Platform governance: ClassDojo, power and the production of data-driven realities of school discipline and student conduct

Year: 2019

Author: Manolev, Jamie, Sullivan, Anna, Slee, Roger

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

ClassDojo is a widely used digital educational platform designed to help teachers with school classroom management and communication. It offers a variety of features but essentially it offers a ‘school-based social media platform (Williamson 2017) that incorporates a prominent gamified behaviour-shaping function’ (Manolev, Sullivan & Slee, 2019, p 37). Despite its extensive adoption internationally, there is a dearth of research investigating how ClassDojo is implemented in schools. This paper reports a study that investigated the ways in which ClassDojo is being used in, and by, schools.

We adopted a critical orientation in this research. Subsequently, issues related to power, governance, authority and constructions of truth were important to help understand how ClassDojo is being implemented and the possible impact it is having on the lives of teachers, students and students’ families.

We collected publicly available material from online environments, including computer-mediated communications, school policies, and school communication documents. Most of the publicly available materials were drawn from Australia, United Kingdom and the United States. Additionally, we conducted 5 semi-structured interviews with teachers who use ClassDojo to investigate their personal accounts of implementing ClassDojo. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. All data were analysed using an iterative inductive process.

Findings show that ClassDojo is being implemented in schools in a variety of ways, but primarily for the purpose of school discipline. Teachers are using a range of ClassDojo’s features as key disciplinary mechanisms to enact school discipline. These features include using a points system; using behaviour reports to evaluate and reflect on behaviour, and to make students visible; notifying parents of their child’s behaviour via messaging; behavioural data tracking; and linking scores to goal setting. Teachers often make the decision to use ClassDojo themselves, however, in some cases they are compelled by school-based policy directives.

We argue that when ClassDojo is used to enact school discipline it functions primarily as a technology of government. Moreover, ClassDojo is being instrumentalised in ways that are shaping pedagogical and administrative practices to reflect performative and managerial modes of governance (Lynch 2014). These modes of governance include the use of incentives and sanctions, techniques of surveillance, metrics and rankings, and the production and evaluation of performance reports. Accordingly, we contend that when implemented in such ways, ClassDojo operates as an apparatus through which power produces reality (Foucault 1979), a reality that is generated and distributed via data-based truth claims about the student subject.