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Facebook in the Classroom Without the Creepy Treehouse Effect

posted: 1.25.11 by Traci Gardner

923898766_37ac2ccdf3_mMost of the students we teach are happy to write, as long as they’re writing on Facebook. The challenge is connecting with students’ interest in writing in ways that don’t intrude on their privacy. In short, how can you connect to students using social media, like Facebook and Twitter, without triggering the Creepy Treehouse Effect?

One solution is to write about Facebook without writing on Facebook. The following classroom activity can tap students’ experience on Facebook without intruding upon students’ private space.

At the end of last year, NPR’s All Tech Considered shared “100 People I Hate on Facebook,” written by blogger Dave Pell. Fun for a laugh or a groan, the post includes an extensive and fairly accurate list of the things you learn about people by reading status updates on Facebook.

Students will identify with the dilemma Pell describes in his introduction to the post:

The friending, the liking, the status updating: Sooner or later we all grow to hate it, but we can’t stop. Facebook is made up of those dinner party guests who just won’t leave even though it’s late and everyone else left two hours ago. After a while, everything anyone does on Facebook becomes irritating.

Pell’s post exaggerates, of course, but students will surely nod in agreement about a number of the people Pell lists. Talk about how audience and purpose are often closely related to the things that annoy you on Facebook. In many cases, the extent to which someone is annoyed by an item on Pell’s list is related to how the information and writer are relevant to the reader. Naturally, that’s going to be a friend-by-friend thing too. What might be okay from one person becomes really annoying from another.

Finish your discussion by asking students to write about one of their Facebook pet peeves: What kind of person on Facebook do they hate and why?

If you like, share the Idiots of Ants’ “Facebook in Reality” (thanks to Quinn Warnick for recommending it) and discuss how it serves as a model exploration of some of the things on Facebook that can become annoying:

If your resources allow, encourage students to create their own video explorations of the type of person they hate on Facebook—or open the activity up to any medium students are comfortable with.

Alternatively, students might make their own classification system of the kinds of people who use another social network, based on the slightly off-color Oatmeal cartoon “How to Suck at Facebook” (thanks to Clancy Ratliff for the link).

Also, be sure to check out Professor Hacker’s discussion of “The Creepy Treehouse Problem” from last year for additional strategies, and if you have a great way to talk about Facebook without creating a “creepy treehouse,” please let me know in the comments!

[Photo: Treehouse by Ack Ook, on Flickr]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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One Response to “Facebook in the Classroom Without the Creepy Treehouse Effect”

  1. Traci Gardner Says:

    The link to the definition of creepy Facebook effect has changed. Look for it here: