QR Codes in Education: A Burgeoning Narrative

Since I last published thoughts on how QR Codes could be used for learning in a short audioBoo (click the link or scan the QR Code on the right), there has continued to be a growing and significant buzz about QR Codes on Twitter and in the blogosphere. A narrative is developing as ideas, experiences and best practices are shared and discussed.

The ball got rolling at TeachMeetX where Julian S. Wood delivered a thoroughly engaging presentation on storytelling and QR Codes. I couldn’t be there in person but was fortunate to catch most of what Julian had to say via UStream. What struck me during the presentation was not the quality of the tech but the pedagogical principles that underpinned the activities putting the technology where it belongs: at the heart of making the learning happen but not directing it. Hopefully, the video of the presentation will be available soon and everyone can see it. One of the tools that Julian used was Delivr which I have written about here and will mention again later in this post.

A couple of days later I was catching up with Twitter and dropped in on a discussion that was taking place about QR-Codes. Dughall McCormick tweeted out a link to a blog post he had written about QR Codes and an app called stickybits – see Tim Ryland’s article here for more info on that. Dughall shared a variety of ways that QR Codes/stickybits could be used, all with their various merits and implications. My personal favourite was this:

Stick a code on the front of a pupil’s exercise book. Feedback can be added in any format as time goes on. This can be done by peers, the student, teachers, parents etc. The same could be done for homework presumably

This struck me as immediately pertinent as there is a huge drive on assessment for learning and the marking of work in my school at the moment, what with Ofsted just around the corner. More importantly it is one of my many beliefs, in relation to education, that assessment can be a driving force in improving a students progress and attainment. This may be one way that I myself experiment with QR Codes and/or stickybits.

Dughall finished by sharing a few other useful links including a collaborative guide produced by Tom Barrett et al. about using QR Codes in the classroom. It is part of his excellent Interesting Ways series and so far there are 14 different ideas about how to use QR Codes.

Also mentioned by Dughall and tweeted out the same day was a post by the ever innovative David Mitchell – blogging about his use of QR Codes with his Year 6 class.

He explained and demonstrated through photos how they had been used. Essentially his students had drafted a piece of work in their books. They then wrote up their work on their class blog and generated a QR Code from their blog post’s URL. This was then stuck into their books. Instantly the gap between analog and digital work was bridged (or as David put it: “A Literacy book suddenly becomes an interactive book of weaved magic!”).

By allowing anyone to scan the code and see the final draft of the work while looking at the first draft it changes the engagement and interaction with the students work bringing the student, teacher, parent closer to creative and developmental process. A clever and highly effective use of QR Codes I think.

Below is an example of one of the images from David’s post – click to zoom and then scan the code – it really works!

As the discussion continued on Twitter over the next couple of days more and more resources and posts related to QR Codes began to come to light, demonstrating the fact that the technology is not that new and that educators have been toying with it for a while now.

One such post that was tweeted was from Ollie Bray who had written about QR Codes (back in 2008) in a post titled: iPhone in Education – Using QR Codes in the Classroom.

In his post he details how QR Codes work with some clear broken down screen shots. Towards the end of the post Ollie makes a couple of suggestions about potential uses but overall it stands as a good post for QR Code novices to help them understand the basic principles.

This was followed by a link to a PDF document (hosted by the EDUCASE Learning Initiative) titled: 7 Things You Should Know About QR Codes (written in 2009). The document is well structured and concise (2 pages), offering answers to basic questions like: “What is it?”, “How does it work?”; to more complex ones like: “What are the implications for teaching and learning?” This is a good starting point for QR Code novices. Download here.

There were a few more posts that were dragged up from the archives but I will not comment on them all here. A Twitter search for QR Codes should provide some useful results.

The final post I wish to discuss is fresh and new and was only published this week, on October 26th, over at the blog of David Hopkins – Don’t Waste Your Time. Titled: QR Codes: It’s not all about the phone, you know. David offers up three potential applications that could be used to scan QR Codes from your desktop computer. This was interesting and I am going to download and play with the Desktop QR Code Reader myself.

Reading David’s most recent post though led me back to his many other posts about QR Codes, some of which I had read through a few weeks ago when I had just begun to look at QR Codes myself. I felt that I would re-mention the post: QR Codes in the Classroom. The explanation and suggested uses are very good but even better than the written word is the video David has included of QR Codes in action. Scroll through the post, find the video and give it a watch. If you are still unsure about the potential of QR Codes, you won’t be after you have watched the video.

With a growing list of potential uses and some very well thought out pedagogical approaches I believe it’s fair to say that this technology is worth investing the time in. To get started with my own use of QR Codes I am going to focus on two areas:

1. Creating a class project based around similar principles to those presented by David Mitchell. I really felt the simplicity of linking physical writing with online content was an interesting notion that warrants further exploration.

