What Students Need to Know about Pinterest


Have you heard of the website called Pinterest? It seems that this social media website has all of a sudden become an overnight hit, despite the fact it has been around for nearly two years. Some have called this website one of the top ten social networks. Because of its rise in popularity over the past few months, I decided to take a closer look and determine the possibility of it being utilized by students and educators in higher education. As it turns out, some schools are using it and there is an education category listed within the website; however, there is a copyright issue that students should consider before creating their first pinboard.

Pinterest Basics  

Pinterest began as a creative idea in 2009, and by 2010 a prototype was developed. Visual bookmarking and web curation are probably the best descriptions of Pinterest. The company’s mission is “to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting. We think that a favorite book, toy, or recipe can reveal a common link between two people. With millions of new pins added every week, Pinterest is connecting people all over the world based on shared tastes and interests.” The greatest growth occurred from 2011 to 2012. In July 2011, Pinterest had 608,000 unique visitors and by February 2012, there were 17.8 million visitors. It is also estimated that there are presently over 10 million registered users.

In the article Is Pinterest the next Facebook?, the key demographic was identified as “the Midwestern scrapbooking set, a mostly female group who have turned to it to plan weddings, save recipes, and post ideas for kitchen renovations.” As the website continues to grow it is attracting the attention and interest of businesses (as a marketing tool), celebrities (as a self-promotion tool), and even President Barack Obama has a Pinterest page. (The page notes that it is run by Obama for America, President Obama’s 2012 campaign) Similar to other registered users, the President has included photos, infographics, and videos.

Pinterest is free for registered users; however, recent news reports have brought to light the practice by Pinterest of monetizing the website content. In Pinterest quietly profits off its users’ links, it was noted that “Pinterest works with a marketing company called Skimlinks to add the affiliate links,” and while “it’s not a secret; it’s also not clearly disclosed.” And that caused discontent with some users. However, overall this news does not appear to be slowing the company’s rate of growth in the number of registered users.

Using Pinterest
According to USA Today, in How to Use Pinterest’s Pinboard for the Web, here is a list of the terminology you should be familiar prior to starting your first pinboard:
“¢    Pin: A pin is an image added to Pinterest. You can link to an image from a Web site or upload an image from your computer.
“¢    Repin: Once something is pinned, it can then be repinned by other Pinterest users. This is how content spreads virally.
“¢    Board: This is where your pins live. You can have separate boards for subjects such as a wedding, rooms in your house or favorite recipes.

A Princeton University blog post provides this additional perspective: “each “˜pin’ is based on an image from either an uploaded image or a URL with images or videos on it, and allows for context, metadata, and commentary. You can also follow all or some of another user’s collections, called “˜boards’, in order to stay aware of that user’s visual bookmarks.” The easiest method of adding pins or photos to your pinboard is to install a Pin Bookmarklet to your browser window. As you visit websites and find photos you would like to pin, you can use the bookmarklet to accomplish this task. The following video provides a demonstration for installing the Pin Bookmarklet and how to pin something from the web to your pinboard.

Pinterest in Higher Education

The first use of Pinterest by higher education institutions was the development of a pinboard to promote the school and its activities. The following are examples of universities that have created visually appealing pinboards:
“¢    Drake University uses visual images to capture the essence of the campus and its activities. There are photos of the school mascot, cooking ideas, alumni ideas, and a story of the university.
“¢    University of Louisville has included photos of alumni, athletics, and non-profit activities – along with places of interest in the surrounding neighborhoods.

As to using it in the classroom, some educators are adding Pinterest as a learning activity. In How Educators Use Pinterest for Curation, Pinterest was discussed as a platform for educators to collect and share images with the class. The primary drawback is that male students were often not interested in using it. Eric Sheninger, a New Milford High School principal and author of Communicating & Connecting With Social Media, talked about using Pinterest to “piece together resources on Personal Learning Networks (PLNs).” What he found beneficial about using this website is that it was interactive and had him fully engaged in the process of collecting visual images.

Pinterest is also finding use among design schools and journalism schools. A. Adam Glenn, a digital journalist, media consultant, and associate professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, notes that it has “also spread to journalism educators, who are increasingly experimenting with it in the classroom.” The primary use is “aggregating images to share with students.” It appears to be a good match – a visual learning tool used for visually-based degree programs that prepare students for occupations that incorporate visuals. You can also use it as a general curation tool as each image can be linked to an associated website

One of the most comprehensive lists of potential uses for Pinterest in the classroom is an infographic providing 37 Ways Teachers Should Use Pinterest. My favorite suggestion is to get ideas on how to make learning more hands-on. Educators are encouraged to “take advantage of some to make your lessons more interesting and memorable for your students.” This aligns with my post What Makes an Online Class an Interactive Learning Experience? and a discussion about adding interactive elements to the class to enhance the learning process. Pinterest could promote collaboration among students as a learning activity.

The Primary Pinterest Challenge

The primary challenge is centered on copyright issues. Pinterest provides Pin Etiquette and within that list users are instructed to “Credit Your Sources – Pins are the most useful when they have links back to the original source.” Pinterest addressed copyright concerns in a recent statement, indicating that “it believes that it is protected under the safe harbor of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and that it is committed to quickly responding to alleged copyright issues.” There is a flagging mechanism in place so that a copyright violation can be noted after something has been posted. The website also has an online trademark and copyright complaint form.

The primary concern about copyrights involves those who earn a living from selling their work, including photographers and visual designers. Pinterest does not require that users attribute the copyright holder of photographs. While some users provide links to the original image, many pin images without attribution. According to the Pinterest terms of service, (which all users must agree to) users give consent to the company to use the images. Flickr (a photo sharing website) has responded by allowing its users to disable sharing and add the Pinterest opt-out code to all pages that have copyrighted images.

Eric Sheninger believes that “Pinterest provides educators with the ultimate tool to teach about copyright and Creative Commons,” because they have “an opportunity to teach students that many images and photos are creative works, which need to be cited appropriately when “˜pinned’.” Sheninger makes it a practice to provide credit for every image or photo that may be protected by a copyright. His advice for using professional photos is to “shy away from pinning photos unless you have written permission from the photographer.” This is good advice for educators (and students), and it may serve as an inroad to examine the larger issue of our remix culture.

It will be interesting to watch the developments of Pinterest this year, to see if it continues to sustain its growth pattern or if the increase in competitors such as Pinspire or Kaboodle will slow it down in any way. At present there is a skewed demographic and this may have a direct bearing on its usefulness in higher education. Because Pinterest allows the inclusion of videos, this is what may create balanced use among students because the demographics of You Tube, the most popular video sharing website, are almost evenly balanced between male and female adults. For now, Pinterest seems to be a perfect addition to the classroom, as an interactive tool for students who prefer to learn through visual means.

Have you experienced utilized Pinterest? If so, share your experience and feedback via Twitter @DrBruceJ.

Photo © Julian Stratenschulte/dpa/Corbis

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