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Ahead of the Complexity Curve: The Barcode Benefit in Education

barcode education


Complexity is increasing for post-secondary institutions. From burgeoning class sizes to evolving technology requirements and privacy concerns, schools need a way to streamline operations without sacrificing accuracy or security. According to Campus Technology today, “for higher education to meet these challenges, nothing less than transformative change will do.”  Barcodes can help with the unique challenges in education.

Barcodes offer a way to stay ahead of the complexity curve. By encoding data on student ID cards, library resources, and IT devices, it’s possible for schools to both streamline operations and underpin digital transformation initiatives simultaneously. But what does this look like in practice? Where are schools best-served by barcodes? Which types offer the biggest benefit? And what potential issues emerge when deploying barcode solutions at scale?

Barcodes in Education: Making the Grade

The brilliance of barcodes is their ability to encode complex data in small spaces. For schools with an abundance of administrative, student, and resource information, targeted application of barcode technology can streamline both access and security. While there’s no single way to effectively apply barcodes in post-secondary settings, common use cases include:

  • Student ID CardsBy encoding student data such as name, ID number, and account balances onto barcoded ID cards, schools can easily track student attendance, restrict or permit access, and even load digital funds onto student IDs to pay for on-campus services such as food, document printing, or textbooks.
  • Resource Tracking As noted by EdTech Magazine, university spending on IT now tops $2.1 trillion worldwide. While network and cloud infrastructure accounts for the bulk of technology budgets, schools are also spending on devices for students to use in-situ. Barcodes allow IT admins to easily record resource borrowing, track student use, and ensure devices are returned.
  • Database IntegrationPost-secondary schools recognize the value of data analysis, but often struggle to collect and compile critical datasets. Barcodes allow organizations to connect digital silos with physical information sources to help build campus strategy.

Cracking the Code

Barcodes have come a long way from the ubiquitous UPC. At the University of Guelph, for example, researchers are leveraging DNA barcodes to catalog all life on Earth, while The Tribune points to a school in Gurugram that has affixed all trees on campus with QR codes to help students quickly learn more about local flora.

The key to barcode benefits in both cases? Matching format to function. While more advanced codes offer the potential for greater data storage, they’re not always best-fit for the task at hand. 

For most applications, schools are best-served by one dimensional (1D) barcodes. The familiar set of black lines and white spaces deliver one axis of information across their width, and are ideal to meet the space constraints of student ID cards. Handheld scanners or mobile devices can read these codes, and the simple structure of 1D codes makes them easier to rollout and repair as needed.

Two dimensional (2D) barcodes — such as datamatricies and QR codes — use both width and height to encode more information. For example, the standardized GS1 QR code can encode 4,296 characters while the GS1-128 can encode just 48. 2D codes are ideal to deliver more complex data such as e-mail addresses or webpage URLs.

Solving for X

Despite the ubiquity and use of educational barcodes, potential problems remain. Some of the most common challenges for post-secondary schools include:

  • Physical DamageIf codes are damaged, scanners may be unable to read key data.
  • Printing ErrorsMisaligned or poorly-printed codes can frustrate school efforts to capture information.
  • Data IntegrationWithout the right software behind the scenes, critical barcode data may not make it into school databases.

Barcodes can help post-secondary education institutions stay ahead of the complexity curve by streamlining data capture, storage, and analysis. To deliver on critical code advantages, however, schools must match format to function and ensure leverage cutting-edge solutions capable of reading less-than-perfect codes. 

Ready to dig deeper into the barcode benefit? Check out volume one of our educational eGuide series, On the Straight and Narrow.