Continuing on in my series on digital classroom tools, introduced in this opening post, I am truly excited to discuss some of the ways Pinterest can be used to build digital literacies and promote 21st century literacy skills. Although I have briefly talked about using Pinterest to create classroom word walls in the past, this post will explore some of the broader, more flexible roles Pinterest can fill in an educational context.
For those of you who have yet to delve too deeply into the wonderful world of Pinterest, it is a social networking site that allows users to share and organize online content, including links to articles, videos, images, audio files, and much more. The defining feature of Pinterest, however, is that this sharing and organizing is driven almost entirely by a visual component. Every content link is associated with an image; this image/link pairing, or “pin,” is what is shared, organized, and pinned to different boards. Each board represents a general topic on which the user can pin a variety of image/link pairings. For example, on my own, personal Pinterest site, I currently have a board entitled “Teach” on which I pin classroom strategies and lesson plans. Each pin has its own image and link to related content. The result is one large visual made up of a series of individual images, each tied to a relevant content link. See below!
Given the inherently multimodal and digital nature of Pinterest, it holds a ton of potential for classroom use and digital literacy-building. Additionally, for students who are more visually oriented or for ELL students, the image associations that Pinterest relies on can be very powerful learning mechanisms. With this in mind, here are a few ways to think about capitalizing on Pinterest’s unique functionality in order to generate new and creative learning opportunities in the classroom. Some of these ideas overlap with one another in different ways, but my hope is that at least one of them might trigger some potential activity ideas for any teacher-readers out there!
- Brainstorming: Pinterest is gloriously vast; its scope is impossibly broad. This diversity of pins can make a Pinterest board a fantastic place to gather ideas for various projects or assignments, particularly when students are in the drafting and planning phase of composing visual, digital, or multimodal projects. Students can pin example work, project ideas, and anything that helps them narrow their vision for their composition. For students who are intimidated by visual or multimodal work, a brainstorming board on Pinterest might help them formulate some tangible ideas or starting points. For students who are enthusiastic and fearless composers of multimodal work, Pinterest’s endless sea of ideas can serve to inspire and push them to consider new and creative possibilities.
- Group Work: Pinterest can be collaborative in a number of ways. Boards can be set to function collaboratively, allowing multiple users to pin different ideas to a single board. This can help group members communicate, organize, and streamline various visions for a single project, particularly a visual project. Each individual pin also allows comments from other users, so students are able to comment on the pins that their classmates are collecting and curating, offering feedback, questions, or further resources. When considering how the this point interacts with the first point, the potential for group brainstorming around a collaborative project is huge.
- Research: As students research a particular topic and sift through which sources they would like to use, Pinterest can be a great way to collect and organize that research. Pinterest’s visual nature and layout also encourages students to value multimodal sources, including videos, sound bites, infographics, or photographs, all of which are important to consider when compiling research around a topic. As this post by Leah Anne Levy points out, a single board dedicated to a particular research topic can serve as a sort of running, virtual bibliography that a student can return to throughout their work and use to craft their final works cited page. It is important to note that some discussion around choosing good sources would help make this use of Pinterest much more effective.
- Teacher-Curated Resources: A teacher-run Pinterest account can function as a convenient, centralized way to make educational resources available to students. The classroom teacher can construct different boards to house related content, sample work, or other resources that she feels might be useful for her students. These boards could easily be supplementary or optional, allowing students to use the sources according to their needs, learning styles, and personal goals.
I personally am very excited to employ some of these ideas in my own classroom; however, as high school principal Eric Sheninger points out in his Edutopia article, any use of Pinterest in an educational setting necessarily has to include a discussion of copyright and fair use laws. Pinterest functions on the use of visuals, which are often creative works requiring appropriate citation. Despite this, the Pinterest universe largely neglects this aspect of social networking; very few pin images are appropriately cited. For classroom boards, it is important that students give proper credit to any image, video, sound bite, or other work that they pin or use in their personal composition.
I view the copyright issues surrounding the use of Pinterest in the classroom as one of the many compelling reasons to incorporate it into student work. Students often have a wildly inadequate understanding of responsible source use. Navigating copyright regulations surrounding digital sources is a complex, but necessary skill that any 21st century student needs experience with. Pinterest can create safe and controlled opportunities for building digital literacy skills while also exploring the vast, digital resources at their fingertips. So, in short, happy pinning!