"ClassDojo is an app used in 95% of US schools..."

This is horrifying. As an educator (at a school that does not use ClassDojo) this deeply creeps me out, maybe because I hate gamification and I hate streaks?

Nothing is more demotivating to me than "streaks." I intentionally break my Duolingo streak every Shabbat so I don't get a high number and feel guilted into paying $4 to fix it. (I could squeeze in a lesson on Friday morning and Saturday night to keep it... but I won't.) I find the whole thing so demotivating and depressing.

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What a fantastic interview!

I'm not a game person but am perhaps overly fixated on my Strava logging.

One way I've found to remedy this is focusing on counting/tracking the things that add joy, but not in a streak/don't break the chain/habit tracking way way. I have the Counter app on my phone and log things that make me happy - time outside, social events, books read to my kid, moments of connection with my husband that aren't chores or logistics focused. So I don't feel bad if I don't do something for a few days, it's not as stark as that, but I get the dopamine hit from the thing I added (coffee with a friend, curling up on the sofa with my son and a big pile of books) and from adding a coutn to the app. In some ways, this is a bit obnoxiously quantified life but the things I track are things I know bring me joy rather than being punitive (ie. calories burnt, days without sweets or something).

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Oh my goodness. I am extremely susceptible. I remember the exact day my 400-something-day streak meditating on the Calm app ended because I had actually been totally fixated on it and DREADING it since I got to 90 days. I was like, Ugh ugh ugh, if I miss one day I will never get a streak this long again, I'll probably quit meditating forever and I obviously am not going to meditate every day for the rest of my life so it's just a MATTER OF TIME UNTIL I FAIL. I thought about breaking it on purpose so that I would have some control over it, but that also felt like giving the app too much importance.

My streak broke on the day my best friend's beloved cat had to be put down and I went to be with him when the vet came and stayed until late after. And at some point that evening I thought, "Oh wow, if I don't meditate in the next two hours I'm going to break my streak." and then "You know what, I'm okay with ending a streak because I'm right where I'm supposed to be." And I have felt totally free on the app since.

I've never had any streak as long as that streak again, and I don't meditate every day right now but I also don't look at streaks very much anymore. For awhile I was looking at the total number, because that increases every time you do it no matter what, but then I somehow relaxed around it.

Alternatively, I have some executive function issues because of my depression and I intermittently use a star chart for myself with a shifting set of goals I'm working on and it works super well for me. Like your mom's marbles, it's flexible, I could get a star for cleaning for 20 minutes or a star for being sober all day or a star for paying a bill. Anything that gave me a sense of "Wow I DID something" got a star. But I'm pretty relaxed about it, in part because I'm well aware that I am the game maker here, I know where I keep the stickers.

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Great piece. I’d add that gamification plays on an American conceit, that the individual is the primal unit of motivation for companies and schools to use. In a way, it is, because we clearly respond to it so well. Some of these games like Duolingo get really competitive in real time as well. Gamification aligns to highly competition oriented individualist cultures like ours. It feeds our conceit that our individual efforts matter oh so much, when the evidence is far murkier.

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This is so fascinating, thank you. And the speed with which I went to check if my kid’s school uses ClassDojo…

My Peloton weekly streak went from after when I had shingles to when I had covid, and I was fine with both those interruptions, but I kind of freaked out at covid endangering my status on MyZone by preventing me from getting 1300 points in October. I had figured out how many points a day I needed for the second half of the month when I came back and it would have just barely been doable if I was totally healthy, but I wasn’t. So I contacted their online support and asked if they could freeze my status for the month (they’d literally just dropped a status freeze policy) and instead they spotted me 600 points. And I was so absurdly relieved but I also noticed it was pretty clear they wouldn’t have done that if I hadn’t already been exercising a few days before I asked. Because I guess even after covid you don’t get a pass on your monthly exercise baseline unless you’re already putting in the effort.

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This is so good and something I’ve been badgering our school district about for years. Class DoJo isn’t even the worst of it--I’d love to hear from others who’ve seen how miserable and demotivated “learning” programs like IXL, VSauce, and Xtra Math make kids. If we thought people hated math and thought they were bad at it in previous generations, watch what happens when these programs become widely used, as they are in our district. It’s honestly horrifying. I wish more people in tech would talk about these programs and how gamification damages learning and confidence.

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This morning as I was returning from my morning walk, I was checking my stats on my phone because I am a giant nerd, who is more data driven than is good for her (and also I'm recovering from cancer/chemo/surgery/radiation and being able to see my progress makes me feel better about still feeling kind of awful a lot of the time).

My phone wanted me to know that I had walked less yesterday than I had on the day before, and I wondered as I wonder every time I look at that message, "does Apple think it's possible or desirable to walk further every day than the day before?"

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Fantastic interview. So many thoughts.

