QR Codes on Open Day

Boys downloading QR code reader Working on quiz Boys using phones

Back in March this year I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the M-Libraries conference which was held here in Brisbane. There I realised that university libraries and public libraries around the world are grappling with the need to reach their clients through mobile technology.  Why? According to Tony Kuesgen, Google’s head of technology in Australia and New Zealand, “More internet searches will be done on mobile phones than on desktop computers by 2013 as Australians increasingly embrace smart phones.”  Read more at: Smartphones ‘to overtake desktops for internet.”

I attended a session by Michelle Turner and Joanna Witt of Charles Darwin University Library, and was intrigued by a Library Treasure Hunt which they had made up (see below), using QR codes to gather statistics on how their physical and virtual library services were being used. I decided that this idea would be a good one to try out on Open Day, and last weekend I was able to put it to the test.

CDU Treasure Hunt - QR Codes

QR stands for Quick Response, and these square barcodes are a way of connecting the real world with the online world – of connecting users, with a minimum of clicks, to some type of information: a website, a text message, an SMS, a podcast, a phone number. After lots of reading and researching, I decided to use QR Stuff and, due to its simplicity yet versatility, I would highly recommend it. Because I ran out of time (and because I thought that connecting to the internet on a mobile phone might put some parents off) I simply linked each QR code to a text message – presumably stored on the QR Stuff website. You can change the colour of the barcodes with QR Stuff, and the website creates the barcode on the right of the screen as you type. Once you have finished, download and save it, or copy into your document.

Next, I looked for free QR code readers which could be quickly downloaded. Most readers scan the barcode as soon as you line up the red sqaure on the screen around the barcode.  My choice would be i-nigma, as it is very fast and clean, however some people chose to use BeeTagg instead – still a good choice because it’s free, but an extra click is required.

I set up 9 different clues around the Library, with each scanned code giving instructions for finding the next clue, and also asking a question which had to be answered. At each point the participants also had to collect a word, and then put them together in the right order to make  sentence about reading. It’s essential at this point to number your codes, to make them highly visible (I backed them with bright green paper), and to make sure the whole thing is working. I had some student volunteers go around and try it out to make sure all the codes were in the right order and made sense.

So that people without smart phones on Open Day did not feel disadvantaged, we ran a traditional pen and paper treasure hunt as well. The prize for each was chocolate, but the QR code hunt took a lot longer than the other treasure hunt, so that is something I would look at in future.

I found that people needed a bit of help to understand what they were required to do. Maybe my instructions were too brief, or maybe they just didn’t read them. Kids did very well as long as a parent was there to help them. This week we have left the instructions and entry forms out for our students: some have picked it up quickly, and others have struggled a bit with the concept.

For Open Day I created a QR Codes poster, a QR Codes brochure, a QR Codes table sign, a QR Codes entry form and a QR Codes clue sheet. If you are interested, feel free to download and modify any of these documents from the BGS Library page at Scribd.

One parent was very keen to learn how I had created the codes because he had seen them around and wanted to use them in his business.  A lot more businesses are using QR codes these days for advertisng their products, because the codes can instantly take people to their business website, email address, telephone number or message.

Benefits for the Library:  it’s good to be one step ahead of the boys!  We were also asked to showcase the use of technology in our department, and this was a good way to do that. We have experimented in the past with putting these codes on novels to link to an author’s website, but without a lot of uptake. I think it’s an idea worth pursuing though, especially when most students will soon carry a phone with them everywhere. I may start glueing them into the back of novels to quickly take the boys to more information about the book or the author, or to reviews written about the book. Another idea is to use them on our APA Referencing booklets to take students directly to the BibMe or EasyBib citation creation sites.

Other useful links:

http://www.launchsquad.com/blogs/whatsnew/2010/12/02/qr-codes-making-the-visceral-world-link-able/ –  What are QR Codes?

