QR (quick response) codes, you may have heard, could have many beneficial uses by enabling smartphone users to scan them to unlock additional interactive web content. Sadly, too many people still seem to treat them as a shiny object — something to be used for the sake of appearing trendy, not for practical purposes. I point to this conversation from a colleague at another college (offered anonymity) as an example:
Department: “We’re going to post QR codes at the shuttles stops so that people can use them to access the shuttle schedule!”
Web person: “Couldn’t we also just post the shuttle schedules?”
Department: “Ummm ….”
Pop quiz: Which is more convenient for a user: A piece of paper they can read, or a symbol they may or may not know is a QR code, and that they can only read if they have a QR code reader and a smartphone? You could provide both, but at the very least provide the former … at least if you prize actually letting people find out about your shuttle schedule.
Sadly, that’s not the worst example I’ve heard involving QR codes. Someone at another college told of a proposed PDF with a QR code that, when you scan it made your mobile device try to download — wait for it — the exact same PDF.
No. No. No. No. No!
I can’t stress it enough: Goals first, then tools. Don’t treat QR codes as shiny objects. They are gateways to additional information, not replacements for necessary information! The first college that sends out acceptance letters to prospective students that forces them to scan a QR code to learn whether they are accepted or not should lose its accreditation on the spot!
When I interviewed him last fall, the always impressive Tim Jones of North Carolina State rightfully termed the potential use of QR codes as “enormous, and we’re working with several departments and organizations on campus to develop some interesting ways to use QR code check-ins.” Imagine, for example, accessing additional information on a play, actors or the director from a program, or gaining a building’s office directory, history and local social media posts via scanning a QR code.
A good example at our campus involves QR codes on event posters that bring up a page when users can purchase tickets online. At #hewebroc, we had QR codes that allowed attendees to go online and fill out evaluations (with a chance at winning a prize). At lunch this week with the organizer of our campuswide Quest academic symposium, which often includes fretting over last-minute changes after the printing of the program, I suggested a QR code connecting to a web page with late-breaking updates.
I’ve heard lots of creative and inventive ideas that can really benefit users. What they all had in common was they involved solving a problem or fulfilling an action, as opposed to a desire to use a QR code for the novelty of it.