QR code, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Christiaan Colen


Ahoy ye mateys,

‘tis been a while since I’ve written a blog. You probably don’t remember (or maybe some of our devoted readers do), but I’ve been away for half a year, out to sail the Atlantic. While I didn’t pick up any parrots or peglegs, I might have gained a pirate-themed speech impediment concerning the letter ‘r’ (or ‘arrrrrrr’). It was therefore a no-brainer to go with the use of ARrrrrr and QR(rrrr)-codes in history class as the topic for this blog.

AR in this case stands for Augmented (modified) Reality. It basically is a digital layer added to a physical surface, like a drawing, a photo or an object. The general idea is that the AR supplements reality by providing something ‘extra’ that is not there in the ‘real world’. In this way information can be added in the form of text, images, maps, movies or even 3D models and animations. The added material is presented as an ‘overlay’ of ‘reality’, shown on your phone or tablet. Now this might sound all very complex, but if that were so I would not be blogging about it. There are in fact easy-to-use AR-creator apps out there, which you can use to create your own Augmented Reality feature.

To provide you with an example I used the free-to-use Aurasma AR app (for both Android and Apple devices: https://www.aurasma.com/) to ‘augment’ a cartoon from the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish in the second half of the sixteenth century. The first image below shows a copy of the said cartoon, without any added layers.


Using PowerPoint or Word and print screens I made little text boxes and image boxes with references to certain parts of the cartoon. These boxes were saved as separate images that provide information about the main characters of the cartoon (e.g. the Duke of Alva, Cardinal Granvelle and the governor of the Netherlands Margaret of Parma).

In the Aurasma editor, on the website of the app, I added each image to a certain ‘trigger’ (a specific part of the cartoon, which you can select). After saving the project in the editor you can go to the Aurasma app on your phone and tablet and select the Aurasma scanner. Hovering your camera over the ‘augmented’ parts of the ‘hard copy’ cartoon now generates pop-ups of the information you added. For examples see the images below of both Granvelle and the Devil holding up a crown for Alva.

example-ar-qr-2   example-ar-qr-1

Using AR in this way can help you make your students scrutinize over visual sources, as analysing sources becomes a literal hunt for hidden treasure. On a side note: AR should be a functional addition to your history class and not a way of showing off your fancy digital skills. You’re not decorating a Christmas tree, there is the real danger of overkill here, we don’t want the equivalent of the time when it appeared to be a sport to cram as many animations as possible into one PowerPoint slide?

For those who are less adventurous (or don’t have the time to bother with the more extensive AR functions) there is the QR-code alternative. QR stands for Quick Response, that is, it is a barcode that you can scan with a QR-code scanner, that directs you instantly to a certain target. In most cases this is a website or an online file. For using QR-codes you will need an online QR-code generator (many free ones are available online, such as https://www.the-qrcode-generator.com/ and http://goqr.me/ ) and a QR-code reader on your smartphone or tablet (again: available for free).

While QR-codes aren’t actually that new, a little creativity goes a long way here. In times of bringing down printing costs and dealing with some severe budget cuts, why not hand out a black and white image sheet to your students, with added QR-codes? Scanning a certain QR-code would redirect the student to the online version of the visual source (there are tons of those on Wiki Commons for example), providing the opportunity to explore the source in full colour and more detail than would be possible with the printed version. It is even possible to link to specific files in either your shared Dropbox folder, Google docs or your Google forms (see one of the previous blogs for more on the use of this Google feature). Consider putting files you previously printed as hand-outs in your online folder and provide the students with just one printed ‘index page’ with a bunch of titles and QR-codes: it would give them easy access and saves quite a bit time (and money) you previously wasted on printing.

While we’re at it, why not go one step further? If you print QR-codes on labels and stick them on physical objects inside or outside the classroom, this would give you an array of possibilities for on-site learning. Just imagine doing a tour of the city where the students have to compare past to present. Scanning a QR-code on a lamp post could provide them with a photograph of the same street they’re in, only a hundred years ago. They can compare and contrast the visual source and reality right there and then with the press of a button (or touch screen).

The use of QR-codes goes very well with the ‘JIT-principle’ (‘Just in Time’): the QR-code, when directing to the right website or file, provides the students with just the right information, in just the right amount, at just the right time to further their historical thought process. This could help to scaffold their learning as well as make their learning process more (inter)active.

As for those of you who just thought: what has he been going on about? AR(rrrr)? QR(rrrr)? Well, the chances are that your students are way ahead of you on the use of these tools. So why not make use of their knowledge and have them prepare a poster presentation or an exhibition in which they make use of the possibilities of either Augmented Reality or QR-codes (or both)? Let them surprise you and question them on how they used, or would use, these tools to enhance their historical thinking! The possibilities are endless…


Pascal Tak

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Pascal Tak

Pascal Tak works as an educator and teacher trainer at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Tilburg (Netherlands). He has a Master of Education (MEd) in both the fields of History and Geography and has worked as a teacher in secondary education for seven years. At Fontys his main activities include teaching (history) didactics and the coordination and guidance of action research. He has a wide interest a great diversity of themes and topics and strongly believes that ‘everything is interconnected’ (‘Alles ist Wechselwirkung’ – Alexander von Humboldt, 1803). Therefore he has become an advocate of Big History as a scientific discipline, in which insights from different disciplines are interconnected, as well as Big History as a framework for students to see the connections between the individual subjects they are taught. In 2014 he came into contact with EUROCLIO through the Annual Conference held in Ohrid (Macedonia) and subsequently got involved in the Historiana online learning team.

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