Yesterday, I complained about Apple putting artificial limitations on what its hardware and software can do in terms of music syncing in order to make more money out of its consumers (and, probably, keep music companies happy). As I was writing that, I was thinking about similarities with the business model of a lot of mobile apps—let people download the app for free, but keep bonus features (or even the best features) behind a paywall. I understand that business models for apps are tricky, and after a childhood and young adulthood of delighting in how much is free on the internet, I’m finally starting to understand that it’s important to spend money on software and content that we care about. However, it bugs me when this kind of model is used when it doesn’t need to be. Apple is fantastically wealthy and doesn’t need to nickel and dime us like this.
Later that day, I got another angrifying email from ClassDojo that made this point even better. I should point out that normally, I’d just unsubscribe to marketing emails like these ones, but I’m intentionally letting these ones come so that I can keep documenting my issues with the platform—either for research purposes or to make another case to kiddo’s school before next year. Anyway, the email is another plea to join ClassDojo Plus:
Try seven days of Plus—on us—and discover the easiest way to support their adventure
I find the business model of convincing parents that they ought to be paying for educational technology to be entirely offensive, but the details in the email make things even worse. Here are some of the features that I can get through ClassDojo Plus, all of which strike me as artificial caps on core functionality (especially if kiddo’s school is already forking over money to the company, which I believe to be the case) or to be unnecessary features that represent Dojo’s trying to worm its way into my home. Let’s look at them one by one:
Message their teacher more confidently with read statuses. 💌
Not only is this a deliberate limitation of core app functionality, but it also fits in with one of Ben Williamson and Alasdair Rutherford’s critiques of the app:
The use of ClassDojo in classrooms impacts on teacher-pupil contact time – with points awarded by clicking on the mobile app, teachers become responsible for data entry rather than interacting with pupils. Even 10 minutes of ClassDojo use a day could add up to over a week per school year of teaching time. Many parents may welcome how ClassDojo opens up a communication channel with teachers, but for teachers, this ‘digital work’ fills important classroom time.
I imagine that the introduction of email into schools and classrooms already created more “communication” work for teachers (see Dan Krutka’s writing on “The Email Invasion”), but giving parents the opportunity to bug teachers on their smartphones has to be exacerbating this problem.
Of course, the combination of “deliberate limitation” and “extra work for teachers” is maybe the worst thing here. The idea that paying parents get premium access to teacher communication (mild, to be sure, but they still get to surveil teachers for a price) not only creates more entitled parents but also makes expectations of teachers dependent on ability to pay.
Save your favorite photos and show loved ones how they shine with Memories. 💝
This is maybe the grossest artificial limitation. To be clear, it’s possible to individually save photos from the Dojo feed without paying for Plus, but charging students to bulk download images of their own kids is unethical—as is creating the impression in marketing emails that parents have to pay to be able to access their kids’ photos. This is so bad.
Spark their creativity with additional accessories for their class avatar in Monster Customizer. 🧢
I don’t play Fortnite, but isn’t this basically Fortnite’s model? That’s fine for a video game, but it strikes me as problematic for edtech—especially because it creates opportunities for gaps between student experience based on parents’ willingness to pay. What do I do if my kid gets upset that her class avatar isn’t as fancy as her classmates’? Especially if those avatars are being shown in class? Well, I know what I would do, but the fact that I might have to have this conversation with my kid is frustrating.
Reward great behavior round the clock by giving points for progress at home. 🏆
No thanks! Just because my kid’s school has decided this is important doesn’t mean I’m going to do it. I’ve personally used gamification in the past for personal tracking, and I’ve genuinely found it valuable, but I don’t love the idea of Dojo pushing that on my family.
Support their growth with deeper insights from Progress Reports. 🦋
As I’ve written before, how is it ethical to charge me for data about my kid—especially when it’s overworked, underpaid teachers who have done the work to collect it?
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