Using QR codes to promote self-study 2

I recently experimented with QR codes on one of the pre-sessional courses I work on. The aim of the experiment was to see if I could create opportunities for and encourage more self-study outside of contact time but while students were still in the building.

Two of the basic principles underpinning the experiment were:

  1. Recall aids learning.
  2. Guided independent study is more successful when linked to the students’ syllabus.

At the start of the course both the tutors and students were trained on what a QR code was and on how to use them.

There were two main activities.

Activity one

Each week a language poster, with a task and QR codes was put up on the classroom wall. The task was related in some way to a language or skill point the students had studied the previous week. Students were encouraged by their tutors to try the tasks during their breaks.

Examples of activities included:

  • Identifying the sentence stress in set phrases used in presentations.
  • Identifying sections of and functions of a paragraph
  • Vocabulary recall

Students had to scan the QR code with a mobile device to get the answer to the task. The posters were renewed weekly to keep them up-to-date and fresh.

\\\root\staff\home\h\hdm7\Desktop Files\Language poster 1.PNG

A small sample of some of the language posters with the QR codes on.

Activity two

Mid-way through their course, students have the opportunity to go on a trip. In preparation for this, students were encouraged to do some research on the destination and an information hunt was created.

If students wanted to do this, they picked up a question paper from reception. They then had to find the QR codes pinned up around the building, scan them and find the answers on the various websites. They were then given the answers on the coach journey.

\\\root\staff\home\h\hdm7\Desktop Files\hunt 7.PNG \\\root\staff\home\h\hdm7\Desktop Files\hunt1.PNG

Examples of some of the tasks students had to do as part of the information hunt activity.

This activity required students to scan through websites, identifying what the purpose of the website was, what kind of information it was likely to contain and where on the website they should look for it: a real test of their digital literacy.


Of the two activities, number two seemed to be the most successful. You could see students going around the building in small groups trying to answer the different questions and hunting for the posters.

Activity one had a good initial interest, but this waned as the course progressed.


The interesting question now is why there was this difference in uptake. It clearly isn’t related to the technology. So must be something else.

Possible reasons could be:

  • Although activity two was optional students knew they were going to get feedback from a tutor and so felt more obligated to complete it. There was no feedback from the tutor in activity one.
  • Activity two had a clear deadline, while activity one was more open-ended.
  • In feedback at the end of the course many of the students who reported using the QR codes said that they felt it only helped them with their English ‘some of the time’. It’s possible that by revising language they’d already studied they didn’t recognise they were learning anything new. It’s possible that task one might have worked better if instead of revising points taught in class it looked forward to language points they’d be covering the following week.

Looking back at my main aims, I think the use of QR codes did in fact allow me to create opportunities for more self-study while students were in the building.

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2 thoughts on “Using QR codes to promote self-study

  • Carole Macdiarmid

    This looks really interesting. I guess it works best if students are based in one place? and/or know to look out for these?
    How do you get the QR codes?


    • Hazel McAllister

      Yes, they have to be able to get to where the posters are, or as staff, we have to put them where the students are going to congregate.

      And yes they have to know what they are and how to use them.

      At the start of the course I gave students a 30 minute talk on what to expect during the course and what facilities were available to them across the university. A short induction I suppose. At the start of this talk they were given a list of questions, the answers to which would be given during the talk. A listening and comprehension task really. At the end of the talk they were told that if they wanted to check their answers they needed to scan a QR code, which was on the back of their question paper and put up on a powerpoint. Students were then given instructions in the lecture hall of how to download a QR reader onto their phones. Staff walked round the lecture hall helping students download the QR reader, and the more able students helped those who were struggling. This took about 10 minutes. It was at this point that I told the students to lookout for the language posters, with the QR codes on them. By the time the language posters were up around the building students, knew to expect them, knew what they were and knew how to use them. I think this kind of initial induction is vital whenever a new piece of technology is introduced.

      I choose to create the QR codes using this website: