Leveraging mobile technologies and Web 2.0 tools to engage those with an interest in the centenary of the First World War in the stories of the people of the era using strategically placed Quick Response codes.
Open Education in an Open Landscape
Inclusion: Innovation: Implementation
An OULive presentation by Jonathan Vernon 17th February 2014 @20:45
I’d like people to add a Quick Response code to their Commemoration Poppy
Fig. 1. Mashup of a Royal British Legion Poppy with a Quick Response code that links to the story of a veteran of the First World War.
Who are them men and women whose lives are remembered on British War Memorials?
Fig. 2 First World War War Memorials in Lewes and Brigthon
The problem with war memorials is that those named on them risk becoming forgotten words on a list. By using the Web we can find out who these people were and where they lived: we can try to put a face to the name and a story to the name – and then we can share what we find online.
There are more than 54,000 war memorials in Great Britain, most of these put up after the First World War; there is barely a community without one. There are some 900,000 names. Significant interest already exists, especially as we approach the centenary of the First World War making this initiative a potentially easy one to add, to what is already taking place.
“Fast, cheap and out of control”
Brian Lamb (2010) described those technologies that ‘lend themselves to … the networked and open approach’ (Weller, 2012 KL 244) as ‘fast, cheap and out of control’. It was with this in mind, taking an interest in the centenary of the First World, that I started to think about using Quick Response codes as a personalized entry point to the Web that anyone could generate in order to share a story about someone who served in the conflict, and to do so both online and on the street.
Fig. 3 How a Quick Response code might be used on a Royal British Legion Poppy in order to personalise your commemoration.
Quick Response (QR) codes are fast – they are easy to use, they are free; however to be effective in learning there has to be a ‘ modicum of control’ – the initiative has to come from somewhere. Worn in this way, I’d like to think that you can share directly with others the person whose name you have researched and whose life you wish to remember, as well as directing people to the content online and inviting them to ‘adopt’ a name from a war memorial themselves. This is designed as a ‘blended experience’, that uses ‘face-to-face’, ‘community’ and ‘classroom’ experiences, trips to monuments … and qualities of being and going online.
Fig. 4 QR codes are a product of the car manufacturing industry
Faced with increasingly complex components, Denso, a supplier to Toyota, came up with what is a 2d barcode in the 1990s. (Denso, 2014) Made free of patent, and using free software anyone can now generate their own unique QR code; you can even print them out on standardized sticky label stationery. There are a myriad of uses for QR codes, from embedding information that is read and stored by the device to a quick link to rich content online. The interest here is to use QR codes to link to learning resources, in mobile, or ‘m-learning’ contexts in particular, and for users to both ‘read and write’ such content. I liken QR codes to using your phone as a remote control to click to a TV channel. You point a smartphone, or tablet at the QR code to read it and go instantly, pretty much, to a web page. Unlike a TV remote though, you can just as easily create and share your own content too.
The use of QR codes in education in the last decade has been limited
Refereed papers are few, but between these and other published reports, suggestions can be made regarding their strengths and weaknesses. If QR codes are to be used successfully then champions need to be identified to take up the cause. Whilst QR codes use the power of the Web to connect people to rich content, that they may create themselves, a good deal of thoughtful planning will be necessary, not just explaining how to make use of QR codes, but also working them in, where appropriate to current learning schedules where QR codes can contribute to meeting clear learning objectives.
The 2009 Horizon report identified six technologies that were expected to be significant in the following few years, of these, five relate to this proposed innovative approach to learning by wearing a personalised QR code:
the personal web and
Use of QR codes in learning has had mixed results
Simply putting a QR code in front of a museum artifact, as they’ve done at the Museum of London and did at the Design Museum does not work (Vernon, 2013) – there isn’t enough to attract or necessitate their use, not everyone has a smartphone or tablet, and the technology is often not robust. While outdoors QR codes added to signs in the South Downs National Park, (Kerry-Bedel 2011) for example, barely received a view a day during a three month trial and in some instances there was no signal anyway.
Where QR codes have been successful is in targeted learning experiences in schools (Gradel & Edson, 2012), where the affordances of the QR code have been exploited to form part of an engaging, constructive and collective learning experience.
To be effective this initiative with war memorials requires galvanizing people to take part in a joint exercise – easier with a class in school or college, less easy with the general public.
