I originally found this article by Jason Jones on the Creepy Treehouse problem in online courses. Jared Stein defined the CTE in his blog:
also creepy treehouse effect
n. A place, physical or virtual (e.g. online), built by adults with the intention of luring in kids.
Example: “Kids … can see a [creepy treehouse] a mile away and generally do a good job in avoiding them.” John Krutsch in Are You Building a Creepy Treehouse?”
n. 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.
Such institutional environments are often seen as more artificial in their construction and usage, and typically compete with pre-existing systems, environments, or applications. creepy treehouses also have an aspect of closed-ness, where activity within is hidden from the outside world, and may not be easily transferred from the environment by the participants.
n. Any system or environment that repulses a target user due to it’s closeness to or representation of an oppressive or overbearing institution.
n. A situation in which an authority figure or an institutional power forces those below him/her into social or quasi-social situations.
With respect to education, Utah Valley University student Tyrel Kelsey describes, “creepy treehouse is what a professor can create by requiring his students to interact with him on a medium other than the class room tools. [E.g.] requiring students to follow him/her on peer networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook.”
adj. Repulsiveness arising from institutional mimicry or emulation of pre-existing community-driven environments or systems.
Example: “Blackboard Sync is soooo creepy treehouse.”
And Tyrel Kelsey suggests that you can avoid the CTE by having students build their own tree houses.