Yes, Pinterest

This is a  post for English 704; Teaching Writing Online, and it may be a brief one. I want to make sure writing teachers think about social media as more than just social, even the ones that are so highly gendered at this point that the idea of an educational use for them seems laughable. To that end, I wish to examine Pinterest as an organizational tool for the classroom. Yes, Pinterest.

The self-reflective board, Very Pinteresting, points out some reasons why. First, Pinterest is not as skewed female as one might think. I’ve noticed in my newsfeed that most of the new Pinterest members that I know in real life are men. They may be coming later to the game, but they are coming–31.8% to 68.2% women, a ratio that seems fairly familiar to me from my early pilot study on LiveJournal in 2004, detailed in my dissertation, A Public View of Private Writing: Personal Weblogs and Adolescent Girls (available through Ohio’s ETD). At that time LiveJournal was heavily gendered female, 65.2% to 67.3% from April 2004 through April 2005. On the last day LiveJournal provided statistics (2/13/2013), the breakdown stood at

  • Male: 6103828 (45.1%)
  • Female: 7421258 (54.9%)
  • Unspecified: 3212792

with unspecified consisting of parakeet blogs, cat blogs, or otherwise ungendered blogs. What I am suspecting here is that over time, heavily gendered social media evens out.

Known for its obsessive use by party planners, recipe gatherers, and meme lovers, Pinterest is really a wiki in disguise, one that uses images and user-set categories (boards) as primary organizational features. The social aspect is clear. You are pinning images on virtual bulletin boards and if others find your interests engaging, they will follow you as an entity or one or more of your boards. Let’s look at this from another perspective. If you want to find something quickly that is “trending,” Pinterest is a great place to look first.

Here are some examples. One composition studies researchers who is currently taking Pinterest very seriously is Alice Daer, an assistant professor at Arizona State University. two of her boards, Royale with Cheese and Gives Good Face are a boon to those obsessed with modern-day royalty or in the second, that hard to define quality that makes an actor a star. I have used Pinterest for more mundane yet hard to define collections, such as Human/Nature Interface or Oddities. I have no idea what I’m going to do with these images, but I am intrigued with them enough that I want to keep them. My use is a good example of an inner-directed Pinterest user. I’m collecting pins for my own interest with no nod to potential followers. Daer decided to try Pinterest to see how many followers she could gain, and by choosing subjects well and using her fairly substantial research skills, her follower lists dwarf mine — 2617 to my 37. Ah well.

In a composition class, Pinterest could be used either individually or as a class identity. Within it, class members could build boards on assigned or self-selected subjects. The visuality of Pinterest hides a system for noting links to text. That great photo of Princess Diana in Royale with Cheese may be the pin for a Princess Diana site with otherwise hard to find links. Especially if you are researching a subject that has a strong visual hook, try Pinterest. Others researching the same subject will find your board and you will then be able to see what they’ve found. If you like the functionality of a wiki but dislike how it is so heavily weighted towards text, try using Pinterest for research. It may surprise you.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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