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This is a GradHacker post by Terry Brock, PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Michigan State University, @brockter

Pinterest is the latest social media network to hit the interwebs, and has done so with a flurry. The tool itself is simple: when you find something you think is interesting, you "pin" it to a topical Pinterest board that you have created. This reveals a collection of "pins" about different topics or themes. For the most part, its early success has been linked to shopping: people create boards that include fashion items they want to get, ideas for their wedding, interior design, or recipes and food they'd like to eat. Pinterest is heavily visual, so these types of objects are tailor-made for "pinning".

But how can we leverage such a popular tool for the types of activities that we as graduate students take on? Here are a few ideas to consider.

Build an Academic Profile

Boards can be given any sort of topic you choose, so why not create a series of boards that reflect who you are as a professional? On my Pinterest page, for example, I have five boards: A Portfolio that houses sites that I write for, my blog and my department. I have another that highlights places where my research or career have been written about. Another focuses on my discipline in general. The fourth is on the topics that I like to study. Teaching highlights resources I have collected to use in the classroom and Getting Things Done highlight more Gradhacker-like resources. The final board is on Social Media, an area of interest through which I've done some consulting work on. In total, these boards represent the professional interests that I have, and attempt to portray them to others. At the same time, it provides me with quick buckets to deposit information I find online, share them with others, and make them easily accessible afterwards.

Use it for Research and Project Brainstorming

One of my favorite books is called the Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp. In it, she discusses her brainstorming process for her choreography, and states that for each project she has a separate box that she puts objects that inspire her in. When the time comes to start putting that project together, she has a host of inspirational items to pull on, all captured in a single box. Pinterest could be used in a very similar way, with each board serving as a box for a different topic. Research resources, images, documents, or anything else you find on the web could be pinned on a board, to be accessed later when the project starts up. As a blogger, I could easily see having a board for the different links I need to reference for a blog post. Similarly, you can create collaborative boards, so that more than one person can pin to a board, meaning you could collect items with more than one researcher.

What About Teaching?

The collaborative boards also made me wonder if Pinterest could serve as a pedagogical tool. Quite often, I find objects that relate to a class that I may want to share with students, and could do through a Pinterest board. In the same way, students could share objects they find with the rest of the class through a collaborative board. I could envision the boards also serving as spaces for small groups to work on and share items for a class project. Pinterest accounts could also be used by departments, student groups, or other organizations on a campus to provide more general educational opportunities for students. MSU's Masters of Education Technology Program has a great example of such a page, where they talk about their program and provide resources for students. Similarly, a number of college career centers are using Pinterest in creative ways for engaging students, such as at William and Mary and University of South Carolina.

Community Outreach and Engagement

Because Pinterest is such a fast growing space on the Internet, we should also consider its potential for outreach and engagement with the community. While I discussed this on my personal blog for cultural heritage institutions, pins could certainly be used within the context of educating the public about our research. Highlighting blog posts, videos, news items, and so on with our own commentary attached provide an avenue to discuss our work within a broader context and with a larger audience. Also, if you're working on a research program or for an institution, you may consider creating a page that represents that group.

Some Concerns About Pinterest

Early in the game, Pinterest came under some heat for issues regarding copyright concerns. They have been proactive in trying to solve this problem, have addressed it in their Terms of Service, and have created a page where they discuss it and provide ways to protect yourself. As with any social media site, these are things to consider and to research before getting started.

In all, I think Pinterest is an exciting tool, that may work better for some than for all. So far, I haven't found it as useful as Twitter or Facebook from a professional standpoint, but that is in part because there are very few people using it for professional activities. Perhaps, if more people begin experimenting with it, it may become more useful.

What do you think? Are you using Pinterest in a professional capacity? Do you have any other ideas as to how it might be of use?

[Image by Flickr user foxrosser with Creative Commons License]