Questioning QR Codes In Cultural Education

Questioning QR Codes
In Cultural Education:
Are they worth it?
it ?
“The idea isn’t to shove technology into
places it isn’t needed. The idea is to make sure
the right technology, in the right amount, is
available, in the right context.”
-Sree Sreenivasan,
first Chief Digital Officer
Metropolitan Museum of Art1
Preston, Jennifer
So Many Stories to Tell for Met’s Digital Chief. New York Times, October 25: F26. Accessed October 28, 2013.
What is a QR code?
Applications in Cultural Education
User Demographics: Case Study
Pros and Cons: Initial Investment
Visitor Use
Issues of Access
Evaluation: Technology
Successful Implementation: Case Study
Best Practice: Suggestions
What is a QR Code?
Quick Response Code
Barcode that anyone
can print and use with
a QR Code Reader
Provides access to
data like webpages
in Cultural Education
translating exhibits into other languages
communicating exhibits digitally
interacting with exhibits
providing more information and related media
evaluating more diverse sample of visitors
User Demographics:
Case Study from the SI
February to July 2011
Gender: 51% male
49% female
Age: 39% in 18-34 years old range
48% in 35-54 years old range
13% in 55+ years old range
Education: 63% at University or beyond
26% at College/Associate
11% at High School or Other
Income: 71% at $50,000+ per year
23% at $25,000-$50,000 per year
6% at >$25,000 per year
The average user of the SI
QR codes from February
to July 2011 was:
A university educated
man in his mid-30s to
early-50s who has an
annual household
income of $50,000+.
Statistics provided by:
Smithsonian Web and New Media Strategy Wiki
Initial Investment
Visitor Use
Issues of Access
& Cons
Initial Investment (+)
QR Codes are a low-risk investment.
“The amount of energy I put into generating a QR code and then including it in
materials was negligible. And the cost was zero, since we were printing the items
anyway (i.e. we weren't reprinting anything just to include a QR code).”
-Michael Hulslander, Manager of Onsite Learning, National Air and Space Museum
1. They require very little work to implement.
2. They are inexpensive: minimal cost to create, minimal cost
to display, as it is usually already covered by the cost to print
the main content.
Initial Investment (+)
QR codes are generally
easy to create and
ex: Smithsonian
Folklife Festival 2012
Initial Investment (-)
QR Codes are a low-return investment.
“We tried using QR codes...Honestly, the uptake was next to nothing. Also, our
Educators did put a lot of effort into making the QR codes and putting them on the
signs, so in the end it was more effort than it was worth…”
1. Some museums find creating and printing QR codes to be
energy intensive.
2. For educators, a low return may negate low risk. They might
choose to focus on other tools and projects.
Visitor Use (+)
QR codes have been used successfully in museums and
other cultural learning sites.
“For me, the neat thing was that the FIRST response we got to QR codes came
from someone in their 80s who LOVED them and took the time to write me a
letter to let me know.”
-Marsha MacDowell, Curator of Folk Arts, Michigan State University Museum;
Professor, Art and Art History Department, Michigan State University
1. Visitors who use QR codes like them. They are a useful
tool that has the potential to enhance visitors’ experiences.
Michigan State University Museum
Visitor Use (-)
Most visitors do not use QR codes.
“I just wanted to put in a brief word to suggest against using a QR code... People
just don't use them, for a variety of reasons--it's tough to scan them, you have to
have the right software on your phone and none of the major phones come preloaded with it, you don't know where they're taking you, and it's usually just faster
for people to type in a URL.”
-Marcella L. Florence, Digital Learning Manager, National Museum of African
American History and Culture
1. QR codes are rarely utilized because they are not a
standardized technology
-no standard code reader program, no standard code
Issues of Access (+)
QR codes help museums to connect with audiences
that prefer to learn through technology.
“I am currently using QR codes on a traveling exhibit to access audio
relating to the exhibit...It goes without saying that the younger crowd thinks
it's cool.”
-Anna Fariello, Associate Research Professor, Hunter Library
Digital Initiatives, Western Carolina University
1. QR codes may improve museum accessibility for
certain age-based demographic groups.
(Refer to Statistics on Slide 6)
Issues of Access (-)
QR codes exclude and “other” visitors who lack access to
1. QR codes make museums less accessible for certain
income-based demographic groups. (Refer to Statistics on Slide 6)
must decide which demographic groups need
more outreach efforts; focusing on reaching a different age
demographic through technology could come at the expense of
reaching more diverse income demographic groups through
more accessible efforts.
Technology (+)
QR codes are a cutting-edge technology.
“So I wouldn’t rule QR codes out just yet. Seems to me, they’re just taking hold. I
can’t predict the future, but if they’re big in Asia, I take that as a good sign that
they can be fun, useable, and useful.”
-– Kat Forgacs,Owner/Artist, BLISS Gemstones and Jewelry, Owner and Reiki
Master/Teacher, BLISS Animal Reiki; Former graduate student in the Folklore
Program at IU
1. QR codes are a relevant educational technology.
Their popularity in Asia is a positive indicator for their
increased use in the U.S.
Technology (-)
Or, are QR codes already an outdated technology?
1. Cultural education should use technology but make sure
it is relevant first. According to some professionals in the
tech industry, QR codes may not be relevant anymore.
Technology (-)
Are QR codes a safe technology?
QR code companies can sue institutions
that use their codes and/or readers.
QR Codes are hackable. If a code is hacked,
anyone who downloads it onto their device
may compromise their personal information.
(no standardized code, no standardized protection)
Successful Implementation:
Case Study
“We have had success with one type of QR
code. We have made two free standing signs
in the Museum. One is our public space, in
front of the John Bull locomotive and the
other one is within the American Stories
exhibition, by Lincoln’s pocket watch. Both
ask very engaging questions such as Want
to see the John Bull run? Then the QR code
is linked to a youtube video…Both signs
have been receiving many hits since we first
put them out last December. ”
- Julia Garcia, Education Specialist,
National Museum of American History
Successful Implementation:
Case Study
QR Codes can turn
technology from a
distraction in the museum
setting into a fun, effective
tool for engagement.
-Lisa Falk,
Associate Curator,
Arizona State Museum
Best Practice:Suggestions
(For QR Codes)
1. Raise visitor awareness of QR codes.
-Direct visitors to download a free code reader beforehand.
-Put the codes in visible, chest-height places.
-Create colorful, visually interesting sign for the code.
-Remind all visitors that the codes are available.
-Explain the code as a tool: what is it?
-Include step-by-step instructions for how to use the code.
Best Practice: Suggestions
(For QR Codes)
2. Make using QR codes a
rewarding experience.
Associate the codes with
popular social media:
Provide and explain the
active content to which the
code links, such as audio,
games, videos.
Best Practice:Suggestions
(For QR Codes)
3. Ensure accessibility. If possible, provide:
small, portable computers
ex: tablets
Best Practice: Suggestions
(For Other Technologies)
Do not use QR codes. Display a short URL instead.
1.USE a direct link to registered domain that clearly indicates
the purpose of the site.
Visitors will most likely understand that this link is a short URL for festival
exhibits in 2013.
2. Be careful with websites like or tiny.url
These websites do shorten URLs and redirect users to another site.
But the example link above does not clearly state where it is going; make
sure visitors are not confused by an unclear URL.
Best Practice:Suggestions
(For Other Technologies)
1. Do not use QR codes: use Applications, or Apps.
Current technology already available on most smartphones

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