QR Codes: Here Today, but Gone Tomorrow

8 11 2010

I’ve been writing about QR Codes in education for the last five years (http://mlearning.edublogs.org/?s=qr+code), on this blog, as well as in a few published and formal papers. Recently, I have been seeing some buzz around QR Codes in education, and without meaning in any way to discourage people from trying out QR Codes (or other present-day locative technologies like RFID tags), I thought it might be time to update this blog with my latest thoughts on them.

QR Code shirts I wore to the 2007 MLearn Conference

QR Code shirts I wore (+stamps and cards brought) to the 2007 MLearn Conference

While I was very interested in their potential when they were almost unheard of in the western hemisphere, I now believe they provide an interesting technology for situated mobile learning in the present day, but I increasingly think will be supplanted by visual searching (e.g. Google Goggles) and mobile text recognition (both typeface and handwritten) within about five years.

The former technology, visual searching, allows mobile devices to visually “recognise” shapes of objects, logos, etc. taken with a mobile phone camera, and use that to retrieve information.  This would ultimately free tagging from any single barcode standard, and allow physical objects to be tagged with ANY consistent visual symbol.  In a few years, this technology will become much more accurate, particularly as imaging resolutions continue to increase and mobile processing becomes faster and more powerful.

Simultaneously, improved text recognition will allow retrieval of, or access to, web-based activities or resources simply by typing or writing our a URL in human-readable form and pointing a mobile phone camera at that URL.  This would completely bypass the need to create a QR Code in the first place, as well as having the advantage of knowing where your phone browser is taking you.  A QR Code could, for example, lead to a hidden virus or phishing site, but its actual destination is obscured by its graphical, barcoded representation.

I still see QR Codes as being a useful tool for mobile and situated learning in the present day, but I have never been content to simply look at the present without looking towards the future; and in that future, I see QR Codes becoming rapidly redundant.

Just some thoughts from an ed tech who has been thinking about these issues for a long time. 🙂

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Handheld Learning 2009

7 10 2009

This week, I have been keeping an eye on the Handheld Learning 2009 conference.  The Handheld Learning conference series is one of the two major international conferences on mobile learning, but unlike M-Learn, which is coming up later this month in Florida) is always held in the UK, and is run by the very strong community of mobile learning pratitioners at the Handheld Learning site.

One of the most interesting aspects of any conference I’ve attended has been the out-of-session discussions, and the Handheld Learning 2009 conference has done this through support for a number of social networking tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, as well as their own conference forum area, which already boasts some 4500 posts on 1500 topics.  There’s a lot of noise in all that buzz – but there are also some gems to be found.  Of particular note is the “Teaching for Mobile Learning” discussion area, where participants are sharing actual ideas for incorporating mobile learning strategies into teaching activities as well as actual case studies; from discussions with educators in the past, there is something of a divide between the theoretical potential of mobile learning and the practice of it, so some of the stories and ideas in this area are just excellent.

I’ll be reading through all of the online chatter and will try to bring you some of my very best finds right here on the Mobile Learning blog… stay tuned! 🙂





The Mobile Learning Engine (MLE) for Moodle

19 05 2009

One recent interesting development in mobile learning has been the creation of mobile interfaces for Online Learning Environments.  Here at the University of Canberra, I’ve been investigating one particular extension for the University’s new Moodle-based learning environment: the free and open source Mobile Learning Engine (MLE).

MLE provides a mobile interface to Moodle in two different ways.

  1. It features a custom Java application, capable of running on the majority of contemporary mobile phones. Some testing on different handsets shows that this Java application run on different handsets and at different resolutions. The big advantage of a custom Java application as a mobile interface is that the entire interface is dedicated to accessing Moodle functionality, rather than trying to fit Moodle menus and commands within a web browser, with its own menus and commands.  As an example of how this simplifies things, the MLE interface has its own internal bookmarking system, which operates consistently between handsets.  By contrast, different handsets designed by different manufacturers each have their own web browser which implements bookmarks in different ways, making it very difficult to train a user in how to bookmark a Moodle page as the process is specific to their device.
  2. For handsets that cannot install the Java application to access Moodle, a standard web/browser-based interface can be used to access MLE.  This provides a “fallback” for students wishing to access Moodle but unable to install Java, or, for example, using a friend’s phone to quickly check their online course materials.

Of particular interest to me is MLE’s implementation of “Mobile Tags” – a QR Code reader built into its Java client. While this doesn’t appear to work on my handset, it has a lot of potential in terms of supporting situated learning activities and linking realia and printed learning resources with online and rich media via mobile devices.

I’ve had a chance to play with our own implementation of MLE, and while it may need a little polishing, it’s well on the way to being an excellent product for mobile learning.