Managing Crowds: ClassDojo (Part 2)

ClassDojo is a recently-developed software platform (2011) that, according to the founders of the company, is used in 90 percent of schools in the U.S (see here). In the past five years, however, ClassDojo has become much more than a free digital tool to motivate students and manage classroom behavior. It is a platform that allows teachers to communicate with parents by posting photos and letting parents comment on what they see; students can also post photos and videos about what they are doing in school. With parent and student communication integrated with the classroom behavior tool, a social media platform is emerging.

The company has expanded beyond the initial behavioral management software and moved into the business of producing videos on “mind set” and empathy starring “Mojo the friendly monster” to construct a communication network where students, parents and teachers are knitted together closely.

And the future? With its network of parents, teachers, and students, ClassDojo will grow into an enterprise marketing far more than a motivational and behavioral tool to manage classroom crowds.

As one ClassDojo board member said: “This company has a greater market share than Coke in the U.S.” The future, according to one of the founders of ClassDojo, is coming into view when he asked:

Your entertainment bundle is Netflix. Your music bundle is Spotify. What is your education bundle?

That may be the future that the company seeks in spurring a revenue flow—ClasDojo is free to teachers and the company is just beginning to earn revenue from its videos. But it is the original software program promising to help teachers manage student behavior so that they can smoothly, without distraction or student misbehavior, carry off a lesson in reading or math within the allotted time. And that is the focus for this post.

Managing a crowd of students with ClassDojo

Across the country, teachers have glommed onto the digital platform as a way of managing 20 to 30 students daily. Whatever admirers and critics say, ClassDojo is a management tool aimed at engaging students and keeping their academic and emotional behavior on track during class time. It is the most recent of tools (think of teachers using dunce caps, corporal punishment for inattention and bad behavior, public shaming, dispensing praise and handing out M & Ms for good behavior) that teachers have historically used to motivate and control the behavior of their charges during periods of instruction.

While there is much variation in how teachers use ClassDojo,  one reporter described  typical ways the software is used in two New York state classrooms right next to one another.

Greg Fletcher, an amiable third-grade teacher at Hunter Elementary School, in Hunter, N.Y., uses a variety of old-school techniques to get his young students to settle down to their studies in the morning.

But when those fail, he turns to ClassDojo, a popular — and, in some quarters, controversial — behavior tracking app that I wrote about in an article on Monday.

“Let’s all sit like third graders,” Mr. Fletcher said one morning last month when I visited his class. Among the 13 third graders, all but a couple of boys sat.

“Let’s all get Mona Lisa quiet,” Mr. Fletcher tried again.

Mr. Fletcher was standing in front of an interactive white board on which he had projected ClassDojo. The program allows teachers to create a virtual classroom, with the real name and a cartoon monster avatar for each student, and then select behaviors — like “following directions” or being “off task” — for which they can award points to students or deduct them.

Teachers use the system to keep a running tally of each student’s score and to communicate with parents about their child’s progress. They can adapt it to their own teaching styles — and the temperaments of their students.

Mr. Fletcher, for instance, publicly displays ClassDojo’s scoreboard in his classroom. That means not only do his students know the moment he awards or deducts a point, they can simultaneously see the scores of everyone in the class.

That morning, one student in a Star Wars T-shirt was having trouble settling down.

“If I see the back of your head,” Mr. Fletcher said firmly, “it’s going to cost you a point.”

The boy immediately sat.

“I always let them see what is happening,” Mr. Fletcher explained, “when it’s a positive or when it needs work.”

the reporter then went to the classroom next door.

….Sharon Sofranko, whose shares responsibility with Mr. Fletcher for teaching third grade, was also using ClassDojo — but in private mode. At the start of the school year, she said, she had publicly displayed the scoreboard in her classroom, but it distracted her third-graders.

“Some kids were upset,” she said. “Some kids would find that they had 20 points less than someone else.”

Now she walks around the classroom with the app open on her phone, privately awarding and subtracting points without her students being able to see their own scores or those of their classmates.

If she wants a particular student to pay more attention to, say, raising his or her hand before speaking, she takes that student aside for a private chat.

“I actually do think it’s fairly effective,” Ms. Sofranko said.

Here is what ClassDojo staff said after the above article, including criticism of the reward and penalty system embedded in the software, appeared:

Teachers use ClassDojo to give students positive feedback on skills like leadership, persistence, teamwork and curiosity, and then communicate that feedback with parents. Over 90% of the feedback teachers give to students on ClassDojo is positive. Teachers use ClassDojo to communicate success with parents, and to give students a chance to excel outside an increasingly narrow framework of academic assessment.

