Blog Post

My Interest in Pinterest

To pin, or not to pin: that is the question.

But nobody thinks of it that way: that is, as an ethical, moral, or imperative question.  We just keep pinning and pinning, tagging and marking the world into a virtual map cut and paste by our fingers.  Until the map is the territory and "all visible objects...are but as pasteboard masks."  

So let us not follow Ahab and "strike through the mask" at something deeper.  No.  Let us remain on the surface, skimming and cruising like Melville's prose, catching and collecting the loose-fish waiting to be pinned and fastened by hands.

My Interest in Pinterest is twofold: on the one hand, I am fascinated by the cultural obsession with tagging, pinning, and marking up the world of signs into a map of desire - a map that we control through simulated digits that allow us to tickle, touch, and titillate our fancy.  It is the world of poaching extended into virtual space, the world of reading and writing and editing all at once, and we are all addicted.  After a year with my iPad, I am convinced of only one thing: that the addiction lies in the fingers.  They are the extension that out paces the mind and the body and just keeps touching and pinning, dragging and clicking, punching and smoothing.  

What does this curious activity teach us about what it means to write?  Before we arrive at the archival possibilities of Pinterest - its potential as revolving archive for communal and individual desire (the 21st century equivalent of the 19th century chapbook, perhaps) - I think we have to admit that Pinterest, at bottom, is really about the interest in pinning.  An interest that we all share.

My other interest in Pinterest has to do with the classroom, for this semester I have been experimenting with Pinterest in one of my sections of Interpretation of Literature at the University of Iowa.  It is one of the few required courses at the university, and for most students it is the only literature class they will take during their four years.  It is taught mostly by graduate students in the English Department or the Writer's Workshop, who design and develop the course however they see fit.  The course descriptions usually indicate a particular slant (poetry, multicultural literature, drama, etc.), but according to my informal survey on the first day of class, few students read the descriptions.  Only two students raised their hand when I asked who had; everybody else just said the time of the course fit their schedule.  Nobody mentioned the desire to read Henry James.

But I'll cut to the chase.  Suffice it to say that I renamed the course "Reading and Writing Across Media" and chose to focus the semester around literature that either implicitly or explicitly engages questions related to technology and mediation.  You can check out the course website if you're interested, and I encourage you to check back in a few weeks to read my students's Reality TV essays.  They should be up on the site in a few weeks.  

One of the weekly role assignments for the class (handled by a different group each week), is to maintain our Class Pinterest Board by finding and "pinning" two to three different items (pictures, articles, etc.) that somehow touch upon the week's readings and discussions.  I wanted to see what would happen if we tried to take Pinterest seriously as a forum for archiving material.  Would students take the time to look for helpful material, or would they just quickly "pin" the first thing that Google fed them.  I didn't have many expectations at first, and to be honest, I'm still not sure what I think about my own attempt to appropriate the service for educational purposes.  But I take solace in the fact that it keeps the literature in their mind for at least a few more minutes; and the fact that it accounts for less than five percent of their participation grade.  

So here's what I've learned thus far.  The worst part is that I have stare at wedding dresses everytime I sign in to my account.  To create a "communal board" you have to follow all of your students and they have to follow you, which means that you have to open your pasteboard mask to the flood of college fantasies.  But this is a minor issue that recedes into the background once you've bookmarked your class board, bypassing the wider sea.  The best part is that students actually find some really interesting material, drawing connections between the literature and popular culture, on the one hand, but also excavating information about primary source material that is available online.  At this point in the semester, however, I'm starting to question what I can possible have the students do with this material?  I've already indicated that they are free to pursue any "pin" they find interesting, just as they are free to use some of the material in their blogs posts or future writing assignments.  But few have.  And few probably will.  

So what else?  What else can one do with Pinterest once the "pinning" has taken place?  It's not a database so we can't really process the information; we can't even sort the information by tags, as far I can tell.  So what are we left with?  A virtual pasteboard of curiosities?  A reflection of what the students find interesting enough to search for online?  A popular culture rendition of the course's reading list?

I'm not sure what I have at this point, but I'm pretty certain that it's something new.  At least new enough for companies like Learnist to follow suit and invest money in it.  It's a collection of something.  Something trivial and useless perhaps, but at least something.  So let me end with an appeal for help.  Has anybody tried to use Pinterest (or a service like it) for a course they've taught?  Or does anybody have any thoughts on how to turn this something into something more?  Is there any value in asking students to play, poach, and tickle their minds with something other than wedding dresses?   

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8 comments

Pinterest in a class! That is amazing! 

What to do with the material once it's amassed - it's an interesting question. It's one that archives, libraries, databases, etc., all share too. 

Have you seen Omeka? It's a free, open-source publishing platform that specializes in the production of an exhibit or collection of material. Here is a list of sites using Omeka too. Maybe you could have the students produce an archive or story on Omeka - figure out how some of their pins make sense together, and how they could be used in a cohesive manner. What's interesting about them? What story are they telling together? Or could they talk about Pinterest and collecting in general? Just some thoughts. 

