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Student Affairs Technology Update

An Introduction to QR Codes

What are QR Codes? How are Institutions Using QR Codes? Implementation Guide

Author Sarah Zauner Analyst June 2011

Practice Manager Liz Rothenberg, PhD

2011 The Advisory Board Company

Advisors to Our Work

The Council would like to express its deep gratitude to the individuals and organizations that generously shared their insights, analysis, and time with us.

With Special Thanks

Columbus State University Richard Hodges Graphic Artist, University Advancement Staff Duke University Stephen ODonnell Senior Communications Strategist, Office of Information Technology Michigan Technological University Bryant Weathers Assistant Director, Student Affairs Late Night Programming and Marketing Rogers State University Jimmy Hart Director, Public Relations University of Guelph Angi Gallupe Information Services Manager, Admissions Services University of the District of Columbia Brian Gallagher Director, Online Technologies University of WisconsinMarshfield/Wood County Melissa De Lyser Director, University Relations Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Cathy Kropff Marketing Manager, Recreational Sports

2011 The Advisory Board Company

About the Student Affairs Leadership Council

Who We Serve
The Council is a working group of Student Affairs executives from universities and colleges across the nation. In addition to the executives who serve as our main points of contact, the Council works with directors and leaders within the larger Student Affairs organization.

The Education Advisory Board Student Affairs Leadership Council

2445 M Street, NW Washington, DC 20037 Telephone: 202-266-6400 Fax: 202-266-5700 For more information, please contact Simmi Bhuller at 202-266-5853 or

How We Work
Student Affairs divisions on most campuses are being asked to do more with less, while increasingly challenged to demonstrate the impact of their work. The Council and its research staff are dedicated to identifying and supporting implementation of best practices to elevate Student Affairs performance.

2011 The Advisory Board Company

What are QR Codes?

Quick Response (QR) codes are twodimensional barcodes that are readable by smartphones. The square codes can be integrated into magazines, product labels, posters, business cards, and other media. With the click of a smartphone camera, a QR code links users to online information associated with that code, acting as a bridge between the physical and online worlds. Originally developed for tracking purposes by a Japanese auto part manufacturer in 1994, QR codes now serve a wide range of industries and purposes in Asia, Europe, and North America. Rising smartphone adoption rates have led many organizations to include QR codes in their marketing and communication campaigns as a means of connecting with consumers. The technology is spreading quickly, in part because creating a QR code is low cost and easy. Many free online QR code generators simply require users to enter a URL into a text box to produce a personalized QR code. The code is then ready to be displayed in electronic or print media. Using free online analytics tools, users can then track the number of times a QR code has been scanned. The implementation guide at the end of this report provides further information about how to develop QR codes.

Connecting the Physical and Virtual Worlds

How to Use QR Codes

QR codes embedded with personalized data appear on various media

A curious smartphone user takes a picture of the QR code1

Information embedded in the QR code displays on the users mobile device.

QR Codes: The Next Big Thing?

Increase in QR code scanning in North America from July to December 2010

Number of people in the U.S. with phones capable of reading QR codes in March 2011

smartphone holders will need to download a free app to be able to read QR codes on their mobile devices. The implementation guide includes a list of these applications. 2011 The Advisory Board Company

Source: Cody Barbierra, Smartphone Usage Continues to Rise in U.S.,; The Business Case for QR Codes,; Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Why Use QR Codes on Campus?

Todays college students are viewed as the most tech savvy generation ever to arrive on campus. The influence of technology has created several key challenges for higher education to address, such as gaining mindshare and delivering information to increasingly wired students. While students have been quick to adapt to new technologies such as text messaging and social networking, institutions continue to communicate with students through older formats including postal mail, fliers, and websites. Currently, universities are looking for ways to engage students through new technologies. Student Affairs practitioners hope that QR codes, with their ability to directly link users of traditional media to new media, will enable institutions to bridge the divide between traditional forms of communication and new technologies.

