WHEN PINTEREST FIRST LAUNCHED
in 2010, users primarily used the website to collect and share their favorite images, quotations, recipes, and other inspirational content on digital “scrapboards.” But Pinterest also can be an effective educational tool in a business-based classroom, according to Beverly Amer, a principal lecturer of accounting and information systems at Northern Arizona University’s Franke College of Business in Flagstaff.
A non-tenure-track professor at the Franke College for the last 22 years, Amer uses Pinterest to boost student engagement in the university’s introductory course in computer information systems, which enrolls about 1,000 freshmen from all disciplines. Amer coordinates the liberal studies course, required of all business majors, and teaches sections along with six other instructors. Throughout the semester, students learn the basics of Microsoft Word, Excel, Access, and PowerPoint. They also work in teams of four to share notes, take group quizzes, and discuss topics that range from Pokémon Go! to driverless cars.
Last year, Amer introduced a new assignment in her sections of the course: Each student had to create a Pinterest board with ten to 12 “pins” representing their interests and motivations. The impact of the assignment on her classes “was amazing,” Amer says. Before, Amer had offered extra credit to students who visited her during office hours, so she could ask what they expected from the course—those conversations were very instructor-driven, she explains.
But once students began showing her their Pinterest boards, the conversations became very student-driven. Students pinned pictures not only about their majors, but also about their families, friends, pets, travel, hobbies, celebrities, dreams, and even military service. They also pinned quotes and daily affirmations they found inspirational.
“Their boards answered questions I never would have thought to ask,” she says. “Pinterest is a great way to engage students on their own turf and start the conversation about how this class will support their aspirations.”
In addition, the Pinterest assignment lets her students know that she is listening to them and wants them to do well—especially important for students in a large survey course. After completing the assignment, “students interact with me much more, and they ask more questions. They care more and try harder to engage with the material,” she says.
Amer notes that students have told her that they’ve never had a teacher take this much interest in them, and that they wanted to try harder in her course because she got to know them at the beginning.
“Some have said that the Pinterest assignment forced them to stop and think about what is important to them and what they value,” she says. “This assignment motivates them to engage and take responsibility for their learning. That’s an important life skill that will help them progress to graduation and become productive members of the workforce.”
Amer and her husband have written a paper on the use of Pinterest for education. She is presenting their findings at the Decision Sciences Institute’s annual meeting in November.