This case study focuses on the use of QR codes and hand held devices to create a location-based story. It is work of Rob Hobson, a class teacher with responsibility for ICT at Halfway Junior School in Sheffield. The project involved the creation of a fictional narrative using iPod touches to create a trail of QR codes in a local community park. The overall aim was to develop literacy skills of pupils aged 10 – 11. The work was supported by a class blog.
5.1.2 Case Study 2. Using Hand-held Devices to Develop Digital Literacy Skills
Halfway Junior School, is an average sized primary school on the outskirts of Sheffield for pupils aged 7 – 11. In terms of intake, 14% pupils are eligible for and claiming free school meals, and for 98.4% of pupils’ English is the first language (DfE School and Local data).
There are currently 181 pupils on roll. The school was rated ‘satisfactory’ in the most recent Ofsted Report (2011). At the time of the project under-achievement in literacy was an ongoing concern and the ICT curriculum was under review. There is considerable pressure on the school to raise standards.
Rob is an experienced class teacher who has previously worked on a number of digital literacy projects with the Local Authority and Sheffield Hallam University, (Merchant, 2010a). He completed his Masters at Sheffield Hallam University and is now registered on the EdD programme.
220.127.116.11 Digital Literacy Practice
Rob wanted to provide an enriched experience of literacy for his class, particularly the boys, who were sometimes hard to engage. An interest in the ways he might use QR codes to do this led him to explore this technology. A recent school initiative had involved liaising with a management group for a new local community park, Heathlands, in walking distance of the school so Rob’s initial idea was to create a more active literacy experience by creating a trail of QR codes for his pupils to follow.
Preparatory work was important for Rob: he needed to give the children first-hand experience of using QR codes and demonstrate they would work initially in the school setting. He also needed to solve the technical problems of getting QR codes to work in an outdoor setting with a group of children who did not have ready access to smartphones.
Using QR codes in the school setting was fairly straightforward and Rob designed a simple Maths trail involving mathematical problems linked to the maths curriculum. Maths questions were printed out and placed around the school; a QR code displayed on the class blog indicated where the children could find the next questions (e.g. in hall, next to piano). The class was able to access the QR codes using iPod touches through the school’s wifi. This activity mapped onto ongoing class work and so had the advantage of minimal disruption, an important consideration given that digital literacy can often disrupt classroom routines (Merchant, 2010b).
Rob was excited by the idea of using the same technology in Heathlands Park, but needed time to solve the problem of accessing the QR codes. His intention was to get as close as possible to the experience of using a smartphone to access location-based data. GPS trackers alongside QR codes were tried without success and finally Rob found he could use a mifi wireless router to create a mobile wifi hotspot that could be detected by iPods in the park to read the QR codes.
With the technology up and running, the next challenge for Rob was to plan a project that would utilise the technology to meet his original aims: an enriched literacy experience. As Heathlands Park was still under development, the existing play facilities, wildlife areas and sports pitch did not offer much motivation, so Rob decided to create a QR trail designed to fire children’s imagination and storying, an approach which has much in common with alternate reality gaming (Colvert, 2010).
Rob worked with a group of children to create a story around the idea of an alien spaceship crash-landing on Heathlands Park. The children discussed and decided on several ideas: newspaper reports, a video report (Six ’clock News, uploaded to YouTube), eye witness accounts and photos for the storytrail, an alien language and story clues These were uploaded to a Google site and individual clues were linked to QR Codes. Throughout the project the children were encouraged to record their thoughts on the Class Blog. After several days of planning and preparation a small group of children helped Rob set out the clues (QR codes) in the park and Rob mapped their route on Google Maps
With the story trail set, a parallel class followed the trail accessing the QR codes with iPods. Most of the children from Robs’ class including those who had made the clues joined in the hunt as well, as only a handful had been involved in hiding the clues. Some of Rob’s class acted as ‘guides’ offering support with the technology.