Examples where QR codes work include:
where participants are ‘equipped’,
where they can take an active role, such as with ‘on the spot’ surveys or quizzes,
where they are prompted into cooperative learning
and where timely ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ are given.
(Awano, 2007: Information Standards Committee 2008; So 2008; Robinson, 2010; Hicks & Sinkinson, 2011; Ryerson Library & Archives, 2012.)
K Lepi (2012) Copyright 2013 © Edudemic
Fig 5. A Simple Guide to Four Complex Learning Theories. Lepi (2012)
The theory behind the idea of using QR codes in a mobile and open way, is that in the digital age ‘connectivism’ is the modus operandi. In Fig. 3, an infographic produced by Edudemic (Edudemic 2012) traditional and digital theories are shown. All are relevant, each has its place, with the digital environment offering new approaches to learning.
Learning ‘in the digital age’ enables and benefits from a level and quality of interaction and connectedness that is easier to achieve on the Web. It is particularly effective where the body of learners is large, where ‘birds of a feather, flock together’ (Li & Chignells, 2010) at a hub (Efimova, 2009) and their behaviour is open and shared so that knowledge acquisition comes through the challenges and rewards of sustained interaction. (ibid)
Only a fraction of an online population are naturally inclined to generate content. Nielsen (1999) suggested that only 1% create content, 9% might comment, while the remainder are readers or viewers. Nielsen cites the Amazon book reviewer who wrote 1,275 reviews in one year. I liken these people to what advertisers call ‘champions.’ The key influencers of a cohort or group, early adopters, who innovate first and do so with conviction and passion. (Vernon, 2012).
Fig. 6. Creators, commentators and readers – how use of the Web stacks up. Vernon (2010) after Nielsen (1999)
So if we are to rely on participants to generate content the total numbers taking an interest as viewers and commentators needs to be large. Building on Nielsen, and authors who have called groups who identify with each other through connected blogs as ‘like minds’ and my own experience in advertising I devised Fig. 4 to suggest degrees of participation.
How I would see it work with War Memorials is that as well as the key creators, there would also need to be, say branch members of an organisation such as the Western Front Association, they have over 3,000 members with branches across the UK, as a body of ‘like minds’ supported to work on the content, a figure increased further by engaging local schools or colleges – especially where the work is made part of formal assessment.
A balance has to be found, I believe, between the qualities of a tool that is ‘fast’ and ‘cheap’, and where, if it is ‘out of control’ – but you want to use it, to do so by creating parameters or ‘scaffolding’.
Fig. 7. Following ‘City Walks’ near Bloomsbury Square, London.
The potential weaknesses of using QR codes include the requirement for participants to have a suitable device, say a smartphone or tablet and communication fees. QR codes may not be so easy to stick to, then read from, a standard Poppy either. Reading from and using a smartphone or tablet presents accessibility issues. Though these devices are also being used in resourceful ways to support people with disabilities, and an audio guide, say a minute per name, for a war memorial, has its appeal.
Fig. 8. A mash-up of old photographs overlaying a Google Map
In relation to creating and sharing content in an open culture, Robert Capps (2009) coined the expression ‘the good enough revolution’. This precludes being prescriptive or from expecting perfection. Whilst output on the First World War from the BBC and the Open University should understandably attain a certain professional standard, the kind of creation required of those researching names on war memorials themselves should take inspiration from this ‘good enough revolution’. Examples include ‘pinning’ names from a war memorial to a home address, sharing photographs in a Flickr gallery, ‘pinning’ World War One photographs to battlefield maps, sharing photographs on Pinterest, numerous inventive YouTube videos, shared documentaries and memoirs presented as blogs.
Fig. 9. A mash-up of War Memorial which featured a Poppy, adding a QR code and links to an interactive online activity and a blog.
What has been shown, in museums and ‘out in the field’, is that simply ‘put out there’ QR codes are ignored. This makes the idea of ‘wearing your Poppy featuring your QR code’ appealing, as each person becomes an ambassador on the ground, in the street, on site, for that nugget of information, especially so if they are also responsible for – and proud of creating the content you then link to. The opportunity exists to engage people in bringing the stories of those named on our war memorials alive and sharing this knowledge in an invigorating, dynamic and Web 2.0 way. As a result, a deeper and more meaningful connection is made with the past and our relationship to it.
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