow, perhaps you can add to the list of ideas and uses.


      Associate, Internet Time Alliance

  • Martynas

    why don’t you mention Google Chart API as QR code generator?

    • Anonymous

      Morning Martynas. I don’t mention them a I haven’t used them and have no experience of them.

  • Have you explored all the ways QR codes could benefit not only your company but your children’s education?

    • Anonymous

      I’m sure there will be many more ways in which we can explore and exploit these codes in and out of the classroom as we get more people involved and interested in the technology.

      How are you using them, or planning to use them?

      All the best, David

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  • These are some nice ideas. Very well thought-out. This is a welcome change from all those marketing-related blog posts about QR codes.

    To people who are trying to find more uses for QR Codes: “think URL”. Much very specific — and useful — information can be transported via URLs nowadays. And, as the web is progressing, you can stand on the shoulders of giants. Another good way to think of QR Codes is “object/location bookmarks”.  The information transported becomes relevant in the situation/place you’re in right now. For example, a QR code on a beamer could bring up its user manual and a way to reserve it for a future lesson.

    Let me just rattle down some examples from a common household situation to give a better impression: Adorn your TV’s remote control with a code which links to the current TV programme or IMDB. Put a QR code up next to the coat hanger which links to your local weather. Put a QR code up next to your door that shows you what trains/buses are leaving next from your local bus/tram/train station (via a specific query of your local transportation services). Keep your shopping list in Remember The Milk, make a QR code linking to that list and stick it on the fridge. Use QR codes to broadcast recurring events to members your family, like round-tweets/texts “I’m going shopping right now. Need anything?”, which you can e.g. put on that reusable shopping bag that you keep in your car. Can’t remember that darn WiFi configuration of yours that you only need to remember once every year? Put it in Evernote and link to it via a QR code that you slap on your WiFi router (or, if you must, create a plain-text-QR code if the configuration is stable). Doing GTD? Stick QR codes to specific locations where one or the other GTD context becomes relevant. which Slap QR codes on your more complex electronic devices which link to a PDF version of the user manual.

    Maybe this list also triggers one or the other cool idea. :-)

    Hint: URLs with queries etc. can become quite complex. You can use an url shortener like goo.gl. If you use goo.gl, you can simply add “.qr” to the end of the short url to create a QR code to print out. Pretty nifty, eh?

    Hint 2: Most URL shorteners only support “http://” URLs and can’t deal with custom URI schemes like “evernote://”. But good old tinyurl.com does! You also need to pay attention to install a scanner app on your smartphone which supports custom URI schemes.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Andreas.

      I like yoyr ideas and concepts here, thank you. I would worry about recommending the custom URL you highlight in hint 2 above simply because there are so many scanning apps that can’t do this, and your intended audience may not have one yet. The other downside to this is not everyone (in the example of sending the scan to Evernote) has an account with the system you want them to use?

      However it is clear there is a future for the codes, and it is growing not only technically but also in how we think we can use them (beyond basic marketing).

      All the best, David

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