QR Treasure Hunt Generator –  Free online generator

QR Codes in Education – excellent PPT showing many ways QR codes can be used in the classroom

http://livebinders.com/play/play_or_edit?id=51894

http://www.technologybitsbytesnibbles.info/archives/5066

http://www.thedaringlibrarian.com/2010/12/qr-code-at-glance-comic-tutorial.html

http://daringlibrary.edublogs.org/2011/04/02/qr-code-quest-in-the-library/comment-page-1/#comment-3

http://socialtimes.com/no-projector-use-qr-code-slideshare-to-share-a-presentation-on-smartphones_b73334 –  Using QR codes for presentation

Scanning a QR code QR code at Matthew Reilly's books

QR Codes and Libraries

Phone Reading QR Code

http://www.newlaunches.com/archives/qr_codes_now_testing_in_san_francisco.php

A couple of days ago I was quite interested to hear a local real estate agent interviewed on radio about the way he is currently using QR (Quick Response) codes, and it made me think again if there could be a use for them in a library. Many real estate agents use QR codes – they put them on For Sale signs in people’s yards and so that if someone is driving by, they can using their mobile phones to read the codes. This in turn takes them straight to the internet site advertising the property.

So, how can you get your mobile phone to do this? Firstly you need to download a QR Reader – a piece of software which will allow your phone to scan the barcode (as you take a photo).  iPhoneapps have released Matrix QR Reader for iPhones, and you can view a video demonstration of it here. Of course there are multiple other QR Readers available for downloading onto any other mobile phone.

Once you have downloaded your QR Reader, you can then use your phone to photograph (scan) any codes that you see, and this will convert the code to text or a web address. From the point of view of marketing, the hope, of course, is that you will then visit the website and purchase or interact with the product.

In order to generate your own QR codes, you need to use a QR Code Generator. Kaywa Code Generator is a simple version where you can type in text, a URL, phone number or SMS and your QR Code will automatically be generated. Then you can simply cut and paste it and use it wherever you want it.

QR codes have been around for a few years now, and over that time uses for them in education have been  proposed, but have never really taken off. This is most likely due to the fact that schools are already struggling with the whole idea of allowing mobile phones  – particularly with the steady increase in cyberbullying, sexting, videoing playground fights and other inappropriate uses of mobile phones.

Educause Learning Initiative in Feb 2009  published  7 Things You Should Know About QR Codes, and here they comment: “the challenge remains to find appropriate and effective pedagogical uses of QR codes.” The article outlines the advantages and disadvantages of them, and contains implications for teaching and learning.

From another perspective, Leonard Low says “Where I see QR Codes becoming obsolete is through the rapidly improving processing capabilities of mobile devices, which are on the cusp of becoming capable of reading and interpreting printed text. Once phones become able to recognise a printed URL, for example, the use of a QR Code to “represent” a URL becomes superfluous… an unnecessary (and non-human-readable) duplication of information. Text-recognition will also be far more flexible than QR Codes; potentially, semantic constructs could be used to allow the recognition of an infinite variety of different types of data, the same way that OCR currently works on desktop computers.” (Mobile Learning Blog)

Nevertheless, I do like the following ideas for libraries from Lex Rigby, a science and engineering librarian. She suggests:

“If  we started to use QR codes to label books, journals, audio/visual, offprints etc and a user wanted to see further information about that resource, all they’d need to do is scan the QR code. They’d be able to find descriptive information, images, useful URLs etc all at the touch of a button on their phone. And what if at that moment in time they have too many books out? Well, by saving the QR code as an image they’d have a record of the resource stored on their phone so they’d be able to easily find it when they’re ready to loan it….

…How about using QR codes on your promotional/marketing materials to link users directly to where information can be found on the Internet? Do you have a library weblog? Are you producing leaflets to inform readers where they can find it? Why not stick a QR code on there so that they’re able to link directly to you? Got some particularly good skills tutorials you want your users to know about? Stick a QR code on your promotional material and they’ll find it straight away! Got an extensive reading list you want your students to read? Why not put a QR code on there to link students directly to the library catalogue record or even the article itself!!”

Will I use them in my Library?  Probably not at the moment (because I’m too busy) but that doesn’t mean I won’t re-look at them in future – unless they’re obsolete by then!

Using QR Codes in Libraries (John Lang)

Will QR Codes Take Off in Education? (Kerrie Smith)

By the way, here is a very interesting site showing documented uses of/references to QR codes on a timeline.