I have seen a lot of articles and blogs talking about Pinterest– why people are using it, how people are using it, and the benefits of it as social media. Pinterest was one of my first attempts to use social media in my classroom, and I approached it as an experiment to see how I might make these crafty bulletin boards work for my students.
Over the last ten years, I curated a categorized list of content-related resources on my teaching website. As the years passed, the list grew, many links died, and student traffic slowed dramatically. I suspect that the latter happened because students gained proficiency with search engines—and search engines improved their ability to target results, even with a poorly-worded query. I also found that students looked at the first link or two and stopped searching. Ultimately, students were not as interested in following my suggestions as they were to find it on their own. This pleased me because it showed that students are becoming more independent learners online. It was also concerning because not all students who explore on their own are prepared to evaluate websites effectively. In an effort to guide student research, spark interest in the topics, and provide students the opportunity to search and discover, I decided that Pinterest was worth a try.
Below, I describe the goals of my Pinterest boards, as well as some welcomed surprises.
Spring Cleaning – Setting up Pinterest gave me an excuse to do some spring-cleaning on my more traditional teacher website. When transferring links, I removed a lot of dead and outdated information, and added new sites and articles from my bookmarks.
Visual appeal – Let’s be honest. When students – especially young students– search for information, they are attracted to images. As Forbes noted, “[Pinterest is] about discovery, not search.” If I could create a focused, visual archive for students, then I could attract their attention to vetted sources of information. Essentially, I want to get students to look at my unit boards –rather than an image search—and say, “hey- what’s that? I want to learn more.”
Pragmatic and Dynamic – No matter how many presentations I prepare, or images I frontload into a Prezi or Powerpoint, I cannot predict where the conversation will go—and I don’t really want to. So, when the opportunity comes up to show an image, I can search my files or Dropbox folders from my desktop or Smartboard, but that takes time. If I click on my bookmarked Pinterest page, it only takes a couple clicks to get to the picture I want. And, while I’m getting there, their interest is piqued by all the other images they see. It makes them want to go back and read more. Also, when I need an image that I don’t have in Pinterest, or in a file or presentation, I can do a search and add it to Pinterest immediately. Then, I can easily access it for other classes.
Modeling – I do not want to lecture students to use social media appropriately for academic purposes, while hiding my activity or using it to collect pictures of cuteness and things I want. I also figured that, if their first exposure to Pinterest was collecting pictures of celebrities, then that would be their association. I want to model for students how to use social media to share information about the world and learn collaboratively. I am, however, reluctant to encourage students to sign up for their own Pinterest accounts. One reason is that I teach young students who are still learning how to evaluate sources and apply internet safety, and Pinterest is a new and public service– which does not currently have an option for private or class accounts. I also do not have an immediate need for students to use Pinterest for any pending projects, and I believe that the technology should support and enhance the content, not the other way around. That said, I think it is valuable for students to observe the way that social media can be used for learning, and practice their Web 1.0 skills (being “finders”) before jumping into 2.0 (becoming “contributors”).
Collaboration – I have connected with other teachers and photographers to build up my boards and enhance my instruction. Many pictures from teachers link to lesson ideas or blogs about pedagogy. Down the line, I hope to see some options for private, educational class accounts and I could see Pinterest as a way for school communities to share pictures of anything from blog posts and research, to summer travel.
Ultimately, my use of Pinterest is still evolving and time will tell how valuable it will be to my instruction. But, for now, I am glad to have it in my digital toolbox.