There has been much praise and criticism of this technological tool. Praise comes from teachers who use the software (see here and here) and parents (see here and here). Criticism comes from those concerned about student information being sold to marketeers or privacy being abridged (see here), teachers who despise the  system of rewards and penalties (see here), and academic pundits who have seldom entered classrooms to see ClassDojo being used (see here).

Much of the praise and criticism of the platform centers on the issue of teachers using extrinsic rewards (e.g., points) and penalties (e.g., deduction of points) to reinforce positive behavior rather than encouraging intrinsic motivation of students to learn. While I have read copiously (and understand as a former high school teacher) the contemporary back-and-forth argument about the values of both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards,  the debate skirts the deeper and central issue that explains why so many teachers across the country, without asking anyone’s permission, download the application.

What has unlocked so many classrooms to ClassDojo is that it can be a helpful modern tool to manage a crowd of children compelled to be in 900 square feet rooms for about six hours a day to learn what teachers have to teach while at the same time keeping parents informed of how their sons and daughters are doing in class. Too often some basic facts about tax-supported public schooling in the U.S. are overlooked.

Fact 1: K-12 students have to attend school.

Fact 2: Students move from grade-to-grade based upon teacher judgment, marks on tests, and report card grades.

Fact 3: Teachers depend upon students to obey directions. Without students’ motivation and cooperation with teachers, little learning occurs.

Fact 4: Over the last century, teachers have used mixes of rewards and penalties to gain student compliance and cooperation.

Classroom management, then, is an imperative deriving from compulsory attendance, the structure of the age-graded school, what the community expects students to learn, and teacher judgments about student performance.

Teachers need every tool they can grab to help them corral student energy and fight apathy, increase kindness and decrease mischievousness, encourage passion and discourage inertia. ClassDojo is the most recent incarnation of a tool that teachers believe will help them manage the crowd they see daily. In 2017 teaching and learning in an age-graded school remains a complex phenomenon that few experts acknowledge or too few teachers publicly comment on.





Filed under how teachers teach, technology use

6 responses to “Managing Crowds: ClassDojo (Part 2)

  1. Laura H. Chapman

    Long post.
    There is a difference between the tools teachers create for class management and and those created by software engineers who see K-12 education as a market to be exploited. Warning. This is a long post.

    Every student, parent, school administrator, and teacher should read the “Terms of Service for ClassDojo” and for each of its “essential service providers.” I think this should be a crowdsourcing project for ClassDojo users.

    The Terms of Service for ClassDojo say that: “…the essential service providers we work with, and their respective privacy policies…provide a great ClassDojo experience.” ClassDojo has over 20 essential service providers, each with their own terms of service and privacy policies.

    I started looking at the Privacy Policy and Terms of Service statements posted in whisper type at ClassDojo and each of its essential service providers. After two hours, I had had enough. I am not a techie, and not a lawyer. I am concerned about privacy and data mining. I think every user of ClassDojo should be asking about the extended networks of data-gathering enabled by ClassDojo, and on which ClassDojo’ depends. Here are a few excerpts from the websites of ClassDojo’s essential service providers.

    1. Amazon Web Services (AWS)—is “a cloud computing platform provided by AWS is hosting ClassDojo’s servers and data analytics.” The AWS website says: “As a subsidiary of, AWS follows the same information practices as, and Account Information we collect is subject to the Privacy Notice. By visiting the AWS site, you are accepting the practices described in the Privacy Notice. Please note that, if you have an account on and an cookie, Account Information gathered by AWS, may be correlated with any personally identifiable information that has and is used by AWS and to improve the services we offer.” Got that? Amazon privacy rules appear to be activated when you are using ClassDojo, or you have do a hop skip and jump to look for’s policies.

    2. Amplitude—for mobile analytics. Amplitude has 25 “partners,” each with its own Privacy Policy and Terms of Service statement. The website says: “Thousands of companies rely on Amplitude to understand user behavior.” Of these, 24 companies have their logos and links on the website, including Microsoft.

    This is one of Amplitude’s sales pitches for software program called Microscope: ”Ever wish you could click on a spike in activity to dig into the details? Microscope enables you to explore the user behavior data behind your graphs. Simply click on any data point to zoom in and see the users and actions that make up that point.” Data dashboards for schools were created for business. Now they are processing information about students and teachers and parents, specifically, their user behavior.

    Amplitude’s Terms of Service statement says: “We do not control Third Party Content and do not guarantee the accuracy, integrity or quality of such Third Party Content. We are not responsible for the performance of, we do not endorse, and we are not responsible or liable for, any Third Party Content or any information or materials advertised in any Third Party Content. By using our Services, you may be exposed to content that is offensive, indecent, or objectionable. We are not be responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any damage or loss caused to you by your use of or reliance on any goods, services, or information available on or through any third party service or Third Party Content. It is your responsibility to evaluate the information, opinion, advice, or other content available on and through our Services.” (I found this escape clause in more than one of ClassDojo’s essential services).