The aspirational aspect of Pinterest is totally fascinating to me - especially as it relates to Tumblr. I've got a paper on this on the backburner. Did you actively decide to use Pinterest over Tumblr?

That's another possibility -- you could have them produce their own Tumblr pulling images from their Pinterest collections. They could talk about the material differences between the two platforms, or the different communities on each. 

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I'm just starting to learn and play around with Omeka in the past few months.  I fear the learning curve might be a bit steep for students to learn in a single semester.  A handful of my students had difficulty creating a Pinterest account.  I did contemplate Tumbler as well, and I might try using that platform next semester just to mix things up. But I liked the simplicity of Pinterest and the fact that it felt more like a collection, rather than just a blog with cool stuff.  But that's an interesting idea to have them convert the data into a Tumbler, finding and tracing patterns and narratives through the material, as well as asking questions about what each platform offers in terms of communal experience.  Your thought makes me think that having them create a mini-narrative out of the collection could produce some really interesting connections.  It would be a good final exam - almost like a Pinterest version of an annotated bibliography.  Choose 7-10 items, assemble them in a Tumblr, and create a short narrative about your experience of the class.  Not a bad idea, especially if I can get them to incorporate textual evidence from the literature we've read thus far.  Thanks for the suggestions.

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Craig, this sounds like a great idea with some potential! I wonder if, inspired by our earlier (off-line) conversation about the possibilities of group work in the classroom, it might be interesting to assign each student the collection of another student, or perhaps have 3/4 students work together on all the links which they have individually pinned? To figure out how they might be able to curate it/construct a narrative out of it/create links between that collection and some of the literary works which you've read? I haven't played around with Pinterest, so I don't know how feasible that would be or how much they're able to see about other people's work, but that might be an interesting way to make their collections feel less "siloed."

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Hi,

I've been trying to incorporate Pinterest into my intro anthropology class. I had a student over the summer put together a variety of resources (http://pinterest.com/discanthro/ ). I've been using it as another way of curating and presenting interesting resources to my class. Whereas previously I've used youtube playlists with pinterest i can combine youtube videos with a host of other resources.

So far take up has been mixed, but i'm hoping for more interaction in future. This project is at an early phase. I've blogged more about pinterest here (http://digitalscholar.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/pinterest-sex-death-and-f... ).

It's always interesting hearing about other people's experiences using these kinds of tools, so thanks for posting!

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Hi Craig,

Thanks for your great post. As a closet pinterest user, I was really intrigued by your post and the possibilities you outlined for using pinterest in the classroom.  I agree with the other commenters that the opportunities to make connections through pinterest seem limitless for the classroom.  I was curious if you observed your students picking up on each other’s pins and re-pinning them to their own boards.  If this ‘re-pinning’ occurred, did you consider it as a type of class discussion? 

I have a few students that find it difficult to participate in our class discussions and this seems like it would be a great to get students to pay each other’s ideas, as well as monitor which ideas/stories are the most pinned.  Glad to know that my secret addiction to pinning recipes and the like, may actual have a useful application.

Cheers,

Zoe

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Hi Zoe.  Unfortunately, I haven't noticed much impact on the class discussions, nor have many students chosen to "re-pin" other pins.  I think they're taking note of what their classmates are pinning, but that is the general problem I'm having at this point.  It's great for making a collection of sorts, but I'm not sure about as tool for producing ideas.  It certainly produces connections, juxtapositions, and interesting combinations.  We do reference some of the pins in class though, especially ones that make interesting archival discoveries.  The key is trying to find ways to translate this activity into other forms of knowledge production - that's where things get tricky, and that's where I'm at right now.  Thanks for the response.

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This is very interesting! As an undergraduate in both English and Professional Writing, I see how Pinterest could be utilized in class for many projects like this.

I really like the visual component this adds to class analysis of texts. I see this as a helpful tool for archiving and looking back at themes and ideas discussed in class, after the class is finished.

Also, I see this as an interesting component of class for a 1st year writing course. At MSU, one of the main projects in these courses involves a remix project, in which students convey their class papers in alternative forms (through video, collages, audio, etc.) Pinterest would be an interesting way to also transform a paper, and use a pinboard as a way to tell a similar story.

Thanks for sharing!

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This is very interesting! As an undergraduate in both English and Professional Writing, I see how Pinterest could be utilized in class for many projects like this.

I really like the visual component this adds to class analysis of texts. I see this as a helpful tool for archiving and looking back at themes and ideas discussed in class, after the class is finished.

Also, I see this as an interesting component of class for a 1st year writing course. At MSU, one of the main projects in these courses involves a remix project, in which students convey their class papers in alternative forms (through video, collages, audio, etc.) Pinterest would be an interesting way to also transform a paper, and use a pinboard as a way to tell a similar story.

Thanks for sharing!

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