Posted on

Featured Member Al Trujillo – Cutting edge: Using QR codes in a textbook

Al Trujillo Photo for featured member
Al Trujillo during an oceanographic expedition in Antarctica.

Al Trujillo is a Distinguished Teaching Professor of Earth Sciences at Palomar College in San Marcos, California. He has worked with his co-author, Hal Thurman, on Essentials of Oceanography (Trujillo and Thurman, Pearson Education) since the 6th edition, and they have also co-authored Introductory Oceanography, which is now in its 10th edition.

Here Trujillo discusses the value and functionality of embedding QR code technology into textbooks:

TAA: You recently published the 11th edition of your oceanography text, Essentials of Oceanography. Can you give some examples of what is new in this edition?

Al Trujillo: “There are many improvements in Essentials of Oceanography 11th Edition. Since the previous edition was published three years ago, there have been several significant ocean events that needed new coverage. For example, the 11th edition has new information about the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the 2011 Japanese Tohoku Earthquake and resulting tsunami, updated information in Chapter 16 “The Oceans and Climate Change,” and even 10 new geoscience animations that help students visualize important oceanographic processes. There are also many improvements in the illustration package. In addition, the overall structure of the book has been revised to present material in easily-digestible chunks, along with Concept Checks at the end of each section. A vast array of web-based resources including visuals and self-testing modules is included in MasteringOceanography™, which is part of Pearson’s online student resources. The book is available in print, eText, and digital reader versions.

One interesting new item that increases the tech appeal of the book is the addition of QR codes. QR (Quick Response) codes are those little square black and white boxes with patterns that you can scan with your smart phone or tablet and it takes you to a website. For instance, you see QR codes used a lot in magazine ads, in promotional materials, and even on billboards.

When today’s students study, they face many distractions including social networking sites on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. In an effort to capitalize on that readily-available technology, and make the smart phone or tablet helpful to the learning process rather than a hindrance, this edition of Essentials has QR codes on various pages that will take students directly to a pertinent website or visual. For example, there is a QR code in the text that links to a video showing how oceanographic equipment that got stuck on the sea floor in an active lava flow was later retrieved. So now, instead of students just reading the story and seeing a static picture, they get to view a video and hear me describe the recovery of the equipment.”

TAA: What kind of device can read a QR code and what happens when a QR code is scanned?

AT: “If your mobile device or tablet has a camera, then it can read a QR code. To read the QR code, the device needs a QR code scanner, which is sometimes called a QR reader. There are many QR reader apps that are available at low cost (or even free) for various smart phones or tablet devices. QR codes are just a hyperlink that directs a user to a particular website. By scanning the code, it might take you to a company’s website, a YouTube video, or to another place on the web. Our tech-savvy students already know what these are and use them without any help!”

TAA: Can you recommend any best practices for using QR codes in textbooks?

AT: “Many of the QR code scanner apps—and also free sites on the web—can create QR codes. You just need to enter the web address that you’d like to link to, and it creates a unique QR code that you can use anywhere. I even have one on my syllabus that I hand out in class on Day 1 that links to the syllabus online. For the digital versions of the text, since students are already viewing the text online, the QR codes have been replaced with active hyperlinks.”

TAA: Can you share any pitfalls to avoid when incorporating QR codes into a print text?

AT: “One of the concerns about having QR codes in a textbook is that if a website undergoes an address change, the QR code won’t work. To address this issue, I’ve tried to use YouTube videos that I’ve created or other sites that have been stable for many years and will likely continue to be valid in the future. Some of the governmental sites or research labs are good examples of web addresses that stay constant over long periods of time. I wanted to include several other QR codes that link to sites I’ve known about through my teaching of oceanography, but my publisher was uncomfortable using ones that link to sites that might not be as stable over time and so eliminated many QR codes from the text during page proofs. In the next edition, we’ll update any QR codes that have changed since the previous edition and also add many more new ones.

TAA: Is there any issue with getting permissions to link to particular sites and resources?

AT: No, as long as a site is freely available on the web, it’s fine to have a QR code link to it. Note that some YouTube videos and other sites do have use restrictions, so I would recommend avoiding those.”

TAA: What QR technology do you recommend?

AT: “I don’t really have a preference; there are several free apps that are available for various smart phones. If you pay a nominal fee for an app, you can get a QR code scanner that does not include those annoying pop-up ads.”

TAA: Have you received any student feedback regarding your use of QR codes?

QR Code

AT: “Students love them! They appreciate being able to use their smart phones for actual studying and they enjoy the oceanography videos I’ve created to help them understand important concepts. Here’s one to use for practice that will take you to a YouTube video I created for my oceanography students:

TAA: What do you value about your TAA membership?

AT: “One of the things I appreciate about being a TAA member is the networking opportunities with other textbook authors. Being an author is a time-consuming and individual endeavor, so it’s nice to communicate with other authors about authorship issues. I just attended my first TAA conference, and I learned so many useful things I can employ in my writing! Plus the breakout sessions and social events were fantastic.”