Mobile Learning at ISTE 2011 in Philly

Check out this QR (Quick Read) Code.

I scanned it with my iPhone standing next to Benjamin Franklin’s grave in Philadelphia last week. I was on a field trip with the ISTE SIGML (special interest group for mobile learning).  We were using QR codes to discover interesting facts about Ben Franklin as we did a walking tour around the historical neighborhoods surrounding Independence Hall.

If you don’t have a QR reader for your smartphone, I suggest going to and download one (here’s the url that this QR code links to, but its not as much fun clicking on it as using your phone and the QR reader–

Kind of sounds like old Ben, don’t you think?

Perhaps you’ve seen QR codes in magazines or stores (Best Buy is using them to display specs on their products), but have you thought about how we might use them in education?  Browse on QR codes in education and you’ll gather a plethora of ideas for uses inside and outside the classroom.  Having done my masters work in environmental education, I’m particularly enchanted with the idea of QR codes in the field to guide students’ exploration of the world around them.

Creating QR codes is pretty darn easy.  Using the website Delivr ( you can easily add a URL to a resource on the internet  and generate a QR code that can be downloaded and printed or embedded in a website.   The resource you link to can be anything that can be stored on the internet—video or audio file, webpage, image—just remember that if you plan on using smartphones its best to link to content that displays well on a mobile phone.  Look for sites that have options for mobile phone compatibility.

That’s what our tour guides did for the SIGML event in Philadelphia.  Mark van’t Hooft and Tom McNeal, professors at Kent State’s Research Center for Educational Technology have been promoting the use QR codes in education for years, and their enthusiasm rubs off on you!  Tom talks enthusiastically about how they are bringing teachers and students to their AT&T model classroom to discover how mobile learning can change teaching and learning.  Speaking of students, a group of students from Omaha North High School created two videos of the Philly event.  Here they are.

I was one of the volunteers in orange shirts  on our SIGML field trip.  My responsibility was  to assist participants as they manipulated QR codes and help them find their way around the area with a map that Tom and Mark provided.  However, the only thing that I ended providing my group was access to a smartphone!  You see, I was touring with a bloke from Australia (hew was the guy in the video who is going to use QR codes for a rainforest project) and his phone carrier didn’t connect in Philly!  The other two participants in my group hailed from Manchester, England, originally (although now they reside in Chapel Hill, NC).  It was awfully ironic to be walking around Independence Hall with a couple of Brits!

During a break from the heat, Helen Crompton, one of the Brits, and I exchanged ideas about ways in which QR codes may be used in the field.  Having worked most recently with inner city middle school kids, I speculated that it would be important to set expectations for students to use this technology engage text—after all, we have all experienced the frustration of getting students to read exhibit information in museums.  However, if students are on a scavenger hunt, with a goal in mind they chances are they will pour through text you link to with a QR code in search of a clue.

Our ideas didn’t stop there.  What about using the physical displays already available at historic sites, but use QR codes to link to pages that help students understand the vocabulary and text in the display.  Or why not create a webpage connected to the site that is tailored to the unique learning needs of a group of students?  In Minneapolis it’s easy to create and post audio or video podcasts to a district podcast server.  I started thinking about how a teacher could communicate “virtually” with students spread across an entire historical site by merely creating a few short podcasts and linking to them with QR codes!

Here are the two sites that I’ve mentioned that can get you started.

  1. I recommend using the QR reader app at  I like this because its ad free and it keeps a record in the app of the QR codes you have scanned, in case you want to go back afterwards and revisit one of the sites.
  2. To create QR codes, sign up for free at   You can store all the QR codes you create and it tracks the number of links to the QR code.  On top of that it creates a nice web presence for your work with QR codes.

Finally, just for the fun of it, check out this cute kid talking about how they use QR codes in her classroom!  Got some ideas of your own?  Share them below.

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