While they were carrying out the hunt for clues, the treasurer from Friends of Heathlands Park came by. He was impressed with the activity. He informed the children that the Friends of the park intended to use QR technology to post information about the park for visitors and Rob is now negotiating for the school to play a part in this. If it happens, this will add an important dimension of community involvement to the work.
18.104.22.168 Reflections on Teaching
Rob wanted to give his children a wider understanding of ICT because he felt that technology use in school was often determined by its physical location; computers in the classroom or ICT suite. Children and young people’s everyday use of ICT, such as smartphones, hand-held games consoles, iPods, is far more mobile.
Rob hoped that through this project his children would develop ‘a deeper understanding of how the technology that they are perhaps already using outside school’ could be used ‘within a learning context’. The link between everyday and school practices was important.
Rob was also pleased with the way in which the children used the blog as a way of recording their thoughts as the project developed. Having hand-held devices helped – both Rob and his class were able to use the iPods to contribute to the blog and upload pictures immediately. Commenting ‘on the go’ meant that the children did not see writing as a chore and, according to Rob, their comments ‘seemed more real’ as a result.
After the project Rob said that that he was pleased that it all went more or less to plan, even though the technology was sometimes unreliable. The nature of the work meant that it was sometimes difficult to manage and it would be easier to do with a smaller group of children. In Rob’s own words:
Overall, I was very pleased with the project and thought that it was successful. My initial aims were to demonstrate to the children how hand-held devices could be used away from the classroom and with this to develop a narrative in which to frame the project. I think that these aims were largely met and the children developed a greater understanding of how learning technologies could be used away from the constraints of the classroom situation.
I am also satisfied with the way that the QR codes were used and believe that the children have a better understanding of what they are and how they can be used. I am sure that there are also wider implications for the ways that QR codes can be used in schools and beyond.
Outcomes for the school:
- Increased awareness of the potential of hand-held devices to support the curriculum
- increased involvement with local community organisations
- professional development for staff
Outcomes for Rob:
- creative ways of using QR codes in building location-based narratives
- the potential of using location-based narratives to develop and extend children’s literacy
- the possibilities and limitations of using hand-held devices in out of school contexts:
- the opportunity to lead on staff development and introduce innovative ways of working with curriculum guidelines: Rob shared the work at a school staff meeting and would also like to create a hands-on activity for staff in the near future to showcase the work, share strategies for using the codes and explore the potential of hand-held devices and QR codes.
This was an ambitious project with heavy dependency on mobile technology and overall Rob and the Year 6 children were pleased with the work, which involved a number of techno-literacy practices. The project shows the potential of using location-based work and the possibilities for weaving together traditional literacy skills with visual representation, digital literacy and a sense of playfulness. Rob said he will continue to use QR codes in and outside the classroom; he intends to repeat the event in the next school year with a younger class.
22.214.171.124 Reflections on Learning
The children enjoyed following the story trail, co-operating and helping each other when they could. In the field, the QR reader app on the iPods worked intermittently. However, although some children were frustrated, on the whole everything worked well. The children with the mifi kept in range of their team and they all worked together to find the clues. At the end of the session, the children blogged about their experience to tell the story.
Bradley: a metor crashed in heathlands park and mellted the mettal.
Grace: I think that aliens landed From planet zork in heathlands park. Also they shot down a tree at night.
Anonymous: I think a aliens space ship crashed or landed on the ground leaving strange markings x
The children’s comments are clear evidence of their engagement with the story and during the project it was commented on that the children seemed to be able to just ‘get on with using’ the technology.
When we had the iPods in the classroom, it was great to see the children deciding to use those to help with their learning – some children chose to, some didn’t – and it was good to see them making these informed decisions about whether technology would help them in their understanding or not.
An important aspect of the project was to give the children autonomy and shared ownership.
Sarah wrote on the Class blog during the project:
It’s is fun to do something without a teacher telling you what to do!’
