Friday, July 22, 2011

QR Codes, Museums, and Equality

Reading chapter 12 of Mobile Learning: Transforming the Delivery of Education and Training (2009) for class, my thoughts kept coming back to QR codes. If anything, you can call me smitten with the little block of black and white. The chapter, called Using Mobile Technologies for Multimedia Tours in a Traditional Museum Setting (Laura Naismith & M. Paul Smith, 2009), explores the possibility of using mobile devices to enhance the learning experience within a museum. Museum goers were given the option between "two Flash-based multimedia tours," (p. 247) which included the use of handheld devices, promoting a "nonlinear exploration of the museum" with objects built into an overarching narrative (Naismith, L. & Smith, M.P., 2009, p. 253).

Since older museums are limited in their ability to alter the layout or structure of the displays, these multimedia tours were to supplement the already existing structure of the museum, easily transforming a static display into an interactive one. The authors describe how museums are meant to create "free-choice learning," (p. 249), allowing participants to investigate, explore, and develop new knowledge at their own pace, in their own style. "A common problem faced by museums is that visitors often do not make good use of the range of learning opportunities that they offer...Mobile technology can support visitors by providing both location-based information and guidance through this information based on the learner's interests and needs," (Naismith, L. & Smith, M.P., 2009, p.250 ).

Through low/no power positioning technologies within the handheld device (barcodes, RFID, infrared), the study was able to assess the benefit of such tours and the negative/positive aspects of each technology. Barcodes and RFID were deemed unacceptable due to cost of software programs to use them, as well as the display of the codes were deemed aesthetically displeasing and harder to use. The infrared technologies were deemed the most appropriate.

Most recently, QR codes have begun to spring up within museums, allowing persons with smartphones to access further information on a specific museum piece or display, and possibly creating a learning community where participants can add their own thoughts and memories (see QR Codes in National Museum of Scotland).

QR codes are cheap, easy to create and display, and are a great way to access information and communities in an instant. But if they are going be used more and more within education and public life, including within a museum setting, equality of access must be continually considered.

1. Ownership of smartphone-Not everyone owns a cell phone, let alone a smartphone. Though QR readers are free, the phone is not. If a museum includes QR codes, they should consider providing loan devices to be able for everyone to access the same information.

2. Ability to scan-Even if one has a smartphone, the ability to hold a phone steady enough to scan a QR code may vary from person to person. The museum staff (or educational staff) must be willing accommodate those students who may not be able to successfully scan the QR codes themselves.

3. Access to linked information-It is often custom for museums to provide audio to supplement the displays (including the study), and QR codes can be linked to videos as well. This information would not be accessible for the Deaf community. QR codes then could be made that are linked to a visual representation of information, American Sign Language, that would be beneficial for people who are Deaf. Also, for print information that is linked to the QR codes, audio versions would be beneficial for the blind.

It is exciting to think about the possibilities of these technologies and the opportunities to connect "just in time" learning in the real world, to learning within the classroom. Even with my excitement, I must always consider the implications of the technology and equal access.

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