QR codes welcoming freshmen to campus

Three in four WLU freshmen own a smart phone.

The newest crop of Washington and Lee University (WLU) freshmen didn’t have to look past T-shirts worn by the school’s IT staff in acclimating to life on campus.

First-time students came to the Lexington, Va., campus in early September and were greeted by IT staffers donning T-shirts filled with 18 Quick Response (QR) codes – nine on each side – that directed students to helpful web resources like the university’s IT help desk site and local attractions like the Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects to nearby national parks.

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QR codes are two-dimensional colorless images – like barcodes – that can be scanned by various smart phone apps. Scanning the code leads a student to the website embedded in the black-and-white design.

Guarav Malhotra, a WLU senior who works on the IT help desk, said sharing valuable web links with teenagers moving into their dorm rooms was made easier with QR codes on the shirts of university employees chatting with new students about how to connect to the campus’s wireless network or where to grab something to eat that night.

“Freshmen tend to be a bit clueless when they first get here,” Malhorta said with a laugh. “And I wish they used [QR codes] when I was a freshman. Things would’ve been a whole lot easier.”

QR codes are useless without a smart phone, but like many college campuses, WLU has seen a spike in the number of smart phones used by students and faculty members.

Two years ago, four in 10 university freshmen owned a smart phone. By 2010, 60 percent of freshmen owned iPhones, Droids, and other popular mobile devices.

Now three in four WLU freshmen own a smart phone, said Julie Knudson, the school’s director of academic technologies.

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