Bridging the Disconnect Between University and Student Communication Styles

QR Codes

Postal Mail


Mobile Devices

Social Networking Sites

Connecting with Increasingly Wired Students

In a market of tech savvy current and prospective students, QR codes really bridge the gap between print media and new media.
Angi Gallup University of Guelph

2011 The Advisory Board Company

Source: Advisory Board Interviews and Analysis.

Why Use QR Codes on Campus?

Leveraging Technology to Engage Students As smartphone usage among undergraduates continues to rise, institutions are looking for ways to engage students through mobile devices. QR codes present universities with a convenient way to relay information to current students, as well as prospective students and alumni. QR codes give these audiences the option of obtaining information through traditional print media or new media. Developing a Tech Savvy Reputation Several Council interviewees suggest that the chief benefit of using QR codes in higher education is the image boost that they provide an institution. The inclusion of QR codes in print media indicates that the institution is technologically savvy, regardless of whether the QR code is actually scanned. Understanding Communication Habits Because QR code scans can be tracked, these codes often produce valuable insight into how students prefer to receive information. This data can then be leveraged to improve an institutions ability to communicate with its students. QR codes are a handy way to direct people to detailed information from a 1 inch square box.
Brian Gallagher University of the District of Columbia

Benefits of Launching a QR Code Campaign on Campus

Leveraging Technology to Engage Students

Developing a Tech Savvy Reputation

Understanding Communication Habits

Providing instant access to information about campus events Connecting students with detailed information about student activities, such as recreational sports

Demonstrating university awareness of emerging technologies to current students and alumni Marketing the institution to prospective students through new media

Learning how and where students access information Providing feedback on student communication preferences

Weve definitely enjoyed an image bump from QR codes.

QR codes are a good way to gauge who is looking at our posters and publications.
Bryant Weathers Michigan Technological University

Jimmy Hart Rogers State University

2011 The Advisory Board Company

Source: Advisory Board Interviews and Analysis.

How Are Institutions Using QR Codes?

Countless opportunities exist for utilizing QR codes within higher education. Institutions are currently using QR codes to communicate with three key audiences: prospective students, current students, and alumni. The codes can easily be integrated into print media targeting these groups; alumni newsletters, campus event posters, and university acceptance letters now contain the hallmark scannable squares. These QR codes link smartphone users to additional online information. Because QR codes are virtually free to implement and require little staff time to create, campus units can experiment with different uses for the technology.

Multiple Audiences for QR Codes

Prospective Students Campus Tours Admissions Letters Recruiter Business Cards Admissions Brochures


Current Students


Where QR Codes are Used

Event Posters Student Notebooks Campus Promotions and Incentives Course Listings

Informational Newsletters Donor Pamphlets Athletic Tickets Alumni Event Calendars

From Experiment to Core Element

QR codes were an experiment at first but now they are something we are intentionally including in most of our outgoing Student Affairs publications and advertisements.
Bryant Weathers Michigan Technological University

2011 The Advisory Board Company

Source: Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Prospective Students

Council research demonstrates that several institutions have started using QR codes to communicate with prospective students. While implementation efforts are nascent, Council interviewees report that the technology has been well-received, particularly by high-school students. For example, Columbus State includes QR codes in printed mailings for traditional prospective students. Council interviewees explain that the number of weekly QR code scans has increased since the institution first started using QR codes in Fall of 2010. As QR codes rise in popularity, interviewees hope that the technology will enable their institutions to reduce their output of printed material. By linking users to online information, the small codes limit the need for lengthy mailings. Easy access to targeted online information can serve as a substitute for exhaustive printed content. In the longterm, QR codes have the potential to reduce printing costs and support sustainability initiatives on campus.

