What do do with a QR code once you’ve created one

Following on from my post on How to create a QR code here’s the logical extension of that – what to do with one. Feel free to add suggestions in the comments or ping me on Twitter (@JoBrodie).

QR codes are a square barcode-like picture which can be scanned by the camera in a smartphone to open a document or web page. A QR code is a “machine-readable optical label that contains information about the item to which it is attached”. They are also known as 2D barcodes and look like this – it’s a “link you can click on in real life“.

QR_code_for_mobile_English_Wikipedia.svg.pngQR code for the URL of the English Wikipedia Mobile main page

I’ve only ever used QR codes that point to websites, but that could include YouTube videos or links to Word or PDF documents, or surveys etc.

Table of Contents

  1. QR scanners for your phone
  2. Example of using QR codes at an event to collect survey data
  3. Classroom use
  4. Teaching staff use
  5. Research posters
  6. Marketing for events
  7. Museums
  8. Language learning / supermarkets
  9. Downsides, or things to be aware of
  10. Dynamic QR codes and short URLs

1. QR scanners for your phone

I have several QR code scanners on my phone – I think they were all free: Scan-Life (it just opens the page so watch out if you’re not sure about the page), Kaspersky’s QR Scanner and RedLaser. They all also scan supermarket barcodes, though unless the product is listed in its library the scanner doesn’t really know what to do with them.

2. Example of using QR codes at an event to collect survey data
A recent example from my work with computer science teachers: we’ve just had our annual conference for teachers supported by Computing At School (CAS) London and we wanted to find out what the delegates thought of the sessions and conference overall. At the final plenary we included massive QR codes on the slides (and a short link written in full for those sitting in the audience without QR-enabled phones) and people were able to point and click, or type the address, and complete the short survey there and then.
Pro-tip: if you want to compare use of QR codes with typing in (short) links, create two short links (one for each) that point to the same page.

3. Classroom use

Eleni Kyritsis has used QR codes cubes, each side posing a different question, to encourage her pupils to reflect on their learning (there’s a template on her page).

I also asked my primary school teacher chum Jane for her thoughts on the use of QR codes in primary classrooms and, paraphrasing, she said…

“One of the requirements in early education is to be creative with computing (not just programming) and for us to get kids using tech and building up their IT skills through fun activites (if it is not fun it does not happen – or at least not without huge disruption and pain).

QR codes are used in all sorts of ways.

We can make interactive displays (we LOVE displays of children’s work – gives the children an audience/purpose and better motivation/quality of work) – so children create little presentations as well as a piece of artwork or writing – so they are augmenting their physical artefacts with e-artefacts – they make a QR code and put it next to their work and then peers and other year groups (and visitors) use their mobile device (which many primary schools have a small batch of) and the viewer can access this other piece of work.

Interactive displays are also used by teachers to create displays that teach, so you might have a display about volcanos – that also has a link to a website or presentation etc..

QR codes are used for differentiation (this tends to be for schools where they have class sets of mobile devices) so if I have 3 core ‘sets’ High ability/ Middle/ developing plus a couple of children with special educational needs or who speak English as an additional language then I create a differentiated task for the lesson – and rather than photocopying the task – they scan the red QR code, blue QR code etc…

QR codes are used for assessment – this is getting to be a very popular idea. Kids are each given their own QR code as a little laminated square – with their photo on the back and say a colour on each edge of the QR code so red can be top, blue can be top, yellow can be top or numbers can be used 1,2,3 4 for orientation. The orientation of the QR code – gives a up to 4 different answers from a pupil. So you have 30 little mites all sitting on the carpet, or at tables if a bit bigger mites…. and you ask what is the correct spelling for the word (say a word) and show 4 spellings marked 1,2,3,4 They all show the relevant bit of their card. You use your mobile device hooked up to some app – can’t remember the name and it instantly records who got it right/wrong and what the wrong answers were. We are big into this kind of fast formative assessment. Normally we used whiteboards – but this captures the data longer term and is more accurate than scanning by eye.

Primary teachers are very creative and you never quite know what they get up to make their classroom more interesting, teach concepts in quirky fun ways or just help them work quicker and smarter.”

4. Teaching staff use 
This post highlights a kind of game which encouraged teachers to share useful resources with one another while also getting them using QR codes and getting a sense of how they might use them in their classrooms. There’s a picture of a QR code on the blog, so I scanned it and a message came up which said “10. Find and share a parent communication resource” – they used GoQR.me to do this.

5. Research posters
A QR code pointing to a web page containing your contact details, publications, PDF of the poster and whatever else might be useful would seem quite handy. Don’t forget that you can update the page during or after the conference too. Marianne’s using them on research posters to point people to a short video about cancer research.

6. Marketing for events
You can play around with different sizes – smaller QR codes on an A5 flyer work fine (you can test before printing by pointing a QR-enabled phone at your onscreen code with the document sized at 100%).

