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Scan & learn! Use of quick response codes & smartphones in a biology field study.


Field study, an effective outdoor education method, is rooted in the fields of philosophy, epistemology, and naturalism (Priest, 1986; McRae, 1990). Through its use of outdoor activities, the field study, as a science teaching method, is an effective way of encouraging students to learn about science and make scientific content relevant to their real world (Martin et al., 1981).

However, despite its advantages, the field study is not frequently adopted in current biology classrooms for several reasons. First, difficulty integrating field studies into biology classrooms is correlated to the burden placed on students; they should carry heavy illustrated guide books during a field study. Second, after identifying collected species, students must record vast amounts of information about the observed, collected species in order to present findings at the end of a field study. Third, students spend much of their time in a field study searching for information on the flora or fauna at the field site by collecting, classifying, and identifying, which may discourage students from what they perceive as a boring, tedious process. Fourth, communication and group discussion among classmates could prove difficult as distance among students gradually increases in the field.

Therefore, a more effective, compact storage tool that contains the same information provided in an illustrated guidebook would ease the reading and writing (encoding and decoding) of information during a field study. One such effective tool is quick response coding (Denso Wave Inc., 2003). It provides quick and mobile information out in the field. Also, smartphone social-networking services could allow students to communicate easily with classmates and the teacher. Therefore, this study introduces a biology field study using quick response (QR) codes and social-networking services of smartphones.

Quick response codes are extremely affordable; they can even be printed as stickers and temporarily added to teaching materials for a biology class activity. Moreover, QR codes added to student tests could help ensure anonymity in grading (Chaisatien & Akahori, 2006). Use of QR codes can stimulate students' scientific-inquiry learning and social interactions and may lead them to open forums where they join in community discussions about what they have observed or hypothesized.

* What Is a QR Code?

Quick response codes are two-dimensional bar codes that contain alphanumeric text and often feature URLs that direct users to sites where they can learn more about a certain object or place. Decoding software interprets the code found on tools such as camera phones (Denso Wave Inc., 2003).

* QR Code Types

There are three major content types or actions associated with QR codes (see Figure 1) that can be viewed on mobile devices. The first type (Figure 1A) provides additional text information. It is a text-format-type QR code (e.g., journal name). The second type (Figure 1B) is a link to a web resource (URL). In the present study, the URL-type QR code is a link to the American Biology Teacher website in the URL format ( ambt). The third type (Figure 1C) provides additional Geo location information. For Figure 1C, the Geo location type QR code is "Boston, MA, USA" in Google map format. However, it could have also been given in GPS-coordinate format. Here, a more effective and appealing approach to field studies using smartphones and QR codes is introduced.


* Materials & Methods

Step 1: Study-Site Selection & Species Diversity Identification

(1) Selecting a suitable field study site. The first step is to select a suitable field study site in which students explore natural fauna or flora. The site should be a safe place to explore, observe, and collect various species with ecological and biological diversity. In addition, teachers might consider ecological significance when selecting a field study site. For this study, "Baekripo," wonderful tidal mudflats on South Korea's west coast, was selected as the field study site.

(2) Identifying species diversity. After selecting the field study site, the class teacher must collect information on the fauna and ecology of the site. The information should include a list of species, scientific names for each of the species, collection methods and safety notices, and detailed features of each species. This study collected and identified various species known to inhabit the selected site. The researchers then chose 24 of the identified species for their likelihood of being encountered by students during the actual field study session (see Appendix 1).

Step 2: QR Code Sheet Creation & App Installation

(1) Generating QR code. To generate a QR code sheet for this field study, reseachers put information on the 24 selected species as QR codes. This process of encoding can be done on both computers and smartphones (Figure 2). QR code generation is a relatively easy process. After opening a QR-code-generating website (most QR code generators are free), input the information you want encoded in text form by typing it in the space provided. The website will change the text content into a QR code and store the code as an image file. QR codes can also be created with smartphones in much the same manner after installing an encoding application ("app") such as 'iEncoder' for iPhone (Figure 2). This study generated QR codes for information on the 24 selected species via the website. In other words, the study created 24 image files.

(2) Making a QR code sheet. At this step, the teacher needs to correlate and arrange the selected species' generated QR codes and respective photos on letter-size paper to create a QR code sheet. The number of species selected by a teacher depends on the available study time at a field site and the biological diversity of the selected site. In this study, a laminated and clearly illustrated "QR code sheet" that detailed QR codes and photos of the selected 24 species was created (see Appendix 1).

(3) Installing a QR-code-decoding app on a smartphone. There are various QR-code-decoding apps available for each type of smartphone OS (operating system). Students are free to select and install any appropriate app from App Store, Android Market, OVI Store, and Blackberry App World (Figure 3). Most QR code decoding apps are free and perform well.


Step 3. Conducting Field Study Activities

(1) Exploring and identifying observed species. During this step, students explore the field site by referring to the QR code sheet and their smartphone instead of a traditional illustrated guidebook to the natural fauna (Figure 4). The study targeted high school students; however, the activity could be useful for other grades as well.



After taking pictures of found species, students identify the names of the species. Then they decode the QR codes of the identified species by scanning appropriate QR codes on the code sheet using their smartphones. In addition to easing various burdens, this process also facilitates the storing of information. Each species discovered by students and its associated information are automatically stored in the students' smartphones through the QR-code-decoding app. In other words, students can first view information by taking or scanning a QR-code image on their smartphones, and then later review the species' information by reopening the decoding app. Though each app acts slightly different, they are all basically similar in process.

