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Are schools training kids to like social media "likes"?

SeeSaw, Class Dojo, and Tapestry are common early years classroom management tools in Hong Kong. Do these platforms teach young students to measure their success with "likes"?

This article was first published in the SCMP Good Schools Guide.
By Marianne Lagutaine MA (ATh) MA (Coun)
With Hong Kong schools striving to provide a future-ready education, classrooms are bristling with innovative technologies to support learning. Interactive whiteboards, tablets and computers, as well as a host of applications and programs, contribute to education being increasingly mediated by technology. This headlong drive to include technology in schools comes with many benefits and an equal number of questions.
Learning mediated by technology
SeeSaw, Class Dojo, and Tapestry, appear to be most common early years classroom management tools in Hong Kong. Each of these provide a glimpse into the classroom through students sharing work online. However, what can be shared and the unique methods of feedback create important differences both in emphasis and meaning.
A feature many apps share is the ability to translate and switch language at the push of a button. This is especially beneficial in providing access to information for parents who might not be native English speakers.
Schools readily embrace these apps to enhance teacher-parent connection, with the added feature for the parent to “like” and to comment on the posts. All the apps utilized in primary schools give teachers the capacity to approve feedback by parents. Teachers often initially guide parents in how to constructively comment on their child’s learning. For students developing their literacy skills reading brief parent comments is a great way to enhance connection as well as an opportunity to practice decoding and reading.
Likes” at a very early age
When we receive a reward of any kind, dopamine is released in our brains. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that stimulates the reward system, and it makes us feel good, acting as a positive reinforcement. Research shows that “likes” on any social media platform are perceived as rewards, making us feel a little pop of pleasure with every thumbs up.
The “likes” that parents and educators can leave on a student’s online post have a very real positive and motivating effect. And although these “likes” are not unlike a sticker on a reward chart, there are important differences. Reward charts are less pervasive and often location specific. Social media is increasingly pervasive, and though both types of rewards are mediated by dopamine release, there is mounting evidence that social media has the potential to be addictive.  It raises the question if this system — which amounts in some ways to a social media account  — should be used with young children at all.
Compliance through digital means
Rewards, if done right, can have a powerful effect. While “likes” or “badges” might be motivating for a child to make an effort to reap the incentives, these are extrinsic rewards. When students become accustomed to rewards, the positive effect wears off and they simply expect a reward as a matter of course. Research shows that unexpected rewards have more positive impact on learning effort and help reinforce good habits as well as promote the development of internal, intrinsic motivation. Instead of automatically clicking the “like” button, adults may do better to leave a supportive comment and use “likes” for posts that show extra special effort.
Some platforms allow students to earn rewards for more than just school work. Class Dojo is a commonly used platform in Hong Kong, and is widely popular in the United States. It operates both as a content distribution channel and a reward system for good conduct. “Dojo Points” are given out to students who exhibit good behaviour in school. It is worth considering the implications of creating compliance through digital means at such an early age, hard-wiring children to look for approval from an online mediated source.
Resisting the temptation to micromanage
Schools welcome parental involvement and engagement. But faced with detailed and daily information about how your kid is doing at school, how can parents resist the temptation to over-parent? In the age of tiger mums and helicopter parenting it is easy to fall into the trap to perpetually supervise, support and help. Online platforms like these run the risk of being one more tool parents can use to tinker in their children’s lives.
If your overall goal is to raise your children for independence, to let them soar into the world, it is worth reflecting if micromanaging your child’s learning is really in the child’s best interest. Instead consider to allow your child to fail, so they can learn from mistakes and develop resilience in this growth process. This will help your child make better decisions and manage themselves better at school.
Technology will continue to influence and mediate how children learn and will be part of our life. As adults, it is important to consider the implications so we can we aware and begin to  have enlightened discussions with our children how technology mediates their daily experience and learning.