7. Museums
Museums are adding QR codes to some of their exhibits which take visitors to a page with additional information. The Broolyn Museum is doing some interesting stuff in this area. QR codes should never replace the normal text-based information of course. If you’re adding QR codes can I recommend sending someone round to check them periodically – if the link dies it’s a bit disappointing. See bit on dynamic QR codes below.

8. Language learning / supermarkets
Multi-language shopping labels: a Canadian supermarket gave customers a device which pronounced the names for various products in the indigenous language – Grocery stores bring Indigenous languages to the aisles

It would be quite handy if a supermarket used QR codes for “how do I cook and eat this obscure looking vegetable” (I’ve got no idea what celeriac is for) or gave recipe ideas.

9. Downsides, or things to be aware of
QR codes are not intuitive and people often need to be shown how to use them, and what the point of them is. If the technology (eg wifi) doesn’t work then have a back up plan. In most cases they should never replace other text-based instructions but only be used to augment.

Just like clicking on a link that ends up taking you to a dodgy site be careful what QR codes you ‘bip’. If in doubt use RedLaser or QR Scanner instead of Scan-Life because they tell you what the page is going to be.

Dynamic QR codes and short URLs
You can create a single QR code and change the link that it goes to by having an intermediary link which then redirects it. That service is available from QRstuff.com and they have a very good page explaining what it’s for and how it works. I generally create static QR codes (can’t change what it points to) as it suits my purposes.

You can create a QR code based on a full length website link, or on a shortened link that points to it (I use Bit.ly and log in with Twitter so that I can customise the links). If you want to compare visits to a page from QR codes or from some other method (eg typing the address in, or via social media) you can create multiple aliases in Bit.ly and have one link for your QR code and one written out and can compare which is used more.

See How to create a QR code as well.



How to create a QR code

QR codes are a square barcode-like picture which can be scanned by the camera in a smartphone and open a web page. A QR code is a “machine-readable optical label that contains information about the item to which it is attached”. They are also known as 2D barcodes and look like this.

QR_code_for_mobile_English_Wikipedia.svg.pngQR code for the URL of the English Wikipedia Mobile main page

Opinion is divided on QR codes. The people who dislike them have perfectly good reasons for doing so, in that almost no-one has the faintest idea what they are, and it’s certainly not obvious if you’re seeing one for the first time, most people probably don’t have an app on their phone that will let their camera respond to them, and even if you do know what they are and how to interact with them you’ve still no idea where you’re phone’s browser is going to end up(1) as QR codes are not human readable (well, you can learn but they’re not as immediately informative as a web link).

Having said that I’ve always been rather smitten with them – they save so much time compared with typing in an address. Just open the app, point and ‘ping’ – the website opens. To be honest the excited ‘ping’ made by the app I use (Scan-Life) is part of the fun. It’s like living in the future.

(1) Presumably someone could invent a phone app that tells you where the QR code is trying to take you, perhaps this already exists. That would probably eliminate that particular problem. Kaspersky QR Scanner and RedLaser both tell you what URL you’ll be taken to (and invite you to decide if you want to) but don’t seem to give any warning about malicious links.

Here’s how I make a QR code from a web address
(Go to 3. if you just want a message to pop up, no websites)

1. You will need a web address (aka link, URL etc)
If you want your QR code to point to a document you’ll need to save it with a public link. My preference for that would be to upload the document to Dropbox and copy the file’s public link. Remember that if anyone finds the link they can access that file so if privacy is a big issue be aware of that.

2. Consider shortening the URL – tinyurl, is.gd, bit.ly etc will all give you a shortened version and bit.ly will also let you customise it to something human-readable and it will also tell you how often the link is visited. See bit in (3) about long-term use though.
It is probably quite good practice (in publicity contexts) to include the full original link, as well as the QR code and short URL, so that people can type that in if they’re wary (and don’t have an app or an idea of what to do with your QR code). If you’re doing this at a conference you can probably assume a degree of trust.

3a. Use QRstuff.com to create your QR code from your long or short URL (though for longer-term use better to use the real full-length URL in case the URL shortener goes off line) http://www.qrstuff.com/


3b. Use GoQR.me to create a QR code that just shows a piece of text or instruction on-screen http://goqr.me/

4. A QR image is automatically generated from either of the sites above. Check that the on-screen code works with your scanning app (I use Scan-Life for iPhone) then print it / save a copy / take a screenshot of it.

5. Open the picture in image editing software, I use Paint (free on Windows) or PowerPoint, and add a text box with the short or long URL on it for archiving purposes.
It’s a kindness to the end-user, and to yourself, to include the URL in a QR code so people know where they’re going to end up, and also it’s handy three years from now when you find the code stuck in a filing cabinet.

I have written might write the accompanying Part Two to this post – What do do with a QR code once you’ve created one 😉 I use them at work to provide people who come on our courses or events with a quick way of accessing the feedback surveys. The people who come on our courses etc are computing teachers and I understand that QR codes are much used among computing teachers.