College students on QR codes: I don’t get it

Three in four students said they were 'very unlikely' to use QR codes.

When faced with Quick Response (QR) codes, college students have been slow to catch on to the technology, a new study suggests.

Do you snap a photo of it? Do you need a smart phone app? How long will this take? These are a few of the questions students asked in a 24-campus survey conducted during the fall 2011 semester by Archrival, a youth marketing company based in Nebraska.

Twenty-one percent of students surveyed at schools including Michigan State University, the University of Tennessee, and Virginia Tech said they were able to successfully scan a QR code, a barcode-like graphic placed in publications and on points of interest that, when scanned, opens a specific web page on a web-enabled smart phone.

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Smart phone ownership isn’t an issue—eight in 10 student respondents said they owned one. But three in four students said they were “not likely” to use their mobile device to scan a QR code.

“Higher education is just not educating students on what it takes to actually access [QR codes],” said Jerry Gannod, a Miami University of Ohio computer science professor and director of the school’s Mobile Learning Center. “And I think this is still a relatively unknown technology” outside of technology circles.

Fifteen percent said they were “likely” to scan the code if seen on campus. Still, technologists said the low cost of creating and placing QR codes and the marketing potential of guiding people directly to a web page with a simple scan would keep QR codes on college campuses.

“They haven’t generated a lot of traffic, but they are a minor piece of our marketing to prospective students … so it’s an easy component to add,” said DeWayne Purdy, electronic communications manager at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), a school of 13,000 students in Cedar Falls. “We’ll continue to monitor them to see if engagement picks up, or if they appear to be more effective in specific publications or venues.”

Some students who participated in the Archrival study thought a QR code could be scanned by taking a picture of the bar code with a smart phone. Others didn’t know they needed a third-party smart phone app to scan the code.