Leveraging the Electronic Binky, Part I
Type of technology: Digital Labels/Hyperlinks for the Real World
SAMR Model Rating: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, or Redefinition (It all depends on how you use it!)
Grade level: Any (Yes, really!)
Subject area: Any
Cost: Free (And by “Free” I mean no additional cost if you already have a smart device and a connection to the Internet)
For those of us who teach at the secondary level, the battle of the phone is a nearly daily struggle with our students. They want to listen to music, text a friend about who said what to whom, or Snapchat another ridiculous picture. Some students list their phone as their most prized possession. There is evidence that indicates that some people are actually addicted to their phones and there is even research that proves that laptops and similar devices are so distracting in the classroom that students who aren’t even using the devices are negatively affected. Yet these devices are not going away any time soon. So how can we leverage this electronic binky for our student’s educational benefit? My blog will explore some different ways to make your students’ phones a productive tool rather than a hindrance.
In each part, I will walk you through you one tool I’ve used to good effect in my class. I’ll start by introducing you to the tech and explaining a little about how it works, then I’ll show you how to use the tech, and finally a little of how I have used it in my classroom.
Let’s start with the QR code, that funny-looking box at the top of this blog. The QR code has been around for quite a while. QR, which stands for quick response or quick read, was first developed as a response to the limitations of bar codes. Businesses wanted to be able to optically scan more information than could be reasonably contained in a standard 20-digit bar code and thus the QR code was developed. It is a two-dimensional code rather than a one-dimensional bar code and, when matched with the increasingly ubiquitous smart phone, QR codes allow you to direct users anywhere you want to. QR codes can be used to communicate information, send text messages, direct users to websites, link to a video, give an email address or nearly anything else you could possibly do on a smart phone or device. Think of them like hyperlinks for the real world. The options can be a little overwhelming at first, but don’t let that deter you!
QR codes look very complex and they can be, but you don’t have to be a programmer to use them. You just need a few tools, all of which are free. The first thing you will need is smart device and a QR reader app. There are free QR reader apps for nearly every platform. It doesn’t matter what you have: iPhone, iPad, Android phone or tablet. Almost any device that can connect to the internet and has a camera can use a QR code. There are QR reader apps for your PC or Mac computer as well as web browser plugins and extensions that will read QR codes right off your screen. One of the many free QR readers out there is an app called QRReader. No, it’s not the most inventive name, but the app works reliably, it’s intuitive to use, and it is available for iOS and Android. Please click the links and install QRReader on your device. Once you have the reader installed, try scanning the QR code at the top of this article.
Now that you have a QR Reader, you need to know how make your own QR codes. There are many sites that allow you do this, again, all for free. The QRReader app can be used to make codes that you can email to yourself, but I prefer to use a web site called qrstuff.com. Like several other QR websites, this site will let you make as many QR codes as you want for free. They offer many premium services, mostly aimed at business users, but you don’t need to pay for any of those services. What I like about this site is that you can get right to making your code quickly. If you know what you want to link to, in moments, you can have a QR code that will take you there. Just select the type of link you want to use, enter the information, and then you can download, print or email the code to yourself. If you want to, you can even change the color of the foreground; it still works the same.
If you already knew about QR codes, you’ve been reading along wondering when I will get to the classroom part; congratulations, you’ve arrived! QR codes are great for guiding students to the places you’d like them to go and are perfect for extending and connecting learning activities to virtual resources. Remember these are like hyperlinks for the real world. You can put these on nearly anything and when the students scan it, their device will do exactly what you want it to. This is the part that makes QR codes exciting: they are fast and accurate. There are no websites to remember (What was the web site called?), no addresses to mistype (Oh, I thought it was “.com” not “.org”.), or layers of pages to get through before you arrive at the correct resource (I’m on the site but I can’t find the right video. Where do I go again?). With QR codes all of that goes away. The student scans it and he or she is there! Students spend much more time using the resource and almost no time finding it. Once you have the tools in place, anyone can use them. I’ve used QR codes to direct students to research websites and videos. If you have the time, check out how one district is using QR codes in several different disciplines.
Next month in Part II, I’ll show you another way to make the students’ cell phones work for you in the classroom. Cell phones, even the old “dumb” kind, can be great formative assessment tools and I’ll show you one way to get informal yet measurable feedback from your students.