Developing a Targeted Advertising Campaign

Benefits of Incorporating QR Codes in Prospective Student Marketing

Provide prospective students access to additional information online

Reduce printing costs by connecting students to online material

Immediate Benefits

Long-Term Benefits

Appear technologically advanced

Contribute to campus sustainability initiatives

2011 The Advisory Board Company

Source: Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Prospective Students

The Admissions Office at the University of Guelph added QR codes to the institutions admissions handbook in Fall 2010 and to its acceptance packages in Spring 2011. The QR codes in the admissions handbook link to campus tours and video interviews of students discussing their experience at Guelph. Each degree program described in the handbook also contains a QR code that connects users to a video interview with a student currently enrolled in that degree program. Like those in the admissions handbook, the QR codes included in the institutions acceptance packages link to a video. When students scan the QR code on their offer of admission, they are greeted by a congratulatory video featuring the university President and a diverse sample of current students. This initiative provides a unique personal touch for admitted students.

Linking Prospects to Campus Videos

University of Guelph Admissions Handbook

QR Code links to video of student discussing her experience at the institution.

Prospective students without a smartphone can access the video through the URL provided beneath the QR code.

2011 The Advisory Board Company

Source: University of Guelph Admissions Handbook; Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Prospective Students

The University of WisconsinMarshfield/Wood County began using QR codes in January 2011 to advertise the institutions campus preview day for prospective students. QR codes were included on campus preview posters and smartphone users that photographed these QR codes were taken to the registration page for the event. About 10 percent of the days attendees registered for the event by scanning a code. The institution also encourages campus recruiters and athletic coaches to include QR codes on their business cards. These codes link users to additional online information about UW-Marshfield/Wood County. Contacts at the institution explain that while actual QR code scans may be relatively low, usage statistics do not reflect the full benefit of the technology. QR codes tell readers, regardless of whether they scan the code, that the institution is technologically advanced. UW-Marshfield/Wood County has also experienced an increase in publicity due to the adoption of the technology; several articles and local television news clips have featured the institutions use of QR codes.

Building a Tech Savvy Image at UW-Marshfield/Wood County

Campus Preview Poster Recruiter Business Card

Enhancing Institutional Reputation

One reason we continue to develop QR codes is the psychological aspect. QR codes tell readerseven if they dont scan the QR codethat our institution is technologically ahead of the curve.

Melissa De Lyser University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source: University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County Campus Preview Poster; Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Current Students

While QR codes are becoming increasingly popular in North America, many students may not be familiar with what the technology is or how to use it. Council research suggests that university QR codes are more likely to be scanned when the codes are accompanied by a campaign that educates students about the technology. At Rogers State, the QR code education campaign includes three key elements: a webpage that provides an overview of the technology, explanatory text printed alongside QR codes that describes how to use the technology, and a personalized QR code character that acts as the face of the education campaign. To make QR codes more approachable, Rogers State University developed Qwerty, a personified QR code character that connects users to a page on the RSU website with an explanation of the technology. Since launching the campaign, Council interviewees reveal that student awareness of the technology has increased by 80 to 90 percent.

Launching an Education Campaign at Rogers State University

Qwerty: Roger States Educational QR Code

Rogers State Educational Webpage

Rogers State University has developed a webpage to educate students about QR codes and how the university uses the technology. The webpage is divided into the following sections: What Is a QR Code? How Do I Use a QR Code? List of Free QR Code Reader Applications Sample QR Codes How Will RSU Use QR Codes? Where Else Will I Find QR Codes?

For additional details on the Rogers State webpage, visit:

Number of times that Qwerty was scanned in the week after the QR code campaign was featured in the local newspaper

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source:; Advisory Board Company interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Current Students

Many institutions are also using QR codes to increase student engagement. QR codes can be especially effective for boosting student participation in campus activities. For example, Rogers State University and Michigan Technological University include QR codes on event posters for programs such as Homecoming or Alternative Spring Break. The codes immediately connect students to additional event information or online registration, eliminating the need for students to memorize event details. At Virginia Tech, the Recreational Sports department is using QR codes to boost student participation in intramural sports, attendance at athletic events, and utilization of recreational facilities. QR codes appear on the departments annual calendar that is handed out to incoming students during orientation.

