QR Codes in the elementary library? A few thoughts.

I’ll confess that my first impressions of QR codes have not been particularly positive. Until I began this week’s exploration of QR codes in education, they seemed to be a gimmick borrowed from the world of marketing… something to catch the eye, but without a great deal of substance. It was because of this initial reaction, and because I didn’t see myself using QR codes as a school librarian, that I decided to push myself to investigate further.

This week, my first impression has been challenged both by our readings about QR codes (Tania Coutts makes a particularly strong argument about the motivational benefits of using QR codes with children) but especially by the ideas presented by my classmates. There are many ideas for using QR codes that I would borrow from these creative educators. I especially like the notion of using QR codes to stimulate student curiosity… whether it’s through a scavenger hunt, student book reviews scattered through the library, or sharing exemplars of student work.

However, I still have some concerns and questions, the greatest of these being QR codes and equity. To anyone without a smart phone, a QR code is sending one message only: “Not for you.” Until schools work out the equity issues involved in BYOD policies, the use of QR codes seems problematic. It’s essentially creating a club of those “in the know” and leaving others out. Although QR codes present many opportunities for independent exploration by older students, these equity issues would need to thoughtfully addressed.

QR codes in elementary schools present a different range of challenges. To state the obvious, very few elementary age students carry smart phones or tablets of their own. (This may be changing, but that’s another blog post…) Therefore, the use of QR codes in elementary school would automatically involve the use of school devices. (Tania Coutts, mentioned above, used a set of i-pads in her QR code activity.) To me, this removes some of the benefit of QR codes. I think QR codes work best in a spot where there is no easy computer access (a nature trail, for example), where passersby are likely to have a smart phone in their pockets. In a case like that, A QR code linked to enriching information adds measurable benefits. But in a school library, with easy access to internet links without QR codes, and in which a student would need to borrow a device to read the QR code anyway, it’s adding a layer of complexity but the benefits are less clear. Which leads me back to my initial impression. Are QR codes in some cases just a gimmick?

For me, the jury is still out on this one. Will I use QR codes in my library someday? The answer is yes, I’ll give them a try. But am I convinced of their educational value across age levels and locations? Not yet.

In any case, just for practice, here is a QR code I created. It will take you to a presentation I prepared for IST 633. You don’t have to watch it. I just want to see if it works.





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11 responses to “QR Codes in the elementary library? A few thoughts.

  1. Marie Evans

    You’ve summed up a lot of reasons why I don’t like QR codes.

    Also, I don’t have any sort of smart-device with a camera to scan your code, so I can’t see the presentation you made. 😦 And therein lies the “not for you” sentiment you expressed!

  2. John Heslop

    I thought of using the QR codes in many of the same ways you did. I though you could use them for a scavenger hunt and book reviews. Although it seems to be a gimmick at the moment, there was some evidence that student motivation increased in the Coutts article. At this point isn’t student motivation something we all strive to increase in the educational world?

    I additionally thought about the inequity of placing the QR codes around the school and how that might distinguish a select few from others. This is a struggle, and I would be interested to see how schools are getting around the problem. As BYOD is not implemented everywhere, but QR codes are very common, how do we overcome this?

  3. Milly,
    I really like your statement about how QR codes could be a “Not for you” kind of message. Through our reading this week, and our classmate’s comments, I can really see the value in QR codes. However, it may turn people away if they don’t have a device and if the information is only presented in a QR code format, it may leave some others out. Thanks for your post; it got me thinking!

    Lisa U.

  4. Milly, I wasn’t able to open the QR code with my reader but maybe it’s compatible with another reader? It tries but can’t seem to load it. Anyways, I thought you made an excellent point about equitable access. This is absolutely the case and was our problem when I was officially introduced to QR codes back in Fall 2011 as I mention in my blog. I also thought you made a good point about the issues this presents in elementary school. However, I think a school set of iPads is the answer. I also started thinking about ways to make print books interactive. What if you had a QR code on the inside of covers for specific books on reserve for a teacher’s unit. You could collaborate to determine great Web sites (e.g., Roald Dahl’s site), author’s blogs, reviews written by other students (e.g., Spaghetti Book Club), complementary book trailer or videos, etc. and use these to provide links to QR codes students can use with their school iPad either during a lesson or in their classrooms. Just a thought I had. 🙂

    • Shoot- I think it didn’t work because I tried to link to a prezi which can’t play on a phone. Oh well, my failure helps to illustrate part of my point, which is that QR codes have great potential but some limitations as well. I do love your idea of adding QR codes to book covers with links to related material. I think that’s an excellent example of a truly enriching application of this technology.

  5. I so agree about the” not for you” point. I was a late adopter to smartphone and QR codes annoyed me because of that. I don’t think that they should be slapped on just for the heck of it, and when you remove that application I don’t see a ton of areas where they are super-useful. The one thing that they are the just right tool for is for out-and-about adventures like nature walks etc. They also can be good for getting student work out there and into the community.

  6. Katie Hassman

    What a formative conversation! I like all the ideas that have been generated from this discussion and remain impressed by all your insight and ideas. Reading everyone’s posts this week makes me realize that QR codes can be motivational for some students but that they key to their successful use is making the QR content AND placement meaningful, and perhaps more important, intriguing.

  7. Marilyn P. Arnone

    Milly, you have stimulated an excellent discussion in this space. Lucy, I am interested in your ideas for using QR Codes on nature walks. Please share!

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