When I was in 4th grade, we had a Reading Through Mississippi competition (I'm from Mississippi). It was basically, read a certain number of pages to get through each county of the state, and when you've read enough to make it through the whole state, you can go to the big party. I have always LOVED to read. But in 5th grade, a good friend of mine got really competitive about it. She read Little Women, which was a lot of pages, and got ahead of me. I tried to cheat and take the test on Little Women without reading it because I'd seen the movie so many times, and surprise, I failed. And then I was embarrassed, and I didn't want to keep competing because it wasn't fun anymore, and I stopped reading for the whole year. (I actually think I might have still been reading on my own time at home, but not for school and not books that counted.) Eventually, there was a parent-teacher conference about the whole thing because it was so out of character for me. I just think there are so many ways that these kinds of competitions toe that line between being truly helpful for some and truly discouraging for others. (I mean what about kids with reading disabilities or homes that didn't encourage or have time/space for reading??)

Also, I am JUST NOW realizing that this may be the root of why I absolutely refuse to join a book club. I have a very protective, reading-is-only-for-me-and-at-my-pace feeling.

I'm currently trying to break my relationship with my Apple Watch goals too. I definitely walked more miles in July even though I was starting to feel some discomfort in my knee, because that month's goal was all about logging more miles than the previous month. I've recently started doing indoor climbing, which I love, but it's hard to get it to "count" for a workout with my Apple Watch because it's very stop and start: try a climb, fall, rest while you look at the wall and figure out what you'll try next, climb again, fall, rest, repeat. I guess the answer may be to just nix the watch entirely but it's definitely hard! (And of course so much is wrapped up in good ol' body and weight issues, and being able to see calories burned even if I'm not counting calories eaten anymore, all those old chestnuts, etc.)

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I love this topic! After wearing a Garmin/Fitbit watch for almost a decade, I gave it up. I'm trying to unlearn my disordered eating/fitness habits. I go to group fitness classes at work about 5 days a week. I do it for fun, because I like to socialize. And it's already a habit for me, so why track it? Plus, it was a distraction, constantly checking my steps throughout the day. When I took the watch off, I felt so lost without it. I would keep checking my wrist and realizing it wasn't there. I have gained weight since I took off the FitBit -- but I also stopped tracking all my calories and I'm middle-age. It's completely natural and healthy to gain weight after a lifetime of restriction. And seriously, who cares what I weigh? I'm strong and fit. I need to focus more on mental health, because I'm blessed to be physically healthy.

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Ooof, I had no idea about ClassDojo, but it sounds creepy as hell. My kid’s a 5th grader; I’ll have to ask her if that’s a thing they’re using in her school, but she’s never said anything about it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “streaks” lately, too, as a Duolingo user, and a Garmin watch-wearer, and someone who’s gotten a lot from the #100daysofpractice community around violin practice.

I’ve managed to keep a relatively healthy perspective on the “steps goal” streak thing. I mean, not totally healthy: if I’m less than 1k from the goal and it’s almost bedtime, I absolutely will jog in place in the living room until I hit my 7k. (I don’t let my watch dynamically adjust the goal, because the “number always goes up” thing seems like a very dangerous mindset to get into as someone with chronic health issues and a family history of eating disorders/obsessive over-exercising.) When I’m sick, though, I just say screw it, and it doesn’t bother me to lose the steak (though I will admit to wishing I could just tell the Garmin app: “I’m sick and need to rest, stop pestering me).

Duolingo, though…ooof. I’ve got a 1554 day streak there, and I definitely don’t think that is healthy. They do offer “streak freezes”, which I’ve used on occasion (like, when I’ve been hospitalized), but in general, it’s hard for me to imagine letting that streak go. I do understand that daily practice is a good habit to build (and can tell it makes a difference for language learning), but I can also feel the difference between times when I’m doing Duolingo just because of sheer curiosity to learn more vs. doing it because I just gotta keep the streak (that’s when I start getting resentful when it gives me a tricky lesson, for example). One thing I really don’t like are the “leagues”, which really promote the “keep maximizing XP (even at the expense of learning)” mindset. I try to just ignore that and focus on the “Daily Goals” it gives me, which are varied enough to be interesting. But it is definitely freaky to notice how very resistant I am to letting that streak die. Yikes.

The #100daysofpractice community on IG has been a much healthier experience for me, in part because of the model set by the violinist Hilary Hahn (who started the hashtag), where the streak is not the focus. I wrote a whole bunch about what I got from doing 5 rounds of 100 days on my knitting blog, and since I’ve already written a novel here (apparently I really do have a lot of thoughts about streaks and gamification!), I’ll just link to that post: https://whitknits.wordpress.com/2022/10/03/500-days-of-practice/

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The universal advice that I give people is, “Use your airline miles. Do not let them pile up.” You will become tethered to an airline, and that airline is in control of the game, not you. They can make a points change, and all your efforts to accumulate miles go out the window overnight. I realize many people live in places where one airline dominates service, but mix up your business if you can.

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Last year, I finally realized what Starbucks was going with their bonus stars and now, I only buy what we normally get rather than buying what they want me to buy. Sigh.

