Reflections: QR codes (Durham Blackboard Users Conference 2011)

As part of the 2011 Durham Blackboard Users Conference which focused on ‘location’ as a theme, mobile technologies were discussed a lot. QR codes cropped up regularly, and although I did not attend the sessions relating to this technology, I’d like to share some thoughts.

A number of sessions this year were focussed around QR codes (Quick Response codes). These are square 2-dimensional barcodes which can be scanned in, usually by mobile phones with an appropriate QR reader ap, to present data contained within the code. According to Denso-Wave (creators of the QR code), the capacity of the code is: 4,296 alphanumeric characters; or 7,089 numeric-only characters; or 2,953 bytes of data. This makes QR codes ideal for encoding URLs to resources and websites, which is how they are commonly used.

Popular URL shortening service Bit.Ly (http://bit.ly) has incorporated QR code generation into its service. Therefore any bit.ly link can be appended with .qrcode to display a standard QR code image. Click here for an example. I would like to point out though that on web interfaces URL links are still prefered over providing a picture for someone to scan in, etc…

In the context of location-based learning, you could for example set up what equates to a treasure hunt on a field trip, where students locate the QR code and are linked via mobile internet to resources relevant to that location. However, this may be one of only a few possible implementations that could add value to the student learning experience.

Some key benefits of QR codes

  • They are relatively discrete (say in comparison to a laminated A4 factsheet).
  • They also have a small amount of error-checking possible which allows for minor physical wear and tear of the code.
  • They’re quicker than typing in a web address on a mobile device.

Some key drawbacks of QR codes

  • They need to be physically placed at the location, as opposed to using GPS signals, and will suffer physical degradation.
  • The user requires the hardware to capture the QR code image and software (usually a mobile ap) to change that code into something meaningful, such as a web link.
  • Takes practice to line up the code properly and not take a blurry image on a mobile.

One of the biggest issues though is that QR codes, although useful, have yet to truly find their place in general use, let alone learning. The only regular place I see 2D barcodes being used is in logistics and on delivery packages. One national retailer has added a QR code to their television advert, though the code is only present on screen for three seconds which is by no means enough time for someone to get out their mobile, switch it to the QR reading ap, and capture the code. Support for QR codes is also limited to smart phones running the appropriate software, and that alone is a barrier to adoption.

For more on QR codes see

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