NEACUHO Residence Life 2.0: Living in a Quick Response (QR) world

Email, cell phone, and text messages all enable us to stay connected with people in our lives and quickly exchange communication at any time of day.  These quick exchanges have led us to expect things quicker; fast replies to our emails, text messages, fast access to information, etc.  How many times have you been sitting at a restaurant with a friend who asked a question and someone just HAD to look up the answer on their smart phone? We love having information at our fingertips and we’ve come to expect that the businesses that we interact with will make it easy for us.

Enter QR Codes.  Quick response (QR) codes help us and our students access information in a super quick and easy way.  They bring interactivity to traditional text advertisements or articles, and they have endless possibilities!

Before you can get as excited as I am about the potential, I need to slow down and take a step back, as many of you have probably never heard of these wonderful marketing tools.  QR codes are similar to barcodes, in that there is an image that can be placed on printed material that when scanned is interpreted by a computer or a phone.  But QR codes are more versatile than barcodes because when scanned they can take you to a website, a video, a person’s contact information, a phone number, or a text.  The other great thing about these codes is that they are open source, so anyone can make one, and anyone with a camera phone (or ipod) and internet connection can access them.  Access to new information is instantaneous when you scan the image with any number free of QR code readers that are available for all phone platforms.

In 2009, the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research published a study (PDF) of undergraduate students, stating, “more than half of respondents (51.2%) owned an Internet- capable handheld device and another 11.8% planned to purchase one in the next 12 months.”  We know that a large number of our students are ‘connected at the thumb’ to their phones, which should lead us to think: How to we use this insight to our advantage?

Are you now starting to see the possibilities?  Let’s look at some ways that you can use QR codes on your campus!

1. Marketing

This is the most obvious use for QR codes, and once you know what they are, you will start to notice that many companies are using them already.  A QR code on a flyer for an upcoming concert could take the student to a YouTube video of the artist, or to the Facebook events page to allow them to RSVP. You can also simply link the code to your own website for students to learn about more upcoming activities or to a google map to show people how to get to an event.  Take note that the best experience will be sending students to a website that is optimized for mobile phones.

2. Surveys

Ed Cabellon at Bridgewater State University shared that at the recent Association of College Unions International (ACUI) conference presenters were using QR codes for attendees to go to evaluations of the session to fill out on their phone.  Noel-Levitz suggests using QR codes to do quick surveys of students. Do you think your students might be willing to fill out a 2-3 question survey on their phone while waiting in line for the food?  Want to give QR linked surveys a try?  Scan the

QR code on this page and fill out a quick survey for me about this article!

QR cupakes

Image courtesy of Flickr, clevercupcakes

3. Scavenger Hunts/Tours reported on a citywide scavenger hunt in New York City that utilized QR codes to send participants to the next location in the game.  Teachers can use them to innovate learning, and orientation programs or admissions offices can use them to help students get to know the campus or surrounding area better.  If you create your own QR code hunt/tour be sure to partner students without camera/internet enabled phones with other students or to provide options at your office for students to participate without a phone.

4. Tagging resources for “take away”
Libraries are finding the usefulness of QR codes for allowing students to walk away from a resource search with the details of the search in their hands.  No need for little slips of paper and those tiny pencils that never work.  As the Association of College & Research Libraries shares, QR codes can be “placed on audio book cases for author interviews or books for reviews” or “placed on study room doors connecting to room reservation forms.” Visit the link above for a list of additional ideas. Libraries may have a head start on when it comes to technology, which is a great reason to learn from their successes for our own use.

5. Sharing your contact information
Another interesting way to utilize QR codes is through networking.  In this informative video I learned that folks at google are starting to put them on the back of their business cards so that clients don’t need to engage in the tedious process of entering contact information into their address book.  I am excited for the day when Student Affairs professionals start having QR codes on the back of their name tags at conferences so that when you meet someone new all you have do is turn over your nametag and scan to exchange info.

6. Accessing how-to information

One of most exciting ways for me to think of QR codes is about how they can make both students’ lives and our own easier.  I was impressed to learn from EDUCAUSE that University of Leicester is using QR codes in equipment rooms to easily access how to manuals or video. I can imagine my own department working on creating easy videos via screenr to link videos such as “How housing selection works” or “How to check out of your room” and directing students to this more dynamic context through napkin holders in our dining commons or on our bulletin boards.  I know that I for one would rather be shown how to do something than have to read about it and I imagine many of our students would appreciate it as well.

Student Affairs offices need to get as smart as marking companies about tracking data. Similar to the way or tracks clicks through to a website, you can gather analytics on your QR code scans so that you can later report to your Director or Dean how successful your campaign has been.  The data can also help you determine where and how to market for future programs!

When considering whether to use the codes on your campus remember that your student body (and staff) may need some educating on how to use them first. You could consider a Social Media Week like Bridgewater State University, or put explanation text next to the code when you start.   I want to acknowledge that this technology, like others will be affected by class disparity. Not all institutions will have a student body that are using smart phones with internet connectivity or may have international student population without US cell phones. For now, you can consider QR code as a possible addition to marketing you are already doing, not a replacement, and your campus can consider additional funding for mobile devices that can be checked out for use at the gym, library or anywhere else you are employing the codes.


Whether you decide to use them on flyers, T-shirts, or equipment, I believe that they will be coming to college campuses soon, and I think Student Affairs professionals can really benefit from their use.


To create your own codes and start experimenting with the possibilities you can visit QR Media for a list of generators. Make sure that you test each code with multiple types of phones before putting your flyers to print.


If you want to learn more about possible QR uses, you can read the articles that inspired me to write this article or see videos on how they are being used.


Note: Due to the large number of articles I referenced I decided to link directly to each webpage throughout my blog.  A full reference list can be found here (in a few days).

Please feel free to visit to comment on the blog post and share with others how your campus is using QR codes! 

This blog was originally posted on the NEACUHO Navigator March newsletter.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Great blog and another way to utilize social media is marked down!


  2. Posted by mattyweiss on March 22, 2011 at 12:54 am

    I, for one, will be printing out a QR code and putting it up in our Laundry Room in the Res Halls to link to our Laundry Services/Requests page. Long link + QR code + smart phone means residents can submit their concerns right in the Laundry Room!!

    The students that know what it is will use it right away, other students will ask and maybe start using the tech.

    I’m interested to see where else people go with this.

    Also, you mention about tracking the use of QR codes, is there anyway to do that without linking to a or link? I’m just curious as to what’s out there.


  3. I’ve been aware of QR codes for a while. My concern is about accessibility. Not all students have (nor want – nor can afford) smart phone technology. I, for example, am one such student.

    I know with our department- we have started to use QR codes to send students to online survey forms after programs. We also provide the web URL on the bottom of the handout.

    Accessibility is key- even if technology is cooler.


  4. Thanks to @tabounds for the link to Duke’s recent article on QR Codes. Looks like a great way to get out information on how they work an pique student’s interest:

    Good point by Brian. The link in my article shows which phones (the non smart kind) can read QR codes, but realistically students aren’t going to pay for a dataplan if they don’t have a fancy phone. Hopefully time will drive down prices and many more can enjoy the new tech. Thanks Meghann & Matty for the comments.


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