My notes on Manolev, J., Sullivan, A., & Slee, R. (2019). The datafication of discipline: ClassDojo, surveillance and a performative classroom culture. Learning, Media and Technology, 44(1), 36-51.
To understand how digital technology is reshaping education, it’s necessary to analyse how datafication (“the conversion of social action into quantifiable data in a manner that enables the tracking of people in real-time”, 36) changes educational processes. This includes the role of power within them: “the ways in which power is implicated in decisions such as what constitutes and is selected as data, who controls it, who can alter it, how it is interpreted, and what purpose it will serve” (36). Class Dojo is the foremost platform driving this process within education, with implications for every facet of activity within a school. It provides a social platform which allows interaction and activity to take place in structured ways between all actors within the school.
They analyse this with a Foucauldian approach of a sort rarely seen within educational technology research, concerned with the school as “a data-rich site of surveillance” (38) since its inception. It has always ordering and classification in order to bring about certain states of affairs in students, with contemporary platforms being a novel means through which to accomplish these longer term ambitions. New technologies are designed to “increase the effectiveness, efficiency and productivity of surveillance and data-related capabilities in schools” (38). This context helps explain the rapid growth of ClassDojo from 80 users in its first week into a worldwide sensation with a translation function for 35 languages which reflect its success in markets such as Vietnam, Turkey, China and India. More than three million teachers and 35 million children are claimed to be using the platform in 180 countries worldwide (39). They make the interesting observation that this growth appears to be “impervious to the typical bureaucratic gatekeeping processes of national education systems” (39). However despite its apparent novelty, “closer inspection reveals a technological layering over older ideas and practices” (47).
It functionality rests on tracking student behaviour and allowing teachers to immediately respond to that behaviour. This came with reporting of records of behaviour at the individual or class level, all of which could be accessed in real time from any location. It incorporates behavioural reinforcement, with students rewarded with positive, neutral and negative ‘dojo points’ in order to encourage and discourage behaviours. Each student has an avatar and teachers are able to plan the behaviours which they wish to try and cultivate in students. The two feedback categories of “positive” and “needs work” clearly represent positive and negative reinforcement. These operate as numerical values which impact upon the students dojo points, accompanied by a positive noise or an abrasive one. Reports can be shared with parents over the platform, with registered parents able to receive weekly e-mail notifications inviting them to check their child’s report.
In a context where discipline is a practical concern and politicised topic, the positive reinforcement of Class Dojo discipline has an obvious appeal. Despite concerns that external rewards undermine internal standards and self-control, they offer a quick and easy behavioural fix which has clearly proved alluring to teachers. It provides game like elements for students (points system, avatars, leader board, badges etc), technological solutions to institutional problems for policy makers and a sense of control for teachers. This incentives the continual expansion of surveillance in order to ensure more data. ClassDojo “requires teachers to monitor students constantly, catching students performing particular behaviours, generating, storing and analysing data through its software as this occurs” (43). The teacher becomes the conduit of datafication through assigning points to students for designated activities, feeding into the gamified elements of the system. It inclines the user towards “a standards-based approach to discipline, in which the standards take the form of numerical targets or benchmarks that have been affixed to a range of predetermined behaviours” (44). However this conversion into numerical rankings decontextualises behaviour and reduces its complexity. This renders action as a performance on which students can be continually judged and ranked, with the tracking of performance standing in for their underlying worth. The effect of this is to “force students to understand themselves through a process of calculation, constantly measuring themselves against narrow representations of ideal behaviours derived from dominant cultural understandings” (47).