Teaching Business Writing with Pinterest: Activities for Improving Student Learning

Earlier, I blogged about using Pinterest to curate content in my business writing classroom. Specifically, I described the ways that Pinterest’s interface and features help me store, catalog, and display workplace writing documents as well as news stories about them. The board I created for my upcoming business writing course can be seen below.

Pinterest isn’t only useful for document curation in the classroom, though.

Through actively engaging with Pinterest, students can learn more about workplace communication practices while cultivating important writing and curation skills.

I’ve only begun to explore the ways Pinterest might improve student learning in the writing classroom (and the business writing classroom, in particular). At this early stage, then, I would like to share a few key points:

1. Pinterest keenly illustrates the consequences of bad writing in the web 2.0 era.

The term “workplace writing” is somewhat of a misnomer because these documents often migrate outside the workplace (e.g., from an organization to its patrons or a company to its customers). What’s more, there usually is little assurance that such materials won’t reach an even wider audience. Even internal documents can be leaked or, alternatively, they can be posted publicly with the consent of the organization. Poor communication practices, therefore, can be on a stage for all to see. For example, my business writing Pinterest board showcases a spectacularly bad memo by Microsoft’s Stephen Elop. He posted it to a company blog that is viewable on the open web. In fact, nearly every pin I created for the board derives from a public, online source–and one that usually is published on a company’s website. What’s more, my pin of the Elop memo is public, as are many pins on Pinterest. What kind of discussion might this pin generate among Pinterest users? What might Pinterest users then tweet or share on Facebook?

Indeed, social media further amplifies the speed and distance at which communication mistakes are broadcast. Pinterest may not signal boost a communication faux pas as swiftly or as widely as other social media channels like Twitter or Facebook. Still, Pinterest is a robust curation tool, and accordingly, it preserves poor workplace writing in a unique, powerful way. For instance, when a pin is published, Pinterest displays who else has created that pin and on what board he or she has pinned it. I was both surprised and not surprised to learn that someone else independently had pinned the story about Elop’s memo.


This screenshot of the Elop pin from my board shows that this story already was circulating on the site; other users pinned this material at least a year earlier.

2. Creating pins also can strengthen writing and document design skills.

Users must make informed choices about the best version of the material to pin (the Elop memo as reported by media outlet A or outlet B?), the best image to complement with the pin, the best way to contextualize the pin, and the best way to format or display such information. The most rhetorically sound approaches to these issues are themselves determined by the pinner’s purpose and understanding of his or her audience.

Students in my business writing class, then, need not only react passively to boards I’ve created. At this point in my work with Pinterest, I could envision including one of two kinds of Pinterest-aided assignments in my upcoming business writing class.

Sample Assignments: Composing with Pinterest to Improve Business Writing Skills

Pinterest_FaviconIn the beginning of the semester, I might ask students to curate writing samples and related news stories from one or two companies for which they might consider working. This assignment would allow students to see the broad range of genres associated with the concept of “business writing.” It also would encourage them to begin viewing writing as integral to their career success.

Towards the end of the semester, I might ask students to select a larger rhetorical issue that we have discussed in class, such as tone, gendered language, or document design. They would then find sample documents and news stories that, when viewed together, illuminate something interesting about an issue in business writing. Students would likely also complete some sort of reflective writing (e.g., a memo) in conjunction with creating their board.

Have you used Pinterest in the classroom? Share your experiences below in the comments.

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Posted in Workplace Writing

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Dr. Amy Rubens
I'm an "ambulant scholar," and I move among several worlds. As a professor of English, I research and write for audiences within and outside of academia. As a teacher of writing, literature, and culture, I facilitate learning. As a blogger, I critique, question, and reflect. Learn more about this blog and the work I do as a professor and workplace writing consultant.

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