I had an excellent discussion with a great group of friends on Twitter recently. I wandered into the conversation a little late as I saw a topic that caught my eye and with some educators that I really respect. The discussion was focused on the use of technology to track student behaviours. I jumped in after I read this blog post shared by my friend George Couros. Then I saw another great educator I respect mention a little push back. Now when Dean Shareski is offering push back to George my ears perk up. Not that I am looking for George to be wrong about something, I just know I am about to hear some great discussion and may learn a thing or two. Of course, when George and Dean start a discussion....well people pay attention and start to join in. This lead to a great conversation on the use of tech tools as extrinsic motivators, badge systems, tracking behaviour data and poor decisions we sometimes make in education, including not knowing everything Dan Pink has tried to teach us in his book "Drive" or in his legendary Ted Talk.
I knew this may get interesting as I was aware of what George thought about this subject already from his blog post here and various conversations we've shared. But Dean had raised an interesting point. He asked if we used technology to track learning behaviours? (sorry for any confusion about the spelling of behaviours for my US friends, I'm just trying to get in good with my Canadian pals and besides, I already ticked George off for arguing with him.) So, I thought about what Dean said and I knew that many, many districts use tech tools like that already. Collecting data on academic performance helps us to recognize where students need support or additional time to develop skills.
Could Class Dojo or other tools be used this way? Sure. But the argument started to go that it could not, or at least it wasn't intended for that use. "It was never designed to do that." "It was created to be a carrot and stick." "Would you make teachers use a badge system for their learning?" Lots of passionate arguing taking place. I liked it, nay I loved it. Now, I could see the points of both sides, and I even had a friend jump in that shared the successful use of the tool in his classroom. Then another great Ed Leader I respected joined the conversation. I knew how Chris Wejr would feel about how this tool might be used. He is no fan of extrinsic motivational tools and I have read many of his blog posts to be aware of that. Chris also shared a video of how the tool could be used poorly to create an environment where students are pushed into compliance while the teacher is walking around tallying behaviour points. As you can see there were some differing opinions although for the most part we agreed that using a public badge system for sharing student behaviour and motivating student behaviour was a poor idea. However, this also wasn't getting to my concern in the discussion.
My concern was that some were blaming the tool for how it was being used. Was it possible to use this tool in a positive way? Was it possible to use it in a different way than many people think it was created to be used? Basically I wanted to know, "was the tool evil?" Or, is it possible, that it was just a tool and that it could be used in a way that created unintended consequences thanks to people using it in a negative fashion? I had already had a fellow Tweep share that he had used it with success in his classroom. So much so, that he ended up not needing to use the tool anymore. Then another good friend, Matt Renwick, shared a blog post he had made with Six Ways to use Classroom Dojo for Meaningful Learning. Then the next morning another great friend and amazing educator, Erin Klein, shared some of her blog posts, here and here, that described how she has used Classroom Dojo. So I felt a little more confident in my belief. No, it probably isn't the tool to blame when it is used by someone that ends up creating a negative learning environment. My guess is that has happened long before this tool was created. I am guessing that some students were made to feel ashamed, or called out in front of their peers for negative behaviours prior to the use of tech tools. To me, this just sounds like the idea of blaming Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for bullying. Bullying was around long before any tech tools. Now, unfortunately, tech tools just make it easier to bully....heck you don't even need to be face to face to do it. However, I don't think technology is causing bullying.
I don't think any teacher intends to create fear, submissiveness, or even to demean a student in front of their peers. I know it happens, and far too often, but I don't think that is the intent. I think there are ways and tools that can be used to help inspire students to become motivated. Maybe its just a latent motivation that the student hasn't activated yet, but the tool can help set it loose. I know this begins to sound like a carrot and stick, but I know I liked earning badges when I was in Boy Scouts, but more importantly I enjoyed the learning experiences that came along with it. I gained a confidence in the skills I would need to become a better scout. I didn't get jealous that other scouts had more badges than me, after all it was my responsibility to earn them. I didn't get embarrassed that some scouts had more badges than me, some were even younger than me, they just worked harder to earn more. When I wanted more badges I worked to earn them. However, maybe this was because my scoutmaster didn't present these badges, these learning opportunities, as a competition. They were just skills. They were skills I could earn to move myself up the boy scout ladder of mastery. Could this have been twisted into some kind of competition.....yep. It could have and possibly is, in some scout troops, made to embarrass scouts so that they will become motivated by peer pressure to earn more badges, or so that they can be the troop with the most badges at a Jamboree. So, I guess I am trying to say that I don't think it is badges, stickers, or tech sites that are the problem.
The conundrum I have been contemplating is that I believe that it is often how a tool is used, that can make it seem like a useful or harmful tool. Therefore, it is the person using the tool that makes it useful, harmful, good, or bad. A hammer was created to pound nails, but that isn't all it can do. It can remove nails as well. It can also also crack open a walnut or a skull. Smash a finger or build a birdhouse. So do we outlaw hammers? Do we label them as dangerous tools? I think the beauty and artistry of any tool is not in the tool itself, but how it is wielded by the person using it. So when a hammer is used as a weapon or to build a cage for an animal, well, let's not hate the hammer. Maybe I am wrong on this..... What are your thoughts?