Two things strike me when considering Quick Recognition (QR) codes.
The first is that there is an almost infinite variety of ways that QR codes can be used and programmed. Basically, QR codes can be linked to anything which can be displayed on an internet browser on whatever device is used to read the code and go to the information it’s linked to. As we have seen, such display and processing capacity, regardless of device, is increasing rapidly. It’s been interesting seeing my colleagues post examples of how QR codes are being used in commercial, educational, and a myriad of other uses. Since I feel my colleagues (and others on the web) have done a much better job summarizing these varied uses than I could, I’ll leave that aside.
The second thing that excites me about QR codes is their potential to serve in the use of augmented reality apps. If you’re unfamiliar with the idea of such an app, watch this quick video on Layar, which is one of the more popular apps of its kind:
As you can see, Layar and apps like it use the lens on your mobile device to show you layers of information above and in addition to what you can see with your own two eyes. Layar does so, essentially, by using GPS and compass information: if you are at this point of latitude and longitude and you are facing south-southeast, then you must be looking at X, because Layar is programmed to know that X is located south-southeast of your location. Having used Layar myself, though, I have seen that this can be relatively inaccurate at times: you may looking at an abandoned parking lot while Layar is telling you you’re looking at a bagel shop which is actually a few doors or a block down from you.
QR codes, however, have the potential to be used in apps such as Layar, allowing the user to access information directly from the QR code being read, and thus providing more accuracy for the user. Beyond additional precision, QR codes would allow for a greater variety of places and objects to be labeled and, thus, provide useful info to an app like Layar. An obvious limitation is the distance from which QR codes can be read: if you need to be a few inches away from a QR code, then it does no good when you are examining a panorama from greater distance. Who, knows: maybe a QR code could be combined with something like RFID to project or broadcast QR codes and their related info.
For those who have seen any of the “Terminator” movies (so ashamed that guy was my governor for two terms) than you may remember the HUD that the Terminator has providing him information on objects and locations on his field of vision. Apps like Layar, combined with QR codes (especially if some remote sending capability is developed) could take us one step closer to such a technology. Considering that scientists have already developed contact lenses embedded with microchips, we may not be far off.
Obviously (or, at least I hope it’s obvious), I’m not advocating that we turn our students into little Terminators (though I’m sure some teachers out there are saying “I think some of my students already have been turned into little Terminators”). The point I’m trying to make is that technologies like QR codes don’t just provide users with information about reality but actually provide a way for digital information and displays to interact directly with reality. This, like all m-learning technology, allows students to access information at the time and place it is most valuable: the time and place that they are actually interested in learning about something.
Another way to think about QR codes is that they are like real-world hyperlinks: they take you to additional, related but different information on a topic of interest. The obvious difference is that they allow the user to link from a real-world physical object to digital information. On the one hand, one might argue that it’s essentially the same thing as reading a URL, then typing it in. While a direct, substantive argument could me made against what many would consider a gross oversimplification, I won’t bother. Intellectual laziness? Maybe, but the reason I don’t feel the need to make that argument is that even if QR codes are just URL’s you don’t have to type in, guess what: you don’t have to type them in! That’s awesome! In the book Mobile Learning, which I mentioned in an earlier post, the authors use the terms “click investment” to describe the tendency for users to only gravitate towards apps which can provide the intended benefit without frustrating the user with the amount of direct interaction (i.e. clicking keys, tapping on a touchscreen) they must engage in with the app. Being able to scan a QR code is obviously easier than typing a URL like http://learn.education.illinois.edu/file.php/1646/Readings/designprinciples.pdf into your browser on your mobile device. Let’s face it: clicking around can be a pain in the neck. Even if QR codes provide the same endpoint as, for instance, a book which says “For more info on this author, go to http://www.blahblah.blah/blahblah”, WAY more students will scan a QR code than will take the time to type all that. Regardless of how you slice it, QR codes make information much more accessible to students.