Thursday, August 21, 2008

Creepy Treehouse vs. Walled Garden

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One of the great things about the ed tech industry is their ability to coin phrases. I had never heard of these before until I went to NECC, and although they look on the surface to be completely unrelated, they are intimately acquainted.

The "Creepy Treehouse effect" which has been discussed in-depth by Chris Lott and Jared Stein is used to describe what happens when teachers join student social areas - such as Facebook or MySpace. Based on the information session I had with our college students last semester it was obvious how much they did not want us (and I define us as any authority figures) in their space. What they are they most afraid of is the "cyber-stalking" that they expect from their peers, but repel from their parents.

Most of us have experienced this "Creepy Treehouse Effect," maybe not as a student, but as someone with a presence on the Internet. The first time someone you don't know walks up to you and asks if you are feeling better because they read your Twit about it earlier that week - you will freak out just a bit.

So how do we use the power of Social Networks without the creepiness? We create a "walled garden," a place that utilizes the tools of a social network, but in a more controled environment. There are a few tool out there to do this, but Ning & ELGG are by far the most popular. Ning is the choice of most communities, mostly because it is free - while ELGG is a server based open source system. I've written about Ning & ELGG a bit, and IMHO ELGG just wasn't at the place I needed it to be - it just had its 1.0 release. So we went with Ning & so far the results have been fantastic. The students appear to appreciate having a social network that is seperate from their personal life - while the instructors are learning more about how their students interact.

So far so good....

Sunday, August 17, 2008


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I'm a big advocate of avatars in education. One of the things I have found in working with students online is how powerful a medium it is. When students know that "the whole world" is viewing their work, and not just their teacher, they really put a good deal more effort into their product. They are proud of what they have created and that sense of individualism and personal pride is important - but how do you do that without putting your students "at risk" online? How do you add personalization without a picture - especially in tools where pictures, or avatars represent your work, i.e. VoiceThread? Here are a few of the tools/options that I have used in the past and how they have worked for me. I also have to give a big shoutout to my twitter friends who helped me find some new sites!

Have your students draw a representation of themselves, scan it in and use as their image online. This way students get to use their artwork and represnt themselves.

Portrait Avatar Maker (
This one is by far one of the "safest" creators. There are no options that would make a middle schooler giggle (see WeeMee). But there are almost too many options. I would imagine my students taking forever to create their perfect image.

WeeMee (
I like the way the WeeMee avatar looks a bit better. However, there are some options that I would not feel comfortable asking my middle schoolers or high schoolers to do, nor would I want to walk them through it.

Simpsonize (
I have to say when I first saw this I thought - now way. But I actually think this may be the best of the bunch. There are only a few options, so it won't take forever in class. There aren't any inappropriate questions, and it is just plain fun!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On My Own...Website

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I've been contemplating taking the plunge for awhile now. It is finally time to get my own website and who do I turn to for recommendations? The twitterverse of course! I was amazed at the response I received:

netposer -
hurricanesfan66 - dreamhost
alscillitani -
redefining -
billgx - &

So now I just have to decide on one!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

My goal is to make me be NOT needed

My husband may die a small death when he realizes this is my goal - but it is. I want my teachers to not NEED me anymore. My goal is to teach them how to find tools, assess their validity and make them work in their classroom. I could never (and don't want to) try and teach them every tool that exists - I want to give them the skills to find the tool for themselves.

I've been asked a good deal lately to define what it is I do. Not because they don't believe in what I do (so I'm not out of a job yet :) but because they are actually considering cloning me. Seriously, we are looking at another Instructional Technologist (do not send me resumes - you know how this works - it will probably never happen). It still amazes me how people in education (and we have a degree program in IT) have no idea what an Instructional Technologist does or is supposed to do.

However, in deconstructing my job, I have discovered that the most important thing I do really has nothing to do with technology per se. People feel comfortable coming to me and discussing what they are doing. My job is primarily to listen and bring the right tool sets to the table. Yes, I may do training and develop workshops, but when it comes to what makes me valuable - it is my ability to connect the right people together.

So maybe I'm not out of job after all :)

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What is your theme music?

I’ve always had theme music. I mean there are certain songs that motivate me in my life. I believe this springs from all of the Basketball Warm-up songs that I have had played before the “Big Game.” “Shook Me All Night Long” and “Mysterious Ways” still remind me of taking the court for the first time as a Freshman in high school playing on the Varsity Team (no I wasn’t that good, but when you are 5’10” in 7th grade and your school doesn’t have JV, well you get the idea). So to this day I still have certain songs that I listen to to pump me up.

So here are mine:
Short Skirt & a Long Jacket” by Cake. This is the song I listen to when I need to quote “tour the facility and take up slack.” Anytime I need to go into a meeting and standup for myself, this is the song I either listen to or just play in my head. It gets me in the right frame of mind to just get it done.
Talk on Indolence” by The Avett Brothers. My best friend has named this the dissertation song. The beginning lyrics say, “Reading and writing and searching for reasons. The summer the spring the winter the snow, the record will stop and the record will go. The world outside just goes and goes…” Everytime I get frustrated with finding the right words- I realize that others have gone through it too.
Gonna Make You Love Me” by Ryan Adams. This is what I listen to on my walk to work. It gets me going and almost makes me want to skip ☺

So what’s your theme song?