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.