Saturday, May 17, 2014

Results: Pinterest Board as Final Exam for a Spanish Community Service Learning Course

Each student contributed five pins that would be helpful to future students. Click here to see the board.
by Ann Abbott

All in all, I am very pleased with the results of the final exam that I gave to my students in the "Spanish in the Community" course. Students had to follow the instructions at this link in order to create five pins and add them to a Pinterest board for the course.

My goals were for students to learn about and experience content curation and to apply those principles in the creation of a helpful digital repository of images and links. Whatever your feelings about Pinterest, there is no doubt that it is a very useful way to organize and contextualize web- and image-based information.

Here are some of my observations about the test, about Pinterest and about the students.

Students' pins reflect what they think is important in the course.


Students pinned resources that provide immigrants' personal stories, myths about immigration, facts about how immigration in this country works, and political context about immigration reform.

Bilingual education. 

When I first began teaching Spanish community service learning, I quickly realized that students do not know what bilingual education is--even if they work in a bilingual education classroom!--unless we explain it to them. In fact, students found this important enough that they included pins that explain what bilingual education is and its benefits.


Faculty often want to skip over this part and get straight to the very important intellectual content the course covers. Stop. Hold on. How are you supporting your students in their language development? You have to address this in every single language course you teach, and it's especially important in a CSL course because students have to use the language with native speakers. Students, of course, know this, and so they included pins about vocabulary (regionalisms they encounter with the native speakers in the community who are from many different countries) and grammar (from general grammar review to very specific grammatical items like "por versus para" and commands).


Beyond the specifics of the Spanish language, students felt it was important to think about language more broadly. They included pins about attitudes towards languages and attitudes towards bilinguals.


Since students spend two hours each week volunteering for their community partner, they included pins on this topic. They pinned resources that explain the benefits of volunteering and specific volunteer opportunities in our local community and in other places.

The exam assessed a variety of student abilities.


Students had to select five, and only five resources to pin. The instructions to the exam told them to frame their choices around this: "What information should a student in this course have to help them work in the community, understand better what they observe in the community and contextualize their learning in the community within regional, national and global forces." You can't pin everything, so students had to choose the most important resources for that specific audience.


Students thought about what information they needed and when. For example, one student listed a language learning site that she finds useful as an every-day tool, throughout the semester. One student pinned something about why volunteering is important so that she could encourage students during those moments when they just don't feel like making the effort to go out in the community. Other students posted immigration facts and myths that students should probably learn towards the beginning of the semester.


Students did a good job of finding serious, reliable sources when the topic was serious. I will have to look at this more carefully, but it seems that no student pinned anything from biased, unreliable sources.

Explain and synthesize. 

Students had to use the brief space within each pin's description to explain the relevance of the source to students of "Spanish in the Community" in a way that was simultaneously clear, compelling and concise. I was particularly impressed by a student who began her pin descriptions with quotes and questions.


In addition to the pins, each student had to turn in a document in which they reflected on why they had chosen each pin and what they had learned from doing this exam. Although that information is not publicly displayed, it forced students to justify their choices and connect them to their experiences and learning throughout the course. Some students tied a pin to a specific lesson in class, or a specific experience in the community. Other pins represented a more over-arching connection to the course.

Create and collaborate. 

In the end, this Pinterest board is more than the sum total of the individual pins, it creates a collective representation of what "Spanish in the Community" is about. And the students created this. They created something that did not exist before, and they created something that has an immediate audience--Pinterest users, some of whom have already repinned a few of the students' pins--and a future audience--next semester's students.

Enhance digital literacy. 

Efforts to develop students' digital literacy are often confined to helping them become more expert analysts of existing digital products. My goal is always to go one step further: to have students engage in the creation of digital products that are informed by their analytical abilities. (This is a criticism that I have about the humanities in general; too often our work ends with the analysis itself. What interests me is what lies beyond critique.)

Click here to see the exam instructions.
The exam has to be adapted to Pinterest's features and essence.

I had to make some adjustments to the instructions to the exam based on problems I encountered within Pinterest.

Group boards. 

When I created the board, I wasn't able to make it a "group board" or an "open board." Pinterest only gave me the option of inviting Pinners. At the time I set up the exam, only one student was following me Pinterest; most of the others didn't even have an account on Pinterest. So the student who was already following me was able to pin her own pins to the board and her name appears with them. The other pins appear as my pins because the other students had to "send" their pins and/or boards to me, and I then pinned them to the SPAN 232 board. This isn't necessarily bad, but it made me be more involved in the creation of the board than I had hoped to be.

Spanish accuracy

However, I ended up involved in the creation of the board anyway because I had to edit the students' Spanish in the pin descriptions much more than I had imagined. There is a fundamental tension that we must address when we teach and assess Spanish community-service learning with deliverable that involve a real audience:

The communicative competence we expect from second language learners in a classroom setting is at odds with the level of written proficiency students need for work that is published and has a real-world audience.

When students write yet another essay for an audience of one (their professor), problems with their Spanish only impact their grade. The impacts of poor Spanish with incomprehensible phrases are more damaging in an exam like this one. This tension, however, should not keep us from innovating in our teaching and assessment methods. Neither, though, can we ignore it.

In the end, it comes down to student learning. I have chosen to create exams that aren't just a document of what students have already learned, but rather an assignment that furthers (hopefully) students' learning. 

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions in the comments. Let's explore this territory together so that we can support our students and each other.

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