I need to give it more consideration but I see excellent opportunities here to connect the creative/tactile freedom of my classroom with some of the tools that I already use with my classes online. One idea that came to mind was to get my students to collate a variety of useful material on a Lino It canvas, generate a QR Code for their wall. Then back in the classroom preparing for their controlled assessment they could scan the QR Code (now stuck in their books) to access that information.

Once I have planned the activity better and have the results I will certainly blog and share it.

2. Educating students, parents and fellow teachers on what QR Codes are and how they can be of use inside and outside of the classroom. I think there is an opportunity to share simple info like revision tips, short helpful videos and other similar materials. In principal this is straight forward as I have seen several good examples of QR Codes being used. One of the keys is to include info on how to scan the codes and where to get an app to do it.

With this in mind I found this clip from CSI on YouTube. It provides a fairly clear and engaging explanation of what a QR Code is.

I have shared it via Delivr which displays it on a dedicated page making it easy for it to be reshared. What’s more, as I mentioned in my blog post about Delivr when viewed on a mobile phone the page is optimised for mobile screens.

The success of sharing info in this way will be more difficult to judge than within the controls of a classroom based activity. This is why I will be using Delivr to generate the codes. Signing up for an account allows you to track the QR Codes you create. I will be able to get instant raw data on whether the codes are being scanned.

Again I will blog and share the results.

Before I close this post I will share one more useful link. There are several pages on the web that help you find the right QR Code reader for your phone but I felt that this one from PercentMobile was the most effective. Simply select the manufacturer and handset model that you own and it then provides you with a link to an app that will work with your device. Get out there and get scanning.

If you have anything to add to the QR Code narrative, perhaps you have experimented with them in your classroom; or you have a useful resource to share; or you have read a good blog post then please share it via Twitter using the hash tag #qrcode or reply to this post.

Share with Delivr

I’m taking a break from writing a post about QR-Codes to share a little HTML and offer my first impressions of Delivr – a new tool that has been making the rounds on Twitter this past week. In a nut shell, Delivr combines the URL shortening/tracking services of a bitly.Pro account with a QR-Code generator such as qrcode.kaywa.com and then adds a couple of extra functions for good measure.

For those of you who have not heard of Delivr or have not tried it yet, here is a brief look at what it offers.

Signing up to Delivr gives you a variety of features including a profile page. However, unlike many other URL shorteners, rather than a simple text based list of the links you have shared, you get a series of thumbnails. I like this a lot as I am a big fan of the visual web. What’s more, it potentially offers a unique opportunity to share a series of links in a quick and visual way. For example you could create an account for a presentation and have all of your links on one page. This could then be shared with everybody in one go by displaying or tweeting a single URL. Others can easily share the links and when you load each one up their is a QR-Code that people can scan. I think this could be a very interesting way to present and with some events coming up early on next year I may give this a go.

Each link that you share also gets a unique page as part of your Delivr account (indicated by an asterisk at the end of the URL). This page is mobile friendly and contains a variety of useful material. In the top left of the page you there is a good sized preview of the link you have shared. In the top right you can see the URL of the link. The link is made up of two parts – your profile name and a Delivr short URL. You can choose to share the whole thing or simply remove your profile name and just share the short URL. For example, both of these URLs work and will take you to the same page: http://jamesmichie.delivr.com/11vfs or http://delivr.com/11vfs.

In the bottom left of the page there is a pannel that allows you to share to multiple places including Twitter and Facebook at the click of a button, meaning you do not need to open a new tab. In the bottom right of the page their is the QR-Code that has been generated. Below it there are a few options as to what you can do with the QR-Code. It is here that Delivr goes a bit further than qrcode.kaywa.com in that the QR-Code features are more extensive. Firstly, you are not as limited in how much text you can embed inside the QR-Code and Delivr also does some funky things with Flickr images, YouTube videos and Google maps.

Here is an example of a YouTube video I have shared with Delivr. Not only can I share the short URL and get a JPG of the QR-Code but I can see a preview of how it will display on mobile devices:

You can also embed the mobile view on a blog or website as a widget and you can print out this handy flyer with the QR-Code featured on it:

Included on the flyer is a still shot from the YouTube video and a description of what the video is. This is great for sharing info at school as the flyer exports as a PDF which can then be embedded on a blog/website, uploaded to a VLE or printed to be displayed in classrooms. I will be definitely making use of this feature in the coming months in both English and Media Studies.

Other features that you get from signing up to Delivr are very similar to those offered by bitly.Pro.

You have access to a dashboard which lists all of the links that you have shared. From here you can manage your shared links with the ability to delete, edit, read comments and access analytical data. Also, there is an RSS feed of your shared links and you can export all of your data stored on Delivr as an excel file.

The analytivcal information is useful giving you a clear picture of how the links have been accessed, shared and if the QR-Code has been scanned. As I begin to explore the use of QR-Codes more readily this information will be very helpful.