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Nov 16, 2022·edited Nov 16, 2022

Any other tech workers catch this creeping in to your professional life? I just checked, I have 65 Salesforce training "badges" and over EIGHTEEN THOUSAND Salesforce training "points". What's really interesting is how far Salesforce has expanded it's training catalog to allow for this. Want Salesforce's take on DEI - there's a badge for that. Want to hear what Salesforce thinks about UX design? Grab those points baby! Meanwhile, despite this vast wealth, what I actually know about Salesforce might fill a thimble.

It also made me start thinking about the line between 'Certification' and 'Gamification' in the industry. When does a "Six Sigma Green Belt" or a "Disciplined Agile Senior Scrum Master" become just another side quest we have to do to prove to prospective employers that we know how to work?

And, unrelated to oddly specific tech worker jargon, I'm on a free trial of Audible right now and was HORRIFIED to realize this weekend that I am somehow accruing weird Audible streaks and badges. I am not trying to unlock any audio book related achievements, I just wanted to listen to The Sandman!

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Oh, and - (Sorry, the ClassDojo thing threw me off so much I forgot this bit yesterday!)

My *health insurance* is gamified? I get a $20 gift certificate every month if I do a "Physical Activity Check In" 12 days out of the month, plus a $75 gift certificate if I do an at-home biometric screening. (I did not.) There's a reward for taking an online health management class (stress reduction, as if "paying for health care" isn't at the top of my stressors right now) or having a virtual call with one of their "health experts." I think you can earn up to $200/year this way but why not, I don't know, just charge me $200/year less for health insurance and skip the crap?

It feels dystopian as hell to me.

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I remember feeling deeply relieved the first time I got a grade other than A in a high school class, because it meant that I no longer had the tension of wondering whether that streak would continue to the end (and thus a 4.0).

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So much here. Like this is all my whole life.

Firstly, and maybe most importantly, all 4 of my children have been on IEPs. My youngest has multiple diagnoses and has had behavioral issues at school since day one. He’s now in 6th grade and has less of a hard time - but the “reward” system has been the biggest culprit of issues this year. This is a bit extraneous, but his IEP was initially built around reducing unwanted behaviors. It took me and my IEP advocate FIVE IEP meetings to get the IEP team to look at what was causing the behaviors (physical writing ability was a big one - he has a writing disability) and finally implement some goals that were built on building the skills he was lacking (which was causing the behaviors) or giving accommodations that were appropriate to help in the skills he was lacking (sharing the pencil, using voice to text or typing). What is a child to do when they aren’t able to do the things required to earn the rewards??? It becomes a frustrating and no-win situation. This led to severe behavioral issues. He was in a constant state of losing and not being able to earn rewards. Like the rewards consequences charts and activities for him have been constant and constantly changing and adapting.

Secondly. As a parent - trying to motivate my kids to do the basic minimum of what I need them to do - I’ve tried every system. Charts, buttons, buckets, marbles, stickers, chores, weekly list charts, visuals, reminders...like I’ve tried just about every idea I’ve ever seen and have worked with others to come up with new systems and tailored systems. The best I’ve come is not even close to getting them to school on time. The best reward is either game money (to buy a new game or in game funds to purchase things in the game) or snack money. The best (and pretty much only) consequence is to take away use of devices. But, as they are so device centered and I’m a single parent of 4, I offer them the opportunity to earn back devices by doing chores.

And finally- myself. Yes those streaks. I’ve had to hard delete many games. If I find myself tempted to in-app purchase to beat a level, it has to be gone - I learned that lesson the hard way a couple of years ago. Do it once and it becomes easier. If I find myself tempted to do the monthly subscription- gone. I regret the amount of time and money I’ve spent on many cell phone games. Mostly because of ads on my one that I will continue to play (got over the streak business finally and have never paid for no ads) Words with Friends. I’m still tempted to try to earn the fancy tiles in the rewards, but don’t die if I don’t because I have a large collection to choose from after years of play. It’s not one that I can get stuck on a level and feel pressured to spend a dollar for coins.

It helps me to be able to delete games once I get to the point where it’s either pay for coins or be stuck on a level for days. I do understand the game (pun intended). I’m now “hooked” on Skip-Bo- but can’t (and refuse) to pay, so I log on every hour for coins to play the map. When I get up in the middle of the night, I log on quick to get coins so I can play a few games in the morning while waiting for kids to get ready.

Atari was my first gaming console. Before that was arcade games at the bowling alley. Then Nintendo and Sega...N64, PlayStation... it’s my checkout sometimes. I vividly remember not being able to pay rent or utilities one month in college and spending three days learning all the tricks in SSX Snowboarding like it was my job. I was also overwhelmed with classes (lit mainly on a trimester system - I transferred after a year).

Now, it’s cellphone games.

It was Starbucks rewards when I could afford it.

I’ve also done my time with rebate apps.

It kills me that I understand the system, but still succumb to it. For some games (Woodoku and sudoku) I don’t need or use the rewards, but I still like to play the game of the day and earn the daily reward. I’m probably going to hard delete all but Words with friends again today because I needed this article right now - they are the biggest time wasters, and I have too many priority things that require my time! But, it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and take a break (that turns into two hours to get more rewards)...

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