    3.—for deeplinking into ClassDojo apps. The website says: “Number 1 in deep linking. Integrate robust, durable links into email, SEM (search engine marketing), ads and other traditional marketing channels for improved app growth.” The website claims thousands of partners.
    Here is a notice buried in the Privacy Policy: Third Party Tools/Analytics On the Website “The Website utilizes third party tracking tools from third party service providers, which may enable these third parties to analyze our Website traffic for analytics purposes. Some of these third-party service providers may collect information from this Website for retargeting and interest based advertising purposes. For more information about these forms of ad targeting and to understand your right to opt-out from these practices, please visit “

    There is more: “The Website also includes social media tools, such as the Facebook Like button. Such tools may collect information such as your IP address and which page you are visiting on our Website, and may set a cookie to enable the feature to function properly or to tailor or personalize the services of the company providing the feature. All of these tools are hosted by the third parties who provide them, and your interactions with these features are governed by the privacy policy of the company providing it.” I think that the package deal that ClassDojo offers helps to create the illusion that this tangled web of third party policies are nothing to worry about.

    4.— for video encoding. Among the clauses in the Terms of Service agreement: “You grant Coconut a non-exclusive, worldwide, perpetual, irrevocable, royalty-free, sublicensable right to exercise the copyright, publicity, and database rights associated with Your Information, in any media now existing or later invented within the confidentiality and privacy terms in this Agreement.”

    5. Coconut.coCrowdIn —for crowdsourcing translations. This link takes you back to Terms of Service information for was last updated October 25, 2012. This should be a red flag for users. Here is the website entry for Linked Sites: “Coconut is not affiliated with sites that may be linked to the Services through hypertext (‘Linked Sites’). Coconut has no control over, and is not responsible for, the content on/from any Linked Site.” Here is another entry. Privacy: All your personal information is encrypted and private. This means that access to your personal data is restricted to authorized Coconut staff to help solve account issues. In addition, your personal information will never be transferred or resold to any third party organization.” Compare that with the excerpt from the next service provider,

    6.—for sending introductory signup emails to teachers and parents. Here is a selection from the Terms of Service: “For any data you provide to, including data regarding your end users or e-mail campaigns in connection with your use of the Services (“Customer Data”), you grant a non-exclusive, worldwide, royalty-free, transferable license to use, modify, reproduce, and display such Customer Data (including all related intellectual property rights) to provide and improve the Services….”Users of may gain access from the Services to third party sites on the Internet. Third party sites or services are not within the supervision or control of makes no representations or warranties about any third party site or resource, and does not endorse the products or services offered by third parties.”

    7. DataDog—for monitoring and visualizing our server performance with 10 technology “partners” including Amazon Web Services. Add monitoring from DataDog’s 12 “Services & Hosting Partners.” Under “Partner Program Benefits: “Datadog is committed to the success and growth of our partners’ businesses. …Marketing resources including joint demand generation and content creation, email templates, rebrandable collateral, and more, Dedicated Partner Success Team focused on partner success and growth.” In other words, Datadog will help market the products/services of its partners.

    8. Fastly—for delivering content through our service faster. This service has five partners in addition to Amazonwebservices. One of these partners is Google’s Cloud Platform. From the website: “Fastly is a global Content Delivery Network (CDN) with POP (point of presence) locations across the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australasia. Fastly peers with other Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Content Networks ….for the purpose of exchanging traffic between these networks.”

    9. Filepicker (V3)— is an Application program interface (API) software product from Filestack. The program speeds the upload of files from various sources to Facebook, Dropbox, Instagram, Google Drive, Flickr, Skydrive, Evernote, Github, Picasa, Box, Alfresco, Gmail, FTP and WebDAV using a single dialog window. The Filestack website says: ”Many of our customers are in industries like EdTech and they accept image uploads from their users who might be students, teachers and parents. With Filestack, they can have a single workflow to upload images, filter for inappropriate content, transform the images (crop, compress, etc)….” The Filestack Privacy policy states (in part): “Links from Other Sites. If you arrive at our site by clicking on an advertisement or content published by a third party, that third party may provide information to us about your activity on their site. For example, we may use Google AdWords or other third party advertisers, or may sponsor links on other third party sites.”

