Why The Outcry Over ClassDojo?

This article from the New York Times was all over my Facebook feed yesterday and today. I can definitely appreciate the privacy concerns held by some teachers and parents. Part of the privacy policy says that users might see ads based on “personally identifiable information”. That understandably makes some parents and teachers uncomfortable. I’m definitely not a fan of classroom tools crossing over into marketing.

The privacy concerns are not what surprise me though*. Along with discussions about what ClassDojo is doing with student data, I saw several teachers criticizing it as an inappropriate classroom management tool. Some teachers on my feed were claiming that ClassDojo “embarrassed individual students”, and that it isn’t appropriate to “single out students for praise” (Are we supposed to only praise our entire classroom at once now?) In the NY Times article, Alfie Kohn argues that ClassDojo bribes students into compliance.

Those arguments seem to be making a lot of unfair assumptions about ClassDojo. Is it possible that ClassDojo could be used as a tool to embarrass students? You bet. Could you use it to set up a reward system that bribes students for good behavior? Absolutely. But, odds are somebody who is using ClassDojo for those purposes doesn’t have a great handle on classroom management without the app, either.

ClassDojo’s strength lies in its versatility. Yes, you can stick with the default behaviors and praise students for being on task or participating. And you could ding students for such vague behaviors as “no self-control” or “unprepared”. But that wouldn’t be the best way to use this tool.

Users can customize the behaviors in ClassDojo, and you are under no obligation to even utilize the negative behaviors. The first thing I did when setting up my account was to delete all of the default behaviors, and set up my own. Instead of things like “helping others” and “working hard”, I wanted to focus on recognizing musical skills. The behaviors in my classes are things like “good posture”, “good tone”, and “clear articulation”. They are tied to student understanding, and not their attitude and demeanor.

Teachers are also under no obligation to publicly display their classes. Worried about hurting a kid’s feelings because they aren’t receiving individual praise in ClassDojo? That’s fine, use the iPad app and keep the class off the projector. Even if you are the only person seeing the data, it can be a valuable tool to help remind you how students are progressing throughout the year.

Most of the criticisms I’ve seen levelled at ClassDojo can be remedied by adapting the tool to meet the needs of you and your students. The developers did a great job of creating a flexible tool, and the creativity of a classroom teacher can make it a very valuable tool. ClassDojo is not inherently good or bad, it is simply whatever we decide to turn it into.

*My intent here is not to minimize the privacy concerns, but rather address the criticism regarding ClassDojo’s effectiveness as a classroom management tool.

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