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....

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