Making the Six O’Clock News report was very popular:
Sarah, Class Blog: We have written some alien language and it looks great now we have finished. We have no idea what it is supposed to say.
They worked hard to create eye witness accounts and create photos of an alien landing to make their story authentic:
To my amazement, a big thing hit the ground with a big thud! The object the size of a car. It was cloudy grey with an unusual thing on each smashed side. On the bottom of it were giant things that looked like they were to help it land. We could see lots of different shaped buttons and all different colours. But it was shadowy inside. As I watched it, I saw it glide in the sky like a bird of prey. Jeff (in the Class Blog)
Observations suggest that the project successfully addressed Rob’s aim of providing a rich literacy experience for the children in his class.
126.96.36.199 Reflections on Digital Literacy
Rob’s work blended technology and literacy in ways that seem central to what we might conceive of as literacy. But as the ICT lead in school, Rob sometimes gave more weight to ways in which he could put the technology to work. Apart from some minor frustrations when the technology failed, the children seemed to rapidly engage with the QR code trail as a playful narrative; Rob did not need to spend a lot of time teaching ICT skills. The children had a positive experience of using location-based technology and created an open-ended narrative in the process. Yet this sort of experience is hard to locate in current school and curriculum priorities.
Rob’s project raises important questions about how schools can accommodate and adapt everyday mobile practices so that they mesh with the structures of formal learning (Merchant, 2012a). The literacies that Rob and his children used were carefully woven into this project and were an integral part of how the location-based narrative evolved. However, the project didn’t culminate in formal written outputs, so under the current curriculum they would be hard to recognise as ‘legitimate’ literacy practices. Yet they are valuable practices in that they replicate everyday activity – one of Rob’s original orientations. If the mobile Web changes ‘what it means to be knowledgeable and educated in our culture’ (Parry, 2011: 16), work like Rob’s is important in testing out what is feasible both in the current structures of schooling and in terms of available technology. It is widely acknowledged that we need ‘a stronger focus on students’ everyday use and learning with Web 2.0 technologies in and outside of classrooms’ (Greenhow, Robelia and Hughes, 2010: 255)
Rob’s work also highlights some of the challenges. As an innovative teacher, he invested quite a lot of time in working out solutions to the problems he encountered. This included trying out a variety of hand-held devices, solving issues of mobile connectivity, as well as designing a meaningful context of use. In addition, he had to fight for curriculum time and experiment with different ways of organising his class. Although he was never daunted by this, the case study illustrates both the exciting possibilities and the ongoing problems associated with digital literacy in school settings.
188.8.131.52 References/Links to Further Information
Colvert A (2010). ‘Bringing the story to life ARG Krindlekrax’. English Magazine, 39: 7–9
Greenhow C, Robelia B and Hughes JE (2010). ‘Learning, teaching and scholarship in a digital age: web 2.0 and classroom research: what path should we take now?’ Educational Researcher, 38(4): 246–25
Merchant G (2010a). ‘Social media and primary school children’. In C Bazalgette (ed) Teaching media in primary schools. London: Saga
Merchant G (2010b). ‘3D virtual worlds as environments for literacy teaching’. Education Research, 52(2): 135–150.
Merchant G (2012a). ‘Mobile practices in everyday life: popular digital literacies and schools revisited’. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43: 770–782.
Parry D (2011). ‘Mobile perspectives: on teaching mobile literacy’. Educause Review, March/April 2011:1–3. Accessed 16/11/12 at: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ERM1120.pdf
Links to Further Resources
About.com Homework tips iPod touch
Apple iPod touch
BBC Webwise About Wifi
Digital Directions, Educators explore how to use GPS for teaching
Juicy Geography, teaching ideas for using GPS
Kharbach, M. (2012). Teachers guide on the use of QR codes in the classroom Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.
Ramsden, A. (2009). Exploring the use of QR Codes as a Learning Technology. MIMAS Mobile Learning. University of Westminster
Osborne, C. (2012). 50 QR code resources for the classroom