ClassDojo: do we really need an app that could make classrooms overly competitive?

The Guardian is reporting that for many parents, opening the ClassDojo app and looking at photographs of their child’s latest work or sending a message to the teacher will be a regular part of the school week. According to the San Francisco-based company, it has been used by 70% of schools in the UK. But the classroom app came under scrutiny this weekend – the Times raised privacy concerns, highlighting how its data was stored in the US “and, under its terms, some may be shared with the 22 third-party service providers it works with, including Facebook and Google”.

The app is used to encourage good behaviour and to communicate with parents – children are awarded points for skills such as “working hard” and “perseverance”, and deducted points for “disrespect”. The teacher can also upload photographs and videos to the service. It is used, according to the company, by 90% of US elementary and middle schools, and last year Forbes estimated it was worth $100m.

Ben Williamson, a lecturer in education at the University of Stirling and the author of Big Data in Education, became aware of it when it was introduced at his children’s school. It launched in 2011 and its behavioural monitoring has been criticised for labelling children at an early age and for making the classroom a competitive space. “What we don’t really have are detailed studies of how this is working in classrooms,” he says. “A lot of teachers seem to love it; other teachers think it’s ghastly because of this behaviourist reward system.”

Sandra Leaton Gray, a senior lecturer in education at the UCL Institute of Education and the author of Invisibly Blighted: The Digital Erosion of Childhood, says she is concerned with its potential to label children, but also its dedication to “growth mindset” – a theory of how intelligence can be encouraged and developed. She says: “Sometimes teachers latch on to terms like that and see them as a shortcut to improving outcomes without having read all the extensive research on it.”

As for what it does with the data, Williamson points out “the company doesn’t claim to have generated any profit but it has had massive venture capital investment, so presumably at some point the community needs to make a return on investment. The founders claim they would never sell children’s data for advertising but the question is what could they do with all the behavioural information reported by teachers through the app.” Next month the General Data Protection Regulation comes in, the new data protection law framework, and Williamson’s concern is that schools are really not in a position to address some of the issues that might raise. I’d like to see more governmental leadership.”

Read more ClassDojo: do we really need an app that could make classrooms overly competitive?

Have you ever considered what might the children’s data might be used for? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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