Research on Educational Platforms in Public School Classrooms: A Call to Action

This short co-authored commentary published in the Teachers College Record here, examines the growth of new digital platforms that link families, children, and teachers through the well-known example of ClassDojo. We argue that the ubiquity of platform use is a relatively new phenomenon in schools, that it is not driven by findings from empirical research, but rather the result of a perfect storm of popular psychology and market forces.

These platforms allow for communication between teachers and families in real time and across many languages. Teachers can send pictures of children, comment about student behavior, achievements, or activities, share information about upcoming programs, and more, all via a self-contained online platform or app on a phone. Parents in turn may message the teacher (usually via smart phone), but not other parents. Although they build on seemingly established and normed forms of communication between teachers and parents, we challenge how platforms like ClassDojo create and shape behavioral norms for families and teachers. For example, what impact does the digital footprint of a student’s classroom behavior have on how their parents treat them at home? And to what extent might casual family conversations become centered on the concerted calculation of ClassDojo avatar points, akin to how our daily “steps” (vis-à-vis the Fitbit) have come to stand for how far we have walked in a given day?

We put forward this commentary as part of a broader call to action for the field to consider how interactions via platforms may be shaping family relations with schools and to continue to foreground in our collective studies the more general ways that the “datafication” of education is transforming teaching and learning practice. 

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