Quick Links: Using QR Codes, URL Shorteners and Hyperlinks

Quick Links: Using QR Codes, URL Shorteners and Hyperlinks

Edd Aspbury 01.06.2017

Much like handing out printouts, getting your students to the right webpage can be a surprisingly time-consuming hassle. QR codes and URL shorteners, are a useful way to make links more accessible in the classroom and around school and they are super easy to generate.

 QR Codes

QR (quick response) codes are those curious collections of black squares you see everywhere, from coffee cups to billboards. Scan the code with your phone and it will take you to a specific link. QR codes are primarily used for marketing purposes but the function of automatically directing users to a specific page is useful for teachers using the internet in class. All you have to do is copy the URL of the destination page, go to any free QR code generator then you can print off the QR code ready to use. Then students simply scan the code and are taken directly to the page. So, for example, I can link to my previous blog with this QR code:

I can print this off and place it in prominent places around the classroom so all students can access it. All they have to do is scan it with their phones and in short order, my class is on exactly the page I want them.
There are plenty of free QR code generators out there. With some you can modify the code by inserting your logo, adding colours and changing the style of the code. Some of these tools are not free but Unitag has a lot of free options for customizing your code. However, for quick, easy codes to use in class, customizing is a somewhat tedious extra.  
The only significant disadvantage of using QR codes is that to read them, you need to install a dedicated QR reader app as, irritatingly, mobile manufacturers don't install them as standard or integrate them into other apps. For my younger students, QR codes do not present a problem and they generally seem happy to download a QR code scanner if I ask. However, old students, so-called 'digital immigrants', have a harder time with the process as a whole, even though most of them do in fact have smart phones. There are usually more savvy students on hand to help and tech literacy seems to be inexorably rising so this  is certainly a diminishing problem.

URL Shorteners

URL shorteners take existing URL (webpage address) and condense it down to a more manageable handful of characters to make it easier to link to the original page. For example, the URL for my last blog article is: 
http://www.fivemagicsmedia.com/new-blog/2017/5/30/using-google-forms-for-online-placement-tests
That's quite long and awkwardly time-consuming to write on the board and laborious for students to type into their browsers. Mistakes are very likely at the best of times but especially for students who have trouble with the Latin alphabet. Using Google’s URL shortener, I can now link to the same page using this goo.gl/9GkfJt, making it much quicker and easier to type into the browser.

Goo.gl is my preferred shortener as it also generates a QR code for the same link but the two other main contenders are Bit.ly and TinyURL. With Goo.gl and Bit.ly you can track how many times your short URL is clicked which might be useful if you're interested in student study behaviour. TinyURL shorts are longer than the other two but you can customize end letters and numbers which can be useful for making clearer what the links are for. Shortened URLs are public and are permanent which means you can always reuse them later on.

 Generating a URL short link or a QR code takes only seconds and they can help students access the specific page you want quickly and easily. As a result your class can run that little bit more smoothly and avoid the flow-killing rigmarole of carefully writing a long URL on the board or getting the students to search for the page. I think it’s safest to generate both a QR code and a short link in case one method is not convenient for students and for this reason, goo.gl is the best choice for me.

 Inserting Hyperlinks

If you're sharing a link online, via email, social network, VLE etc, you can avoid those long, unsightly URLs by using shortened URLs too but you can also insert hyperlinks. Students can then just click on the blue, hyperlinked word directly to the target page. So, if I want to share by previous blog article, I could copy the full URL like this:

Check out my old blog here: http://www.fivemagicsmedia.com/new-blog/2017/5/30/using-google-forms-for-online-placement-tests

Our simply look for the hyperlink symbol, insert a hyperlink into a word like this

Check out my blog here

There's no practical advantage to doing this, it just looks neater, prevents long URLs interrupting text and just looks more professional.

Using QR codes, shoretened URLs and embedded links will not transform the learning experience but helping your students get to the right sources and resources without hassle can certainly contribute to making the whole learning process that little bit more efficient, less tedious, and much simpler. And that's no small thing for a busy teacher and paying students.