For the Apple iPhone app (QR reader), the process is as follows: first, students select the QR reader and run the app by touch. Students then point the mobile device at a QR code on the QR code sheet to obtain more concrete information on the fauna at the field study site. Finally, the mobile device scans the QR code and displays its associated text information (Figure 5).

(2) Result sharing and discussion via a social netorking service. Most smartphone QR-code-decoding apps not only support direct-messaging services but also have a social networking service (SNS). Teachers can take advantage of these SNS services in the field by having students discuss among themselves via an SNS. At the field study site, students can share exploration results quickly and easily. In addition, they can dicuss results more actively using SNS technology. For instance, students can share decoding results about collected species using SNSs such as Twitter or Facebook on their smartphones (Figure 6). More importantly, they are able to discuss observed species in real time by posting comments on SNSs.

Step 4: Student Presentations & Discussions in Follow-up Classes

After a field study, the teacher should arrange a follow-up class to discuss the field study. During this class, the teacher can guide students on the presentation and discussion of their individual and group field-study findings using the information shared on SNSs such as Twitter and Facebook.


* Discussion & Suggested Applications

Using QR codes and smartphones in biology classes may provide the following advantages. Above all, teachers can create customized, illustrated guidebooks for selected field study sites that are straightforward to use and appropriate for their students' level. Also, students can effectively learn about natural fauna because the QR code sheets and smartphones contain only central information information on the most prominent species at the field study site. Traditionally, illustrated field guides contain a huge amount of complex information on a number of various species, most of which is unrelated to the actual field study site.

Because today's digital generation may be more stimulated by digital mobile devices than by traditional verbal and written presentations (Small & Vorgan, 2008), learning via QR-code-decoding on smartphones may more effectively motivate interest in learning about natural fauna than traditional field studies that use printed field guides. In other words, this approach integrates digital-friendly learning materials, and even though learning is achieved outside of the classroom and students are not in direct contact with each other, they are able to actively discuss field study results in virtual space using an SNS. However, the researchers recommend that teachers predetermine the virtual communication space for the field study before embarking on it. In addition, use of a checklist will ease the preparation and implementation burden of teachers (see Appendix 2).

Despite its advantages, this teaching method has some limitations. Information encoding capacity is limited because of QR-codeencoding technology limitations. Also, the approach relies a lot on the camera resolution of a smartphone. Additionally, to date, video and image encoding in QR code is impossible (Denso Wave Inc., 2003). These shortcomings could be overcome by using URL QR codes, which are linked to image or video files.

DOI: 10.1525/abt.2011.73.8.11

Appendix 1. Fauna at Baekripo tidal mudflats I

Appendix 2. Quick checklist for teachers.

Phase                Item                                        Check

Before field study   Step 1. Field-study site selection and
                     species diversity Identify

                       Select a suitable field study site

                       Identification species diversity

                     Step 2. QR-code-sheet creation and app

                       Generate QR codes

                       Make a QR code sheet

                       Install a QR-code-decoding app on
                       students' smartphones

                       Create SNS accounts for students

During field study   Step 3. Conduct field-study activities

                       Distribute QR code sheets to students

                       Explore and identify observed species

                       Share and discuss results/findings
                       via the SNS

After field study    Step 4. Student presentations and
                     discussions in follow-up classes

                       Allot time in follow-up classes to
                       discuss the field study

                       Guide students to present and discuss
                       their field-study findings using
                       information shared through the SNS

Note: QR = quick response, app = application, and
SNS = social networking service.

* Acknowledgments

This work was supported by the Basic Science Research Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant funded by the Korea government (MEST) (Grant No. NRF 2010-0008198).


Chaisatien, P. & Akahori, K. (2006). Introducing QR code in classroom management and communication via mobile phone application system. In E. Pearson & P. Bohman (Eds.), Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, (pp. 2181-2187). Chesapeake, VA: AACE.

Denso Wave Inc. (2003). QR code features. Available online at http://www.

Martin, W.W., Falk, J.H. & Balling, J.D. (1981). Environmental effects on learning: the outdoor field trip. Science Education, 65, 301-309.

McRae, K. (1990). Introduction to the purposes and practices of outdoor education. In K. McRae (Ed.), Outdoor and Environmental Education. Melbourne, Australia: Macmillan

Priest, S. (1986). Redefining outdoor education: a matter of many relationships. Journal of Environmental Education, 17 (3), 13-15.

Small, G. & Vorgan, G. (2008). iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

JUN-KI LEE is Full-time Lecturer of Biology Education at Chonbuk National University, Jeonju, 561-756, Republic of Korea; e-mail: IL-SUN LEE is a doctoral candidate in Biology Education at Korea National University of Education, Cheongwon, 363-791, Republic of Korea; e-mail: YONG-JU KWON, the correspondence author, is Professor of Biology Education at Korea National University of Education, Cheongwon, 363-791, Republic of Korea; e-mail:
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:HOW-TO-DO-IT
Author:Lee, Jun-Ki; Lee, Il-Sun; Kwon, Yong-Ju
Publication:The American Biology Teacher
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2011
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