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When Professors Create Social Networks for Classes, Some Students See a ‘Creepy Treehouse’

A growing number of professors are experimenting with Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking tools for their courses, but some students greet an invitation to join professors’ personal networks with horror, seeing faculty members as intruders in their private online spaces. Recognizing that, some professors have coined the term “creepy treehouse” to describe technological innovations by faculty members that make students’ skin crawl.

Jared Stein, director of instructional-design services at Utah Valley University, offered a clear definition of the term on his blog earlier this year. “Though such systems may be seen as innovative or problem-solving to the institution, they may repulse some users who see them as infringement on the sanctity of their peer groups, or as having the potential for institutional violations of their privacy, liberty, ownership, or creativity,” Mr. Stein wrote.

Alec Couros, an assistant professor of education at the University of Regina, in Canada, is coordinator of the education school’s information and communication technologies program. He says that there are productive — and non-creepy — ways for professors to use social-networking technologies, but that the best approach is to create online forums that students want to join, rather than forcing participation. “There’s a middle space I think you can find with students,” he says. —Jeffrey R. Young

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