Sunday, November 9, 2008

Creepy Treehouses and Other Thoughts From Great Minds

David Warlick, who skyped in to talk to my grad students at a blogging workshop, talked about the notion of "creepy treehouses" -- a phrase coined by Chris Lott (see Ruminate) and then discussed more in Jared Stein's blog, Flexknowlogy. From Jared's post:
In the field of educational technology a creepy treehouse is an institutionally controlled technology/tool that emulates or mimics pre-existing technologies or tools that may already be in use by the learners, or by learners’ peer groups. Though such systems may be seen as innovative or problem-solving to the institution, they may repulse some users who see them as infringement on the sanctity of their peer groups, or as having the potential for institutional violations of their privacy, liberty, ownership, or creativity. Some users may simply object to the influence of the institution.

I’ve been observing this phenomena increasingly, as instructors push down hot Web 2.0 technologies, while students push back with vocal objections or passive resistance. I call this the creepy treehouse effect.

More directly, any move to integrate or aggregate new institutional tools or systems with pre-existing tools or systems already embraced by the community may be seen as creepy treehouse, in as much as it may be construed as institutional infringement upon the social or professional community of it’s participants.

Being that I teach at the elementary level, I am not seeing the creepy treehouse effect. Actually, I am seeing the 'wow' effect when I make it possible for my students to create and learn from personal learning networks as they explore and navigate the web 2.0 environments that I have provided for them (i.e., wikis, blogs, skype). However, I do see that creepy treehouse effect happening in a different way in my own home.

At our staff development, Will Richardson mentioned that 75% of kids have MySpace or Facebook sites. He polled our audience - less than 10% of our district's teachers had one. OK, so this made me think I should start a Facebook site. Well, hello! I have two college-age students who absolutely forbid me to get into Facebook! In fact, I believe the exact phrase they used was, "it would be creepy." I would be intruding -- their friends, searching for them, would find me - and that did not fly with my kids. By the way, please read Will's article, Digital Footprints, in Educational Leadership, on this subject. Here's an excerpt:

It's a consequence of the new Web 2.0 world that these digital footprints—the online portfolios of who we are, what we do, and by association, what we know—are becoming increasingly woven into the fabric of almost every aspect of our lives. In all likelihood, you, your school, your teachers, or your students are already being Googled on a regular basis, with information surfacing from news articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and Facebook groups. Some of it may be good, some may be bad, and most is beyond your control. Your personal footprint—and to some extent your school's—is most likely being written without you, thanks to the billions of us worldwide who now have our own printing presses and can publish what we want when we want to.

On the surface, that's an unsettling thought—but it doesn't have to be. In fact, if we are willing to embrace the moment rather than recoil from it, we may find opportunities to empower students to learn deeply and continually in ways that we could scarcely have imagined just a decade ago.

David asked us to think about the creepy treehouse effect when
we create group learning environments using nings, for example, at the high school and college level. Are we in danger of creating creepy treehouses that our students will reject? Or are we taking advantage of a great collaborative tool? My feeling is that in a world of hyperconnectedness, we can extend time and opportunity for students to work harder and longer, to work collaboratively, and to actively learn in an interactive environment. I think that students will get over the creepiness; it's just that they got there first and we are catching up.

Will's point was that in schools we try to filter out things like Facebook, IM-ing, texting, under the guise of keeping them safe. As I mentioned in my previous post, he said that kids are learning social networking from each other, without guidance about the implications of posting personal info in a world that is becoming increasingly transparent. Therefore, educators can't pretend that this stuff doesn't exits. Personally, I don't pretend that it doesn't exist; I am working hard at teaching my students the 'rules of the road' in the web world. I think I am lucky that I get them at an early age, where, hopefully, I will leave a little voice in their minds that helps them make wise decisions when they move on to the middle and high schools.

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