Another potentially useful facet of Delivr is that people can follow your account in a very similar way to following someone’s Delicious account, where by you can see an updated list of links that have been shared. Further features include the ability to host your Delivr account under your own domain and to personalise your profile page with extra information and a background image – making the Delivr experience even more personal.

What’s more the web based interface has been extremely well thought through formatting itself perfectly on my HTC Wildfire. I could browse mine and others shared URL’s with ease, follow back friends who had begun following me and re-share links straight to Twitter, via Email or bookmark to Delicious. Once again, as with many apps, it is ease of use that will keep me coming back, particularly as I am using my phone more and more to access the World Wide Web.

Delivr works well via the web based interface but even better via its handy bookmarklet which you can drag to your bookmarks bar in your browser. This allows you to share links directly from the page that you are on while surfing the web.

Having been instantly impressed, I wondered if I could add a button to my blog so that people could use Delivr to share my posts without leaving the post page. I took a look at the code and saw that it was very similar to the code used in the Instapaper Bookmarklet. As I did with Instapaper, I adapted the bookmarklet code and then found an image to act as a button. In this case I used Delivr’s Twitter Logo as the image source reducing it to 32 x 32 pixels. You can see and use the button at the top right of this post. If you would like to add the button to your own blog then grab the following code:

<a href="javascript:%20var%20newscr%20=%20document.createElement('script');%20newscr.setAttribute('language','javascript');newscr.setAttribute('src','http://cdn.delivr.com/js/bookmarklet.js');document.body.appendChild(newscr);%20var%20newcss%20=%20document.createElement('link');%20newcss.setAttribute('type','text/css');newcss.setAttribute('rel','stylesheet');newcss.setAttribute('href','http://cdn.delivr.com/css/bookmarklet.css');document.body.appendChild(newcss);void(0);"><img src="http://jamesmichie.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Delivr.png" alt="Share with Delivr" title="Share with Delivr" /></a>

Instapaper “Read Later” Button For Your Blog!

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while now or have followed me closely on Twitter, will probably know that I am a huge fan of Instapaper. For the uninitiated, it is a service that allows you to save articles to be read later that you can access from your iPhone, Android, eReader or on the web. It has had a massive impact on my productivity, helping me to organise and keep up with longer articles that I find online. I am such a massive fan that I even created a standalone application using Fluid which you can read about here.

Prompted by a tweet from Doug Belshaw (who had added an Evernote Site Memory button to his blog), I began looking into adding a similar sort of button for Instapaper, so that visitors to my blog could quickly save the article they were reading. After trawling many blogs and websites it became clear that there wasn’t a button of this kind available on the web. No java script plugin or html code snippet to allow this functionality could be found. Therefore, I decided to create one myself.

To create the button, I used a slightly modified version of the Instapaper bookmarklet code – editing it to include an “img src” html tag. This allowed me to link the code to a button which I edited to size (60×60) in Photoshop. I also added a “title” attribute to display “Read Later” when the cursor hovers over the button. You can see the button below this post. Sign in to your Instapaper account and try it out.

If you would like to add this button to your own blog, you can do so by using the code below:

<a href="javascript:function iprl5(){var d=document,z=d.createElement('scr'+'ipt'),b=d.body,l=d.location;try{if(!b)throw(0);d.title='(Saving...) '+d.title;z.setAttribute('src',l.protocol+'//www.instapaper.com/j/WKrH3R7ORD5p?u='+encodeURIComponent(l.href)+'&t='+(new Date().getTime()));b.appendChild(z);}catch(e){alert('Please wait until the page has loaded.');}}iprl5();void(0)" class="bookmarklet" onclick="return explain_bookmarklet();"><img src="http://jamesmichie.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Instapaper.png" alt="Read Later" title="Read Later" /></a>

I chose to insert the code in the “single.php” file of my WordPress blog so that it appears on the top right of the post pages but not on the home page.

I hope that you find this useful. If you make use of the code and/or edit it to suit your needs, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Notational Velocity ‘Forked’!

Having written a post only a few weeks ago about Notational Velocity, I was elated to read a brief posting from Shawn Blanc about a ‘forked’ version of my favourite writing app. The altered and improved version was developed over at the elastic threads blog. It adds the following UI goodness to an already fantastic app:

  • Fullscreen
  • Switch between horizontal/vertical layout of the notes list
  • Show/hide the notes list
  • [Update] Low contrast and user customizable themes

Each of these useful additions (I’m making use of the fullscreen mode as I write this post) come with keyboard shortcuts, maintaining the simplicity and philosophy of the original app.

There is also a menu bar function added along with the ability to hide the dock icon. This I am not so fussed about as I hide my dock any way and I have mastered the shortcuts for navigating around NV quickly.

The horizontal list of notes however is excellent, altering the UI to look more like an iPad app, which is highly pleasing!

Here is a [updated] direct link to download the ‘forked’ version [2.0 β3et (6.67)] of NV. Enjoy!