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Using QR codes for school communications


Because creating and sharing QR codes takes little time and no money, experimenting with this technology is low-risk and sends positive messages about your ed-tech prowess.

Quick Response (QR) codes—those black-and-white squares that look like a cross between supermarket bar codes and postage stamps—have real potential for school communications.

Created by a Japanese corporation in 1994, QR codes act like print-based hyperlinks to websites and social media networks. The codes are gaining traction because they allow on-the-go consumers to access websites more quickly from their mobile phones.

Found in newspapers, magazines, local TV news broadcasts, business cards, billboards, brochures, t-shirts, consumer product packaging, and just about anything else that can be printed, QR codes work by encoding URLs, contact information, geography coordinates, photos, and other text—in any language.

Consumers access the codes via free QR reader applications available online. Cell-phone cameras serve as scanners.

Businesses are using QR codes to link consumers to store and restaurant locations, product promotions, contests, movie trailers, loyalty programs, and corporate websites.

See also:

Five tips for digital communication in the new year

Ten tips for using social media in school communications

QR codes welcoming freshmen to campus

In Japan, for example, restaurant patrons use the two-dimensional QR codes to check meal option calories, fat, salt intake, and other nutritional information.

While U.S. consumers remain wary of QR codes compared to their global counterparts, I suspect they will grow in popularity here.

In the meantime, school leaders and teachers can start experimenting with them now to connect with colleagues and parents.

For example, my district—North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools—has started using QR codes to help parents connect more easily with school lunch menus. GCS’ QR codes were created using http://qrcode.kaywa.com/, a free online tool.

“Instead of searching for a crumbled menu that has been entombed in the nether regions of a child’s backpack, students and parents can now quickly scan a code and have access to the menus anytime they wish,” said GCS communications staff member Akil Livers.

“The QR codes are a great idea and easy to use,” said Pamela Harper, a parent at GCS’ Pearce Elementary School. “They’re very helpful and more convenient to use than the [district’s] website.”

Human-resource personnel also include QR codes in their eMail messages so teacher and principal recruits can find online information about district recruitment and performance incentives for high-need schools more easily.

GCS’ Guilford Parent Academy program is adding QR codes to promotional materials so parents can use their mobile phones to go from a printed flier or business card to the entire semester-long schedule of free workshops, classes, and events posted on the district’s website.

See also:

Five tips for digital communication in the new year

Ten tips for using social media in school communications

QR codes welcoming freshmen to campus

Other potential school and district uses include linking parents and students to athletic schedules, band concerts, parent-teacher conferences, registration deadlines, inclement weather announcements, staff directories, and other important news, activities, events, and information.

And, just as marketers use QR codes to connect consumers to store coupons and movie trailers, schools and district personnel could use QR codes to connect Realtors and parents shopping for schools to positive TV news coverage or online videos that feature testimonials from happy students, alumni, and current district parents.

QR codes also could boost employee communications by making it easier for personnel to connect with professional development schedules, benefit news, job postings, and other announcements.

Because creating and sharing QR codes takes little time and no money, experimenting with this technology is low-risk and sends positive messages about your ed-tech prowess.

Like other new information technologies, QR codes are not going to replace other, more traditional communication channels. Designed to work on smart phones, QR codes might not be the best choice for school leaders who haven’t yet created a mobile-friendly version of their website or who don’t have a presence on YouTube and Facebook.

For those who already are active on social media and the blogosphere, however, QR codes make a nice addition to their PR and marketing toolkit.

Like all technologies, QR codes also might be used to gather information about consumers, track their buying preferences, and build marketing databases.

While these applications seem far removed from school communications, the ability to communicate directly and specifically with individual stakeholders makes QR codes a promising relationship-building tool.

School leaders who would like something more aesthetically pleasing than the ugly but oddly appealing QR code might want to investigate Microsoft tags, which work similarly to QR codes but offer more variation in terms of graphics, color, size, and content.

See also:

Five tips for digital communication in the new year

Ten tips for using social media in school communications

QR codes welcoming freshmen to campus

QR codes also can be used inappropriately. Because spammers, hackers, identity thieves, and others with ill intent also use QR codes to lure victims, it’s important that we understand the pros and cons so we can help guide our employees, students, and parents.

Before jumping on the QR bandwagon, test the waters with something simple yet popular with parents or employees, as GCS did with its cafeteria menus. Then check the results using Google Analytics or other free online measurement tools. Common measures include the number of scans, unique users, and number of site visits.

While QR codes might not take off in the U.S. as they have in Japan, France, the United Kingdom and other countries, today’s fractured communications landscape means that we have to be willing to reach out in a variety of ways, especially if we want to reach tech-savvy parents.

Award-winning eSchool News columnist Nora Carr is the chief of staff for North Carolina’s Guilford County Schools.

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