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Holy Bodacious Barcodes: Using QR Codes to Extend Learning and Promote a Love of Reading

QR Codes are one of those subjects that I’ve been meaning to write about forever. To be honest, I was something of a QR Code skeptic when they were first brought to my attention last fall. 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 was to me, fuzzy at best. Then, as is so often the case, a few cosmic dominos fell - in just the right order - to make me a QR Code believer.

First, a math teacher at my school (a dear friend, muse and teaching partner extraordinaire who REALLY needs a bigger online presence), bounded into the library one day, commandeered my computer and said, “you have to see THIS!” (“This” being Steven Anderson’s post on creating a desktop QR Code station). Immediately, the wheels upstairs started to turn and it wasn’t long before I had a machine or two, some webcams and all the extension cords I would need for a QR Code revolution. The only thing missing was a REASON to do it.

That reason came a day or so later when I learned that our library had received a $6,000 grant to purchase art (visual, performance, decorative, etc) related print materials. One of the requirements of the grant was that I provide evidence of marketing the new materials to students in an innovative way – enter QR Codes! In the end, (though I didn’t plan this way) linking my QR Code experiment to a single project turned out to be incredibly beneficial.

First, it provided me with an obvious hook with which to tempt and recruit teacher collaboration. Art + technology and the offer of snacks brought several people to the table. Then, once I explained that all they needed to do was grab a stack of books and help me find some resources to either pique student interest or extend their learning, a party was born.

Secondly, it helped focus the scope of the project. Believe me, once you start creating QR Codes, it’s hard to stop. Dreaming up book + resource mash-ups for the purpose of student enrichment is positively addictive, so having a specific goal and focus helped keep me on task.

And, finally, when we were finished adorning the art books with barcode bling, it was easy to collect some data regarding what, if any, these little square labels had on students at my school. I was able to compare circ stats of books on the same/similar topics, but that were not branded with a QR Code to those that were. Surprise, surprise: those WITH the QR Codes were showed a great deal more love than those without. (About 40% more as a matter of fact). HOWEVER, 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 we’d hit on something big.

And I wasn’t the only one who knew it.

Soon students and teachers were clamoring to contribute to the QR Code fun. By the end of the year, we literally had thousands of books that are linked to additional resources via QR Code. These links include student created works like podcasts, Glogs, video book trailers, etc., but also consist of really neat resources that I’ve either stumbled across or, more frequently, that teachers/students have brought to my attention.

In fact, I started receiving so many student/teacher book+resource mash-up suggestions that I created a special bookmark to help me keep track of them. (Students take the bookmark when they checkout the book and put it in the suggestion box when they return it).

And to me, this is where the rubber hits the road when it comes to QR Codes (or any technology for that matter). I simply LOVE the idea of kids spending time in the library, exploring new ideas and checking out new material based on the opportunity for inquiry provided by the QR Code. However, when this activity is followed by a reading experience that is informed by the student’s desire to find more, new and BETTER resources to be linked to the title their reading, well… that’s when QR Codes make the switch from just being a fun fad or cool gadget to a meaningful tool that can not only extend learning but also help cultivate a love of reading in our students. 

Nuts and Bolts:

Here’s the desktop QR Code Reader I use. Again, big smooches to Steven Anderson for leading the way.

Here’s the QR Code Generator that I use. I know there are a billion others, but this is the one I landed on and I like the different options it provides.

And finally, Here's the tutorial I created and posted throughout the library for students. Obviously, it is heavily influenced by (though greatly inferior to) those created by Gwyneth Jones.  As always, anything I have posted here is free for you to use, share and make better. And what's not to love about that?


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