QR codes engage current and prospective students

Some people may be wondering what this strange box-shaped thing is they’ve been seeing around campus, tucked into the corners of posters, flyers or bookmarks. The easy answer is it’s a Quick Response code, or QR code. What it does is provide another means of reaching out to current and prospective students here and abroad, as well as professors and researchers around the world. Both the Faculty of Health and York International have started using them in the last few months.

These handy QR codes contain information that can take a viewer to almost anything with an Internet URL, such as a website, photo, poster, document or an audio or video file. “International students are very often familiar with the codes from back home and are eager to see where our codes lead them,” says Edward Fenner, web communications & publications assistant in the Office of the Associate Vice-President International. And, unlike an app, there is zero development time or cost.

The QR codes do require a web-enabled phone with a camera and a code reader installed, which can usually be downloaded online for free for most phone brands, such as BlackBerry or iPhone (a leading app maker is ScanLife). Next, just aim the phone’s camera at the QR code and shoot and scan. “Depending on the reader, a URL or file will load or a request to load will be made,” says Fenner. They save time – no more scribbling URLs on corners of papers or keying in long URLs with the possibility of error.

Left: One of the ways the Faculty of Health is tapping into technology is by using QR codes to reach out to current and prospective students

“They also enable us, we believe, to help capture interest faster and retain interest longer because the codes lead the students to URLs or other information they can save on their phones and refer to later,” says Fenner.

York International started using them to help promote events, programs and information, and uses the codes on flyers, handouts, posters, booklets, signage and its window box in the York Lanes colonnade. For the Faculty of Health, Nora Gubins, director of communications & external relations, says they are uses to take students to the Faculty’s future students’ page. They can also be used on maps and signs to relay directions, contact information or to direct them to a website.

“It’s tough to get the attention of high school students and their prime influencers, their parents. So I decided to create a postcard to mail, by snail mail, so that the parents would see it,” says Gubins. “To make it of interest to techno-savvy high schoolers, I used the QR code and indicated that the students could scan the bar code to get to a very cool website with video clips about how great the Faculty is, plus they could e-mail recruiting questions from the site.”

As Craig Wright, coordinator of International Student Programs at York International says, “QR codes let us know in advance how our students will interact with us, so we can prepare the information to be suitable for the individual student and their chosen form of access.”

When the students are getting the information using the QR codes, “we know that they will be using a mobile web device to go where the QR code directs them. As a result, we can develop a website/page that is optimised for mobile browsing. Loading a web page that is Java heavy or graphic intensive can take a long time. Our QR codes tend to link to pages that are pleasant looking, succinctly informative and load very quickly. In these cases, we provide a link to the full page should the student choose to go there,” says Wright.

York International also uses them as digital business cards that some of their staff carry on their phones. Instead of handing someone a business card, they display their unique code for the person to scan with their phone so they can save the contact information to their address book.

“We have one on our front desk and another on our door sign which has our office hours and contact information,” says Fenner.

Although they have been around since 1992, the codes are just now really making a splash in the university setting.