Education Opinion

Are Behavior-Tracking Apps Too Much?

By Walt Gardner — November 28, 2014 1 min read

Do behavior-tracking apps belong in the classroom? (“Privacy Concerns for ClassDojo and Other Tracking Apps for Schoolchildren,” The New York Times, Nov. 17). Putting aside privacy concerns (“ClassDojo Adopts Deletion Policy for Student Data,” The New York Times, Nov. 19), I’d like to devote this column to what I consider to be a larger issue: classroom decorum. I admit that this term seems antiquated, but I think it is quite relevant to how students are educated and teachers are evaluated.

Just as there are different philosophies about how students should be taught subject matter, so too are there different philosophies about how they should conduct themselves in class (“How Strict Is Too Strict?The Atlantic, Nov. 17). I have no brief for any behavior-tracking app. However, if these apps help students learn more, then I think they are useful. I don’t agree with Alfie Kohn, who says: “This is just a flashy digital update of programs that have long been used to treat children like pets, bribing or threatening them into compliance.”

In 1975, Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell in a dissent to Goss v. Lopez, a landmark due-process case, wrote that students who fail to learn the necessity of rules will be handicapped throughout life. I think the key is how rules are enforced. For example, by allowing direct communication with parents, these apps are more efficient than telephone calls or certified letters. Let’s not forget that parental involvement has been shown to be a key factor in student learning.

When I was in elementary school, teachers handed out gold stars for good conduct and detention for bad conduct. I remember having to stay after school and write on the board 15 times that I would pay attention in class. Those were the behavior apps of past generations. I’m happy to report that such punishment was not traumatic and that it succeeded in helping me focus on what the teacher was teaching.

We are living in a digital age. Nothing in school can substitute for the relationship between teachers and students in establishing an environment conducive to learning. But we need to be more open to anything that can enhance that relationship. We go from one extreme to the other. If rules are reasonable and fairly enforced, I think they can help.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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