Nov 19 2007

After having a few weeks to mull over the events of the WCET conference as well as having time to discuss things with my team back at the office as well as with my business partner, not to mention reading some blogs on the issue, the more I have come to realize that nearly all instructional technologists who advocate the use of technology to enhance instruction are all members of what has come to be known as the Creepy Treehouse Club. During Chris Lott’s talk at WCET the term Creepy Tree House was coined. It was defined as a place online that adults built with the intention of luring kids in. Kid’s, they said, can see them a mile away and generally do a good job in avoiding them. I myself have advocated the use of mash-ups and games in education in effect building up a creepy treehouse meant to lure kids in, albeit for the grater purpose of learning. As an advocate that has been paying attention I thought for just a second that I may be doing something wrong, perhaps even immoral.

A recent web article entitled Students tell universities: Get out of MySpace! gave credence to my line of thinking. “Students really do want to keep their lives separate. They don’t want to be always available to their lecturers or bombarded with academic information….They appear to want to keep their online persona private but when you ask them whether they’d like instant communication with tutors or feedback on essays (via Skype or Facebook) the answer is always yes.” An informal survey of my own students confirms this notion, so I was forced to think just because I can exploit web 2.0 apps to teach should I?

Well I was only lost in thought for a moment because I was immediately reminded of a quote form a leader in my church which says something like this “If we do not use technology for good someone will surely use it for evil” (Boyd K. Packer). And its not that I see web 2.0 apps as evil its that I see it as an unused opportunity for me as an educator to make connections with my students. This notion is supported in the article as Phipps states “We’re seeing a set of new online literacies emerging but we need to understand how students use those literacies. The challenge for higher education is to learn how to integrate the social networking sites with traditional academic practice and traditional ICT systems.”

For me that is where I am at. I am pretty well invested in exploiting these technologies to the betterment of my courses but how do I let the students have their cake and eat it too? For now I just make it a take-it-or-leave-it opportunity. Students are free to read my blog, follow me on twitter, or IM with me when they see me online, I do not, however, require them to do any of this. Is this enough? Too much? Have I built a Creepy Treehouse?

6 Responses

  1. Chris Says:

    The difference is are you building a happy learning playground or a creepy treehouse? We definitely want to use tools that make sense to our students and their world (and, more importantly I think, allow them to ac together in ways that feel natural to them)… but students can tell phoniness a mile away.

    So I absolutely agree that we need to live up to our mandate as educators and put tools to use… but in authentic ways, not the crass, shallow manipulations of the poseur.

    It’s the difference between being the (perhaps begrudgingly) respected educator who has a clue about online conversation and presence vs the balding, pork-pie hat wearing wanna-be trying to lure kids into his phat crib.

  2. Kevin Says:

    I think it would be cool to teach a class on web 2.0 technologies and have students try these out and give their own experiences and ideas back to us on how they could be used.

    Could be a great research project as well.

    I am not talking grad students, but undergrads from a variety of majors. Could be a great honors type of a course.

    Kevin

  3. Chris Says:

    Students today, of pretty much any age past 8? 10? (Getting younger all the time) are regularly using these social networking tools for a variety of purposes—many are “purely social” with no “real” end besides networking and chatter, but many use the tools to promote various (potentially) artistic or business goals. There are of course limitless interest and hobby groups, forums, study groups, etc., which flesh out most of what these tools are used for. Regardless of the usage, there is a general disconnect between school and social usage of them, though I can see that shifting. How that will play out depends on a lot of factors.

    Hearing that “the answer is always yes” (regarding whether they’d like instructors to be available online) was interesting. I think this could be put to good use, but at the same time I can imagine NOT wanting to deal with that at all — another “bind” to the computer, especially one where people are counting on you and expect something…with the large amount of time I am online already, this would likely be too much. On the other hand, having set times where the class comes together in a chat setting (though often chaotic) can be quite beneficial, especially if voice / video is included, which it already is for pretty much any IM service. With the right setup and respectfulness, these can be not only informative but quite enjoyable.

    The difference between IM and email is pretty astounding once one gets used to it — you can cover so much more with IM so much more quickly, but at the same time, you feel much more synchronous (and therefore people have a different expectation of how long a “respectable” response time should be). Knowing that there have been actual relationship breakups based upon a slow response time to a text message…well, that shows me that this is an important factor to consider (though I think there are other factors at work too). Expectations are different now, so if instructors don’t want to “play along” with the ultra-wired, multitasking, instant-access student population, they need to be clear about this up front. However, I think all instructors should be “conscientously available” — will always answer in a reasonable amount of time — via email. This is universal enough to be required, in my opinion; however, having a student wiki or discussion board can handle a number of the quick, administrative questions that need not take an email to answer.

  4. John Krutsch Says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with Chris here. My students know that they can get a hold of me if they seem me online and worse case scenario they know that if they email me I will get back to them within 24 hours, I state this in my Syllabus. As someone who enjoys my own social network for both the social aspects and as part of my PLE I see how students who choose to interact with me in this setting can gain valuable (and not-so-valuable…) insights in the life and career of a web developer and Instructional Technologist. If I were not actively involved at being online ( or connected as the case may be) this would just be disastrous. To draw an analogy it would be like a creepy old guy in a Hawaiian shirt sneaking around at a rave.

  5. munkering » Blog Archive » Students should build their own tree house. Says:

    […] or Face book. ( for a better definition of a Creepy Tree House see John Krutsch’s blog post “Are You Building a Creepy Tree House?” ) Although I find Creepy Tree Houses to be one of the worst things in Education Technology; this […]

  6. Flexknowlogy » Defining “Creepy Tree House” Says:

    […] Example: “Kids … can see a [creepy tree house] a mile away and generally do a good job in avoiding them.” John Krutsch in Are You Building a Creey Treehouse?” […]

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