Increasing Student Engagement in Campus Activities

Virginia Tech Recreational Sports Calendar

The calendar QR codes connect users to the Recreational Sports website and provide further information about upcoming events, the recreational center, student employment, and intramural sports. The departments website also includes a description of how to use the technology.

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source: Virginia Tech Recreational Sports Calendar; Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Current Students

Council research shows that QR codes can also be used to increase traffic to university social media accounts. At Rogers State and Michigan Tech, print media contain QR codes that link smartphone users to a Facebook page, blog, or mobile application. The Student Activities department at Michigan Tech has used this strategy to generate student interest in the institutions Facebook page. The number of likes on the institutions Facebook page has increased as a result of the QR code campaign. Rogers State uses QR codes to connect students to the institutions iPhone application. In particular, the athletics department has utilized QR codes on its printed promotional material to direct users to the application. While QR codes can be an excellent way to connect students with university social media accounts, Council interviewees stress the importance of developing QR codes that link the intended audience to relevant content. If a student scans a QR code that links to a social media account with information that is not interesting or useful, it is unlikely that the student will scan another university QR code. Council interviews reveal that students first impressions of university QR codes often determine the overall success of an institutions QR code campaign.
2011 The Advisory Board Company

Generating Traffic to University Social Media Accounts

Rogers State uses QR codes to connect students to its RSU Hillcats mobile application.

Other Social Media Ideas

QR codes can be used to link users to other social media accounts, such as: Twitter Student Affairs blogs Youtube videos LinkedIn

Michigan Techs QR code campaign generates traffic to the institutions Facebook page by encouraging students to connect with the university online.

First Impressions Matter

QR codes are only going to be as successful as the reputation they have for delivering valuable content. If the first few QR codes that students scan do not provide them with content that is helpful to them, you are going to hurt your own initiative.
Jimmy Hart Rogers State University


Source: Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Current Students

Analytics tools provide valuable insight into how students use different media and technology. For example, free online analytics tools enable QR code creators to see how many times a code has been scanned, what type of device scanned the code (e.g., Android, iPhone), and when the code was scanned. This information can help Student Affairs staff and administrators more effectively reach students. Michigan Technological Universitys Student Activities department uses QR codes to help gauge the audience of the departments publications and posters. The institution tracks the number of scans from QR codes attached to unique publications located in different areas of campus. Some QR codes have been scanned fifty times while others have been scanned hundreds of times. Rogers State University encouraged its students to complete the National Survey of Student Engagement Survey (NSSE) through three types of media: posters, table tents, and email. The posters and table tents contained QR codes linking students to the survey. Analytics data revealed that of the three sources of information, email was by far the most common way in which students accessed the survey.

Drilling Down Student Communication and Media Habits

At Rogers State, QR code analytics reveal that email is the best method for producing a high survey response rate from students. This information has helped the institution improve its survey response rates.

QR Codes Create Tracking Ability

Through analytics tools, staff have the ability to track: Total number of scans Number of unique scans Type of device scanning code (e.g., iPhone, Android, Blackberry) Date and time of each scan Geographic location of scanner

Michigan Techs Student Activities department is using QR code analytics information to understand where and how students access information about campus activities. This information has helped the department more strategically place posters and publications.

Gain Insight into Student Communication Patterns

The QR code analytics and tracking ability given to communicators is very valuable: it gives you good insight into what technology students are using and how they are accessing various publications and news.
Jimmy Hart Rogers State University

In Student Affairs a big part of our job is to do assessment. We figured QR codes would be a good way to contribute to that by gauging who is looking at posters and publications.
Bryant Weathers Michigan Technological University

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source: Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Target Audience: Alumni

To stay connected with alumni, Rogers State University places QR codes in the printed edition of the universitys alumni magazine to offer additional information on programs or events on campus. The institution also uses the technology to attract alumni donations. For example, Rogers States Bit by Bit Therapeutic Riding Program includes QR codes on its printed promotional material. Council interviewees report that the codes have helped elicit donor support for the program. This success has prompted other units on campus to incorporate the technology into their awareness campaigns. Council interviews reveal that few institutions currently utilize QR codes to engage alumni. Some interviewees are skeptical of using QR codes to communicate with alumni, explaining that older graduates can be reluctant to engage with emerging technologies. However, as older alumni become more familiar with QR codes, institutions may see increased utilization.

