Some colleges use QR codes to connect with alums.

Wondering what those boxes with the pixelated black and white squares are? Campus technologists have wondered the same thing, and some of them have used the boxes – known as Quick Response (QR) codes – to connect institutional print material with online resources.

QR codes, two-dimensional colorless images commonly used in South Korea and Japan and readable by smart phone cameras, are gradually catching on in American higher education, and there is no shortage of ideas for how the codes could be used on campus.

College students, for example, could see a QR code embedded in a campus pamphlet about upcoming school events. The student would use her iPhone, Blackberry, or Android phone to snap a photo of the code, which would direct her to a website with more information about next week’s concert or sporting event.

These codes aren’t just good for promotional purposes. Professors can use QR codes in their syllabi to guide students to a site that supplements course lectures or readings.

“It’s no longer an emerging technology, but it’s still new,” said Jim Roberts, director of marketing and communications at Misericordia University, a 2,300-student campus in Dallas, Pa.

Misericordia was at the forefront of QR code use in American higher education, using the technology in campus paper materials since 2008.

The university recently sent print material to prospective students that included a QR code they could scan with their smart phone and watch a YouTube video of a typical “day in the life of one of our students,” Roberts said.

“We’re using them as a way to make our print pieces interactive and to drive audiences to video content that further elaborates on what they’re reading,” he said.

Widespread use of QR codes on campus could end the days of students jotting down web addresses on a scrap piece of paper, only to lose the paper or write an incorrect number or letter in the address.

QR codes aren’t universally recognized yet, but college students are sure to gravitate toward the black-and-white boxes once they’ve snapped a few pictures and experienced the technology’s convenience, said Stephanie Geyer, director of web development for Noel-Levitz, an Iowa-based higher-education consulting company.

“The beauty of using a QR code on a flier, pamphlet, booklet, or anywhere else in higher education is that it creates a bridge between real-world material and online resources,” Geyer wrote in a blog post. “There’s no need for students to memorize the address for your event’s web page or search around your school’s web site looking for more information. Just point, snap and connect instantly.”

Making QR codes commonplace on campus promotional materials, signs, and class syllabi won’t require an enormous IT investment, Geyer said, making the codes a “low risk” option.

“Are they going to take off tomorrow? Probably not,” she wrote. “In fact, QR codes may never fully take off for the majority of students. But they’re a low-cost … way to link students to resources and information, and the people that do use them will be glad you made it convenient for them to access whatever information you linked to the codes.”

Coker College in Hartsville, S.C., has printed QR codes on the back of faculty and staff members’ business cards, allowing students to scan the code and visit a web page filled with the campus employee’s contact information, bio, and photo.

Some campuses, such as Saint Leo University in Florida and York College in Pennsylvania, have used QR codes in alumni magazines and pamphlets.

York College’s QR code includes a link to a mobile website where alums can submit their own news to share with other alumni in the school’s publication.

Casey Paquet, director of web services at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., said campus IT decision makers should consider QR codes – which can be generated for free – as a way to engage students who are attached to their smart phones.

Colleges and universities experimenting with the technology, Paquet said, doesn’t mean QR codes are recognized and understood by every student who sees the black-and-white boxes.

“There certainly isn’t a drawback to including them on print pieces, but there isn’t a great demand either,” he said. “To some extent I even think you may just end up confusing or unsettling your audience as they try to figure out what the heck these pixel squares are on your pieces.”


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