Pinterest is a cloud-based social bookmarking site. Once you join the site and start bookmarking (or “pinning”) pages on the web through their portal or browser add-on, your online friends who have also signed up with Pinterest can see the links (“pins”) that you’ve deemed significant, noteworthy, tasty, etc. Individuals in your network (called “followers”) then have the option to re-bookmark your link, meaning they will now share your item – now their new link – with all the people in their network of followers. From your perspective, you have the ability to save and organize your bookmarks and found web links however you see fit, grouping them into thematic categories (or “boards”).

Your primary Pinterest screen will show all of your recent pins, plus those of all the people you follow. The people you follow can be your friends from other online sites (Facebook or Twitter, for example), or random strangers whose pins you’ve discovered and liked. How do you discover what strangers are pinning? There’s an option to see “Everything” (meaning a real-time view of all different types pins as people all over the world are bookmarking items) or to see pins broken down by categories (architecture, science & nature, technology, education, gardening, etc.). From there, you can see pins belonging to people whom you aren’t currently following. Then, if you so choose, you may add all the boards belonging to an individual or selected boards of theirs to your own following list. Note that following on Pinterest isn’t reciprocal; in this sense, it is much more like Twitter than like Facebook. You may opt to follow people who do not follow you. Likewise, you are not obligated to follow the people who are your followers.

For an additional introduction to Pinterest, you can also read David Pogue’s review in the New York Times.

In one sense, Pinterest isn’t terribly different from other social bookmarking sites (for example, What sets Pinterest apart is its incredibly lovely visual design. Pinterest uses a small visual thumbnail of an image from the webpage you wish to bookmark and attaches the web address to this image. There is also a field for you our followers to enter comments that will display underneath the picture. So, when you go to search for something you’ve previously bookmarked, instead of scanning your saved links for words in the web address that conjure up what you’re looking for, you can search by simply looking for a picture from that webpage, and then check yourself by reviewing the comments underneath the image. Obviously, images on the web are all different sizes, but Pinterest quite elegantly puts them all an equal distance apart from one another on your screen – sort of like a mosaic – and allows you to scroll continuously. It’s all very pretty!

screenshot of sample pinterest educational technology pageThe downside to this, however, is that Pinterest doesn’t let you bookmark a page without an image. You’ll be offered only the generic Pinterest logo in these instances, as you must have an image associated with each link you wish to bookmark.

Pinterest has a mobile app. The mobile functionality is convenient, but the small screen size of most mobile devices means that much of the visual power that comes from seeing the pins all together is lost. An iPad app is reportedly on the way; there is, apparently, an iPad work-around, although I have not tested this.

So, how could you use this in your course? I’m so glad you asked! First, here is a non-Pinterest specific piece on Collaborative Bookmarking in Education, just to set the stage. Second, Pearson (the parent company of LearningStudio) has a quick rundown on Pinterest’s Education Potential.

Here is an informative video on Pinterest in the Classroom from the folks at Edudemic:

For some additional detail, this piece from the blog of the Texas Wesleyan University Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning is helpful:

I can think of several immediate applications of Pinterest to teaching and learning, primarily in disciplines that rely heavily on visuals and visual art. I can envision an art history professor or an architecture professor asking students to contribute to a shared pinboard. View this Architecture pinboard to see what the board of an architecture student may look like. I can also see students in the hospitality industry making travel and hotel pinboards, biology students posting images of animals (classified by genus, phylum, class, etc), or education students posting links to lesson plan ideas. A high school friend of mine, a librarian in Tennessee, posts great library-related lesson plans to her pinboard.

Here’s an article on 5 Tips for Using Pinterest in the Classroom. The article mentions Pinterest’s collaborative potential via group boards (visible to all, but pinning is limited to the members). The organizational potential is huge:

Another possible use is to have your students create boards dedicated to research projects. This is a great way for students who are working on group projects to share resources remotely and then generate discussion based on the research that was completed. The research is easy to use and share, and the visual appeal of Pinterest will make it easier for students to organize the information they collect.

Additionally, this is a list of 20 Ways Libraries are Using Pinterest. Although the article’s focus is on libraries, there are some really useful suggestions that could easily be adapted to the classroom setting. I’m especially fond of the idea of using Pinterest to share projects with the community, to build visually interactive lists, or to showcase historical archives (just think: your students could build their own galleries with resources from around the web!).

There are three drawbacks to Pinterest. One is that you must have either a Facebook account or a Twitter account to create a Pinterest account. Your contacts from either Facebook or Twitter are then automatically imported as the first people Pinterest gives you an option to follow. Note that it is possible to sign in to Pinterest with one of the above accounts, ignore the auto-imported contacts (or select only a handful of them), and then unlink your Facebook or Twitter account from your Pinterest account, using an email address and a password for subsequent logins. However, there’s no way to sign up initially with only an email address, thereby leaving people without Facebook or Twitter accounts no easy way in. Additionally, the auto-importing of contacts may pose privacy concerns for some individuals.

Second, related to the privacy issue, there is no way to create private boards or boards visible to only a select group of people. Everything you pin is visible to everyone else, and it will be displayed prominently to those individuals who have chosen to follow that board. Pinterest is, thus, not the place to store your links for items on your super-secret gift list, plans for your impending surprise elopement, or unpublished earthshaking research results.

Third, and potentially most damning, Pinterest’s terms of use concerning copyright have raised a few hackles. Whether this is language is equivalent to or far more egregious than the terms of use on any other site, I can’t really judge. It seems to me that this issue merits some consideration; how much will be up to you. I do know a few creative types who have gone so far as to explicitly ask you not to pin any of their images to Pinterest; on the other hand, more and more users are joining Pinterest each month. (Also, related to terms of use issues, Pinterest was, at one time, redirecting links on pins in order to credit user clicks to its own affiliate accounts with select online retailers; this practice has now ended.)

Are you a Pinterest fan? What academic applications have you seen? What features make – or would make – Pinterest a teaching tool for you?


4 thoughts on “Pinterest

  1. Pingback: Learnist & Instructables | TCU eLearning

  2. I must say I was pleased with this enlightening write-up and your whole entire website is visually very good.
    I am going to be coming back again to read even more.

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