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Student behavior apps are technology’s answer to gold stars

Student behavior apps are technology’s answer to gold stars (credit: Emily Giedzinski/) Student behavior apps are technology’s answer to gold stars (credit: Emily Giedzinski/)
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Remember the days when we were awarded a gold star for every act of good behavior? We’d feel an overwhelming sense of pride as we watched the number of gold stars accumulate. This method of awarding students for their good behavior continues, but as a part of today’s app culture.

The gold star method is being replaced by behavioral tracking apps such as ClassDojo. According to The New York Times, at least one teacher in one-in-three schools in the United States uses their app.
Each student gets a monster avatar, and the students hear a specific sound on the app when a good behavior point is awarded or taken away. ClassDojo is the kind of app elementary school students enjoy because of its video game-like structure. Many educators are also happy with the app, claiming that it’s a fun and easy way to track the classroom behavior of each student and that it results in well-behaved students.

So, why are apps such as ClassDojo controversial? Both parents and educators have expressed concern about the privacy of the data that is collected using ClassDojo. A third-party database like ClassDojo’s, one that regularly collects information on student behavior, could use the details and place the label of “problem child” on individual students. If ClassDojo distributed this data, the “problem child” label could follow students later in life.

In response to this concern, the makers of ClassDojo intend to keep students’ behavioral records for only one year starting in January 2015. According to The New York Times, co-founder of ClassDojo Sam Chaudhary said, “We are not a data company. So we have no need to keep any data beyond allowing it to be communicated between teachers, parents and students.”

While the issue of data privacy has been addressed, the effectiveness of extrinsic rewards still merits discussion. Some parents disapprove of the point-based behavior feedback approach, comparing it to public shaming.

The purpose of ClassDojo is to create a virtual classroom where it’s easier for the teacher to keep track of behavioral points and easier for students to be aware of their performance in the classroom. However, one parent opposed to the idea of ClassDojo in the classroom wrote, “It is all a big cartoony bribe system.”

This debate over bribery in the classroom isn’t new. Before app culture reached the classrooms, educators used the “gold star” method that is familiar to many of us, since younger students have been known to respond better to points, treats, and prizes than a single letter grade.

However, letter grades aren’t significantly different from material incentives. Students at Carnegie Mellon strive for a high QPA because employers ask for it. It may not be the single most important factor that gets you your dream job, but it’s important enough for students to maintain a decent QPA. Our professors are aware of our obsessions with grades, and as a result they display the graphical representation of the last exam so that we all know where we stand in comparison to the class. Our educators use this method to motivate us to work hard. This method is a kind of bribery, but it works.

When it comes to the debate over bribing students, some parents argue that there should be a more meaningful way of giving feedback to children. The truth is, whatever “meaningful feedback” looks like, a point-based behavior feedback approach can’t be replaced.

ClassDojo does not intend to publicly shame third graders. Young students respond better to bribery. They change and, more importantly, improve their behavior based on this approach used by a majority of educators in the country. Not all educators publicly display ClassDojo. Instead, they award and take away points privately, but the students always know where they stand.

The point system upsets parents and educators because they worry about students who may be labeled as “problem” children. More importantly, the system awards those who do well in the classroom. You can’t give a simple letter grade and expect children in elementary schools to respond to it and behave in the classroom. ClassDojo creates a virtual classroom that children respond to, making it an effective method of feedback for teachers, parents, and students.