A Clever Use of QR Codes to Help Students Log In

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First introduced in 1994 in Japan, QR codes never quite took off in the U.S. It may speak to our impatience that whipping out a smartphone, launching a scanner app, and focusing the camera on an image of pixelated square proved too big a hassle.

But perhaps people have been focusing on the wrong target audience for this technology. Clever, a San Francisco, CA-based startup, think it’s found the right users: K-12 students.

The company best known for developing APIs that help 51,000 U.S. schools manage and provision user accounts from over 200 education technology companies is unveiling a new product: Clever Badges. The idea is fairly straightforward: schools that currently work with Clever can print out badges with unique QR codes for each student, who can wear the badge around the neck. When they sign in via Clever, they simply hold up the QR code in front of the camera. Upon confirmation, students will be logged in and be able to access their suite of learning tools.

Bosmeny gave us a test run at ASU+GSV Summit. (Yes, we confirmed it works.)

Printing QR codes on physical badges may seem a tad anachronistic for today’s times, and Tyler Bosmeny, Clever’s co-founder and CEO, admits he was lukewarm on the idea at first. “We didn’t want to be a badge printing company,” he jests. Clever figured it had this problem solved back in 2014, when it released “Instant Login,” a feature which lets students use a single login credential to access services from different edtech providers (as opposed to having to remember different username and passwords for each individual tool.)

But even one set of username and password proved to be too much for young children to remember—or even to type, Bosmeny learned. Teachers still had to spend time helping students sign on. Sometimes, they would simply put sticky notes on computer monitors with the students’ login credentials written by hand. In certain cases, the schools would deliberately set insecure passwords that would be easy to remember—such as the student’s name.

Clever’s certainly not the first education company to leverage QR codes. Plickers, an Oakland, CA-based startup, also relies on them for its formative assessment tool. Its tool allows students to hold up paper printouts of QR codes to answer questions asked by teachers, who can take a photo to collect and analyze results. 

Clever Badges is free for schools that the company serves. The remaining hassle is that students may lose their badges, in which case the IT staff can disable the badge’s QR code and create and print a new one. (There’s also the option to revert back to asking kids to typing their passwords.) Even as students move between different classes throughout the school year, the QR code remains the same.

The company has piloted Clever Badges with several schools, including Rocketship Education, a group of charter schools based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Here it is in action:

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