Encountering the Treehouse

The creepy treehouse is new on my radar but I had an immediate appreciation for the term once I understood what it meant. It brought me back to the days when I managed college students at a time when Facebook was brand spankin’ new to the University of Wisconsin and at the age of 27 I had to be the oldest member. I will always remember at a staff meeting when my students discovered that I was actually on Facebook; they were suprised and maybe slightly impressed with my modern awareness.

What I also remember about that evening, is that two of the students immediately asked “Why haven’t you asked me to be your friend?”. This was a valid question, because afterall, I think at that point I only had 4 or 5 friends on Facebook (other UW staff with modern awareness). I obviously didn’t have an offical policy on not befriending co-workers on Facebook, but I quickly explained that I would never ask a student that I worked with to be my friend on Facebook. If a student wanted to be friends with me in Facebook he or she could ask me, but I would never make the invitation. Surprisingly, my Facebook friends doubled by the next morning.

Until recently, I have never had a way to succinctly explain why I wouldn’t initiate Facebook friendship with the students I worked with, but creepy treehouse hits it dead on. I guarantee that when the few students asked about why I wasn’t friends with them, there were more students in that meeting who thought, “This is the last thing that I need! My boss watching my every move outside of work and ruining the freedom and fun I have on Facebook”. Having used Facebook for several years now, I know that there is A LOT that goes on in Facebook: friends are made, hearts are broken, drinking aptitude is revered, crushes begin, flirting is rampant, insults and crude remarks are made and so much more. These are events that only friends should be able to witness (or the person you just met in English class). Not a boss or an institution.

Social networking can add value to education when it is done properly. We see this in the flatclassroom project or spaces dedicated to educational themes like the Graduate Junction or various Ning networks. And I also agree with Michael Staton when he states in his blog “We don’t need to give educators an excuse to not be using these technologies, we need to be getting them to understand how best to use these technologies” Doing social networking properly IMHO means no forced/fake friendships, no forced/fake participation, no forced/fake socializing and in a space that is far, far away from the pictures of keg stands and glamorized profiles. In this time of hyperconnectedness, there are spaces where particular connections shouldn’t be made.

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