My morning ritual of checking my preferred news aggregator brought me this piece in the New York Times about ClassDojo, and similar applications (though it really focuses almost exclusively on the former), and the problems that can accompany the use of behavior tracking programs.
To my reading, it seemed that there were two major problems that the article identified: The first dealt with issues related to student privacy and the wholesaling of student data. I can’t really speak to this concern, outside of noting that it’s a constant tension in this world of free software-as-a-service applications, and while I’m not expert on the particular TOS of ClassDojo, it sounds like perhaps they can be clarified a bit to remove any ambiguity about the use of student data for monetary purposes, though it’s not keeping me up at night, or preventing my own use of the platform.
The second problem area identified dealt with issues related to how a platform like ClassDojo is implemented in a classroom, specifically the public broadcasting of student behavior tracking, and the use of such tracking as the basis for determining a student’s grade. I have a bit more to say in this area than I did above.
But before I do, I should probably clarify a few things. I am not an expert in pedagogy outside of my study of it for my own classes, and I would never deign to suggest that my feelings on topics related to grading, and fostering student motivation are anywhere near the final word on the topic. I am also firmly rooted in my own experience of teaching a population of “high-achieving” science students, who can almost wholly benefit from decreasing the emphasis that they place on extrinsic motivators in their own learning, particularly as regards grades. I have no desire to preach to folks who are finding success with other approaches than mine that they are doing something wrong in their own practice, and I can’t have any real understanding of what it means to teach a population that needs drastic behavioral adjustments to be successful in traditional scholastic settings. That noted, I do feel rather strongly that wherever possible, a teacher should give strong consideration to removing the grade as a “carrot-and-stick” motivator when dealing with their students, if for no other reason than for the rather unseemly history of behaviorist approaches to motivation generally, and education specifically.
I should also note that I am officially, a ClassDojo “mentor,” a title that was bestowed on me by sole virtue of the fact that I am the most frequent user of the platform in my school (which should be particularly unsurprising, as I teach in a high school, and ClassDojo’s overall aesthetic is strongly geared toward a primary-level audience). Among other things, the designation has gotten me the official badge that you see at the top of this post, and access to a Facebook group where I have yet to post anything.
All of that established, I think we can dive in.
How I Use ClassDojo
I use ClassDojo a lot in my courses, and I am unashamed in my belief that it has improved my practice. It is a handy tool, that allows me to collect data on the learning behaviors of my students in a completely private, and non-graded context. It also provides me with a very useful random student selection function that I can use similarly to how more analog folks use lottery balls, or popsicle sticks. And while I don’t really care about some of the features it offers, particularly the parent-teacher communication system (I prefer an email-twitter-Remind combo), I have never felt that the tool required me to broadcast student behavioral tracking to anyone other than the individual student.
Here are some of the main ways that I use the application:
Class Discussions- When I am having discussions of material with my students, I very much want to ask them questions. But I don’t want to bias my selection of students for such learning opportunities to only the students who raise their hands, or only the ones that I notice most easily. ClassDojo gives me the ability to escape that bias, by using the random selection function. And, once selected, I can easily note if students answered the question, or tried to evade answering the question. This is similar to how I might use the tool when reviewing an assignment. I can’t stress enough how useful random student selection is for improving my “coverage” of the students in my room, and making sure that everyone gets a turn.
Homework and Similarly Ungraded Assignment Completion- I give almost nightly homework in my classes, but I don’t grade any of it. It would be easy to abdicate tracking of student completion of such assignments. ClassDojo lets me easily record which students are, and are not completing these assignments. I can record this information in a few minutes, without having to peg it to a grade. And when/if students start to struggle on the graded things, I can easily generate a record of completion of practice work when privately discussing ways to “improve.”
Recording Other Interesting Behaviors- Did a student catch a mistake in my materials? That’s a great data point to capture. Unprepared for the day? I can record that without having to connect it to the course grade. Has a student gone home to learn more about a subject, then come back and shared it with the larger class? I’m going to want to jot that down. ClassDojo lets me do all of these things, and whatever else might develop over the course of a year, and the particular life of a class.
One Ridiculous “Reward”- Every quarter, I give the student who has the highest ClassDojo “point total” a small gift. The gift is a small, silly thing (last year it was lego mini-figures, this year it’s plastic Sheriff’s Badges), and far too minor a prize to compel the less consistent student to become more consistent. Winners also get their pictures in my “Gallery of Awesome” on my course website. While this is technically an “extrinsic motivator,” I’ll suggest it parodies the traditional notion of the concept so grossly as to be the exception that proves the rule.
These are some of the ways that I use ClassDojo in my classes. I could probably use other solutions to accomplish the same purposes, but they’re all together and easily used in this particular application. I don’t know how closely they approximate are the “typical” ways that the application is used in most classes, and I don’t really care. Besides, even if I was the only teacher using the thing in this way (a proposition that I’m sure we can discard), it wouldn’t make the tool any less useful for me. It provides me with a way to get a rather granular, private profile of my students-as-learners, without having to tie that profile to the grade they receive in my courses for learning the subject, and that’s exactly what I want.
But that might not be what you want. You might want a tool that let’s you compel particular behaviors from your learners, and justify the way those behaviors are manifested in the grades you give. I imagine ClassDojo could be used in this capacity, too. Though I’ll suggest that if this kind of thing is required by, or appealing to your teacher-sense, you have larger problems than the kind that can be solved by publicly broadcasting pluses and minuses.