Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Creepy Treehouses

Barbara Fister had an interesting post the other day on the ACRLog. The topic was a new tech term she'd come across--"creepy treehouse." She defined the term this way:

A creepy treehouse is a place built by scheming adults to lure in kids. Kids tend to sense there’s something creepy about that treehouse and avoid it. Hence, a new definition: “Any institutionally-created, operated, or controlled environment in which participants are lured in either by mimicking pre-existing open or naturally formed environments, or by force, through a system of punishments or rewards.”

It’s an interesting take on that vaguely unsettled response we sometimes get from students when we try to be too cool, try too hard to seem fun and playful, when we make familiar toys unpalatably “educational.” Setting up an outpost in an attractive playspace with an ulterior motive is just . . . creepy.

That got me to wondering. . . what sites have I created (along with my colleagues) that might fit the creepy treehouse model? At the same time, in the same post, Barbara also brings in the notion of play.

[W]e learn by playing, and at its best, our learning is play. . . . Maybe the library itself is a place for that form of play, once students get clued into the fact they can join the conversation. Then we won’t have to build a creepy treehouse to entice them in.

The nub of the issue, as I read Barbara's post, was kind of a combination of "where do we play?" and a "Field of Dreams" notion of "if you build it, they will come." What created the "creepy treehouse" reaction was when the built environment got pushed to the student, as in the example Barbara gave of Blackboard Sync pushing readings and assignments into Facebook space. Happily, in my quick review of web sites I'm responsible for, I didn't find any examples of content being pushed out to students, into spaces that are their own. But I'm still wondering. . .

So what's a good model, instead of the creepy treehouse? For me, I'm thinking Tinkertoys, or Legos, or Lincoln Logs, or Erector Sets--all the toys my brother and I had as kids that provided hours of fun, hours of play and creativity. (We never had a treehouse, but loved to climb in trees.) We built things (and destroyed things) and had fun doing it, all because we could open the box (or the large can), spill the pieces onto the floor, look at all the possibilities, and dream something into existence. Maybe that's what we should do with all the cool stuff we have in special collections--create the containers for the toys and allow our players to spill the stuff out on the floor and let them dream new things into existence. And maybe we shouldn't worry about the stuff getting mixed up now and then. Every once in a while my brother and I would launch pieces of Lincoln Logs into our Lego creations to see how they stood up. Maybe we should allow that same sense of playfulness--and testing--in our own spaces. We might even has some fun in the process.

1 comment:

Lynne Thomas said...

At least we have the old, cool materials to entice them...but I wonder if that comes across as creepy? Where is the line between friendly and creepy?