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From Tech Trend to Teaching Tool: Taking the QR Code Plunge!

This post is a shout out to a group of fantastic teacher librarians who are “lunching and learning” this Friday in Fayetteville, NC.  Because I couldn’t be there in person (or virtually, for that matter) to share in the fun, I promised I’d put together a post about my use of QR Codes in the library for those in the group who are QR curious.  I know these fantastic ladies (and gents!) are going to have a great time today learning and sharing together.  What’s more, I’m thrilled that I can be a part of the experience in this way. (Thanks, Julian, for inviting me!)   So… let’s get started.

What are QR Codes?

First, some basics:  Even if you’re not familiar with the term QR Code, chances are you’ve seen these funky, pixelated squares popping up all over the place!  Technically, a QR (or Quick Response) Code is a 2 dimensional barcode that, when scanned, links the user to additional information.  Often this is a website, but can also be a text document, an image, video or audio file – the sky is the really the limit.  If it can be hosted online, it can be linked to via a QR Code.

Where do QR Codes fit into the library?

I know what you're thinking.  So what?  Well, as I’ve written before, I was something of a QR Code skeptic when they were first brought to my attention too.  To begin with, I struggled with how to make such things work in my school – where we are decidedly lacking in handheld devices and where students are not allowed to use their own smart phones during the instructional day. More importantly, however, while I couldn’t deny the QR Code’s inherent “cool factor,” the link between these 2 dimensional barcodes and student learning seemed fuzzy at best. I’ve written more extensively about what changed my mind here, but for now, let me share a few examples of how I am using QR codes in my library and/or how others are using them effectively in their corners of libraryland.

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QR Codes as Book Barcode Bling:  Books all over my library are adorned with QR codes that link to all sorts of stuff:  book reviews (mine and students), book trailers, author interviews, student projects and countless other web resources that either help pique a student’s interest in the book or extend their learning once hooked.  Kids LOVE scanning the QR Code on a book and checking out the related information. What's more, they love suggesting websites for future QR codes.  Truly, as I've said before, the first time I saw a group of students huddled around the computer taking a 360’ tour of the Sistine Chapel that was linked (via QR Code) to a book on Michelangelo, (which they then fought to check out), I knew I’d hit on something big.

QR Codes As a Means of Updating Outdated Library Materials:  I don’t know about you, but each year I struggle with the fact that I have no money to replace out of date non-fiction resources. This year, however, I’m using QR Codes to update out of date books.  I’ve written more extensively about this project here, but essentially, I’ve partnered with social studies and science teachers to link student created projects on specific topics, to QR Codes.  The students then help me find spots in our print resources that contain outdated information - once a spot is located (and believe me, there are plenty to choose from), we affix a QR Code that, when scanned, brings the student to new, better and updated info.  Within just a few minutes, an outdated print dinosaur is transformed into an up to date, INTERACTIVE book.  Amazing! 

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QR Code Library Scavenger Hunts: My BFF and mentor, Gwyneth Jones (TheDaring Librarian!) has written about her use of QR Codes as part of alibraryscavenger hunt – particularly with students with special needs or for English Language Learners.  As Gwnyneth writes, QR Codes provide a visual clue and context for students as they explore library resources – not only does this help those students who might need a little extra scaffolding, but also, these visual connections make it more likely that ALL students will remember what they’ve learned through the lesson.  I love it!

QR Codes as Library Marketing/Parent Contact:

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Once again, this is Gwyneth’s idea, but I think it’s so great that I'm thrilled to shamelessly share it with you.  In this instance, Gwyneth created a QR Code tree and posted it outside the library just in time for back to school night at her school.  Parents are the target audience here, but anyone walking by with a smartphone can scan one of the codes on her tree and be taken to a website related to the library!  It's difficult to see in the photo I stole from her blog, but if you visit her post, (as you should), you'll see that each QR Code links to a different library resource: the library website, its facebook page, twitter feed, etc. As Gwyneth writes, it’s a great way to hook those parents who don’t necessarily want to stop by the library on open house night, but who, with a quick scan, can be instantly connected with the library's resources.  Genius!

HOW Do I Get Started?

Our QR Code Station!

A few posts back I shared what the answers to what I called  “QR Code FAQs.”  The answers to these questions provide you with specific steps for generating QR codes and setting up a QR code station if, like me, you are making magic at a school that has yet to join the wireless world or that has no handheld devices.  I would also suggest checking out Gwyneth’s comic tutorial on creating QR Codes.  She and I use different code generators, but the idea is the same and her tutorials are  always fantastic!  The important thing to note here, however, is that you don’t have to be working in a school this side of The Matrix to make QR codes work for you and your students.   Trust me, if I can do it, you can.  Where’s there’s a will, there’s a way!

Taking the First Step:

Although I’m sure none of you are old enough to remember them, (cough!) the marriage of QR Codes and libraries always reminds of those fantastic commercials from the 1980s for Reeses Peanut Butter Cups - in which unsuspecting peanut butter and chocolate lovers would accidentally bump into each other on the street or in the roller rink, (seriously, who walks down the street, never mind roller skates, eating peanut butter out of a jar??), only to discover the genius of combining these two individually remarkable ingredients.  Just as unlikely a pairing, might be the library and the QR Code, (an  idea that was originally conceived by Toyota to help track vehicles on their assembly line).  And yet, when put together, what a tasty mash-up they make!  That said, the best way to get started, I think, is to spend some time thinking about the potential for QR Code mashups in your library.  For example... 

  • Think about your online bookmarks.  What resources have you been saving as favorites or to Diigo in the hopes that someday you’d get to share them with students/teachers?  How often do you email a fantastic resource to teachers only to get, if you're lucky, a trickle of response? Is there a way that you can connect these resources to a QR code?  And then, what’s the most impactful and effective way to make those codes available to your kids?

  • Think about your collection.  Are there resources in your library that could be updated through the use of a QR code?  Are there some old texts collecting dust in your non-fiction that COULD be relevant again if linked to an updated map, atlas or other information?  Have you found a book on a social issue that only presents one side of the story?  How could your students benefit if an alternate view was, literally, just a scan away?  What about your books on Careers?  Do they really contain info that will help prepare our students for the jobs of the future? How might a strategically placed QR Code transform these outdated texts into updated resources?

  •  Think about your students’ use of your library.  Are they getting the most out of its resources?  Do they really *know* how to find things in your carefully and lovingly curated collection?  How could you use a QR code scavenger hunt, like Gwyneth’s, to really CONNECT your students to their library??  Also, how could QR Codes make the library more fun?  I’ve got several QR Codes linking to THIS hidden in my non-fiction!  I'm not sure what they're learning from this scan, but I know it's a whole lotta fun!

  • Think about how you spread the gospel of library.  Are YOU the only one visiting your library’s website?  How do you currently get information about library programs and resources to parents, teachers, administrators and students?  Is there a better and more effective way to bring your message to the masses by using QR Codes?

  • And most importantly, think about your students’ needs.  What are the issues facing your kids that keep your principal, fellow teachers and (hopefully!) you up at night?  I’ve know doubt that your library collection and programs are designed to be the answer to those questions.  Even so, is there a way that QR Codes can help you effect more change for your students and school?  If so, I hope these resources will give you the tools you need to get started, but if you have more questions, feel free to drop me a note at jennifer-at-librarygirl-dot-net.  I'll do my best to fill in the gaps.

In the meantime, everything I post on this blog is licensed under Creative Commons, so if you want to snag the QR Code Flyer I created or use my bookmarks to solicit student suggested QR Codes, please feel free to do so.  What's mine is yours.

Have fun and happy learning!


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