Connecting with Alumni Through Technology

Rogers State University

Rogers State alumni with smartphone

Printed alumni newsletter QR code

QR code links alumni to additional information online

Older Alumni Still a Challenge

It's not too hard to get students with smart phones on board with QR codes, though for students and alumni older than 35 years of age it's difficult they tend to be more resistant to new technology.
Richard Hodges Columbus State University

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source: Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Implementation Guide: How to Create a QR Code

Council interviewees strongly recommend that institutions adopt QR codes, explaining that the technology offers a high return for almost no cost. QR codes can be generated in less than five minutes using free online tools and four simple steps. A short list of free QR code generators, URL shorteners, and QR code readers is provided to the right. The first step to creating a QR code is to determine the information to be embedded in the code. While QR codes can link to several types of information, higher education institutions primarily use QR codes to connect users to a website. Interviewees advise that websites accessed through QR codes be easily readable on mobile devices. Secondly, the website URL must be shortened to ensure that the QR code does not become too complex. Longer URLs produce codes that are difficult to read on a smartphone camera. This shortened URL can then be entered into a QR code generator, which will produce the QR code in a matter of seconds. At this stage, the code is ready to be integrated into online or print media.

Creating a Basic QR Code in 4 Easy Steps 1 2 3 4

Select Webpage that Displays Properly on a Mobile Device Enter URL for Webpage into URL Shortener Input Shortened URL into QR Code Generator Insert the Generated QR Code into Print or Online Media

QR Code Generators http://generator.beetagg.c om/ /content/home m/

URL Shorteners

QR Code Reader Applications wnload/dl /neoreader/id284973754?mt=8 /En/basic/download.asp

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source:; Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Implementation Guide: Next Steps

While QR codes are free and easy to create, there are several implementation measures that improve the success of the technology. The Council recommends that practitioners test the QR code with a smartphone before making it available to the public. To ensure maximum readability, the code must be large with a strong contrast between the background and the interior modules. Additionally, its important to verify that the content accessed via QR code displays properly on a smartphone. Interviewees strongly encourage practitioners to utilize QR code analytics tools. These tools provide two added benefits: they measure the success of the technology and they produce valuable insight into student communication and technology habits. Several websites offer free analytics tools, a handful of which are accessible through the links provided to the right.

Factors to Consider Before Launching a QR Code Campaign

Key Questions


Has the code been tested by a staff member to see if it works? Does the QR code link to a mobile-compatible website with relevant content? Do staff have the ability to track QR code scans and statistics? Are staff prepared to launch an informative webpage that describes what QR codes are and how to use them? Are there backup URLs next to the QR codes for non-smartphone holders to access content?

3 4 5

Analytics Tools

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source: Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Implementation Guide: Innovative Ideas for Using QR Codes

Communicating Routine Information

Offering Incentives and Special Deals

Driving Student Engagement

Linking student planner codes to university calendar Giving nutritional information on dining hall menu items Building and place details on campus maps

Free food in campus dining halls or local restaurants Access to VIP events Special deals on outdoor equipment, school merchandise, or local attractions

Orientation scavenger hunt Mystery QR codes for special campus events QR code wall of upcoming events Links to Student Affairs Twitter accounts and blogs

Incentivizing QR Code Scans

People are much more likely to scan a QR code and attend an event when there is an incentivelike free cheeseburgers in the dining hall.
Bryant Weathers Michigan Technological University

2011 The Advisory Board Company


Source: Advisory Board interviews and analysis.

Student Affairs Leadership Council Education Advisory Board

2445 M Street, NW Washington DC 20037 Telephone: 202-266-5600 Facsimile: 202-266-5700
2011 The Advisory Board Company