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. 🙂





EDUCAUSE Report on Undergraduate Student use of Technology

29 10 2009

The latest edition of “The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2009” has just been released by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research. This report provides insights into the ways in which students use, and would like to use, various technologies in their own lives and in their learning.

Some of the “m-learning” findings across 39 institutions include:

  • students are switching from desktop PCs (71% in 2006, down to 44% in 2009) to laptops (65.4% in 2006 to 88.3% in 2009).
  • one-third of students own and use Internet services from a handheld device, with another third of students owning or planning to acquire a handheld, internet-capable device in the next 12 months.
  • “Asked to select the three institutional IT services they are most likely to use, if available, from an Internet-capable handheld device, responents who currently own a handheld device and use the INternet from it selected as their top three e-mail system (63.4%), student administrative services (official grades, registration, etc.) (46.8%), and course or learning management system (45.7%).” (pg 11).

via Tony Bates’ e-learning & distance education resources





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.