    I invite others who are using ClassDogo to examine the Terms of Service and Privacy policies for the rest of ClassDogo’s essential services. Currently, these are:
    10. Google Analytics—for analytics on our websites
    11. Librato—for monitoring our performance metrics
    12. Loggly—or tracking errors on our website
    13. MongoLab—for securely storing and organizing data
    14. Optimizely—for testing different versions of our website (“A/B testing”)
    15. Papertrail—or logging errors that occur on our apps
    16. Parse—for sending push notifications from our mobile apps
    17. Pubnub—or managing realtime communication data
    18. Redis Labs—for securely storing and organizing data
    19. SendGrid—for sending email updates to teachers and parents
    20. SurveyMonkey—for sending surveys to teachers and parents
    21. Twilio—for text-based invites to ClassDojo
    22. Zendesk—for organizing and handling support requests

    Also, be sure to check out this March 2017 change in the Internet Service Provider (ISP) privacy law.

    • larrycuban

      Well, Laura, your research on ClassDoJo’s “Terms of Service” and “Privacy policies”surprised me by the multiple links to “essential service providers” and what those providers do. And as you said,you got this from two hours of digging. I thank you for doing that digging and making the results available to readers of this blog. Honestly, I seldom read “terms of Service” and click “Agree.” Then again, I do not use ClassDojo. For those teachers who do use the software and are concerned by the links to other providers that raise privacy issues, you have done them a service.

      • Laura H. Chapman

        I first started looking at the Terms of Service and Privacy Policies while looking at the website. That is when I discovered that all users of the website become targets for marketing and that user data can be leased for a “fee.” The website scoops all test scores from states along with other data, ( e.g., school climate surveys). The website is designed to perform some mathematical tricks in order o stack rank schools by zip code, by district, and so on. Access to the technical information is buried in whisper type. The test-centric results produce high ratings for Success Academy. People who lease the information can pay extra for some “push results,” effectively steering users to their products or services. Major foundations support the website. Zillow and Scholastic are among others who pay for the information.

      • larrycuban

        Thanks for the additional info, Laura.

  2. The exchange about Dojo and its various dimensions (including the links in Larry’s piece) is interesting, but it does seem like there are some threads to be untangled. I agree completely with Laura that the web of licenses, user agreements, explicit and implicit surrender of privacy rights is concerning (as is the larger context that people and their data are treated more and more as a commodity in all walks of digital life at all ages).

    But this privacy and commercialization concern is not unique to this platform or EdTech, and unfortunately now just a routine background to any digital childhood. Students may well get cell phones in 4th grade and they immediately become subject at least indirectly to this kind of web of licenses even if they are in classes that don’t use any EdTech.

    I’m not sanguine about this at all, but I think setting it aside for a moment brings focus to the other question raised: namely, whether as a tool (in the context of the long history of similar tools and contextual requirements of schooling that Larry brings up) it’s baleful, neutral, or beneficial. (Say there was a version of the tool that had an acceptable and democratic license, would it be a good thing to implement.) Larry’s take seems to be that regimes of classroom management (some of which were a lot more draconian than Dojo, it doesn’t come with a corporal punishment plugin I assume) have been around a long time, and whether we like it or not, the requirements of classroom management and politiking, etc. give teachers valid interest in these tools, which, when helpful these may outweigh the negatives.

    My initial take (having not seen Dojo in action beyond the videos) is that (on the minus side) it seems to systematize teacher interactions in a way that might erode teacher autonomy. Also EdTech that has “pedagogy embedded,” as Dojo seems to do, either gets it wrong or doesn’t have enough context sensitivity and flexibility to do what you need. Things that automate and count anything by definition drain some of the meaning and nuance of the social interaction.

    But the reality of teachers in the classroom is that they do this already! and have for decades (behavior points in my high school in the 70s), and many teachers tinker productively with any tool, de-systematize rigidities, it and bend it to a pedagogically effective means of giving feedback–something with which a lot of teachers struggle. Or they just take the pedagogy out of it and use it as a record keeping tool. (Would a chart with behavior points on the wall be so different.) I’m also sure that Dojo can be a neutral tool–by far the biggest category of EdTech, neither helping or hurting per se–or even a waste of time or damaging in the hands of somebody who relies on it for things it can not do (for instance the intervention for kids with IEP needs). That said, there doesn’t seem to be something baked in that is pedagogically broken about it.

    If it is at least potentially useful, that doesn’t answer Laura’s objections, which were I in the classroom, might well be sufficient to keep me from using it. If tools are now coming with this kind of licensing overhead, I’m not sure that there are any that would be comfortable to use, although maybe case law will begin to address at least rudimentary privacy and consent issues. It would be nice for companies that stand to make billions from these technologies to rise to the occasion of looking at these issues.

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