While reading about various assignments and lesson plans centered about specific tools for new media in the classroom, alongside warnings for doing so blindly, my brain kept yelling one word, over and over:
Any of Richardson or Tyron’s lesson plans could either enhance the student’s ability to write connectively and foster an academic community or scare off students due to the Creepy Treehouse Effect.
If we ask students to create an RSS feed just because we think they won’t notice that they are learning reading skillz, the creepy treehouse strikes again. By trying to lure students into the world of composition through deceptive means and hiding the teachable moments, we could invade the students’ social environment and dismiss their intelligence. It’s called a creepy treehouse because it’s creepy, and no matter how much shiny, glimmering paint we throw on it, it’s still damn creepy.
But I don’t take the Treehouse Effect as a reason to avoid all encounters with social networking, and I don’t believe Stein is suggesting that. Rather, the treehouse image simply reminds us of the importance of intentionality. This is a point we’ve returned to throughout the semester. Before assigning a blog just because it’s a blog and we think students will be tricked into writing more, an instructor should designate the intention of this assignment.
For Richardson, “true” blogging challenges writers to write connectively; it pushes students to read critically, research critically, write critically, and bring varying view points together, a skill that can be transferred to writing research papers. Tyron’s assignment is not just about reading blogs; instead, he wants students to decipher rhetorical devices, strengths, and weakness in political writing. Both of these assignments, according to the writers, were successful in practice, and I would argue that their success stems from their pedagogical intentions and honesty with the students.
This leads me to believe that the Creepy Treehouse can be avoided if the teacher and the students both ask and answer What will using this tool accomplish? with each other.