Why I don’t believe in putting marbles into jars

Anna Palmer was not happy with my recent review of Marble Jar. She wrote a rebuttal to the review here and it led me to ponder the underlying reason for my dissatisfaction with it.

In my review I focused on the technical aspects – for an app that advertises itself as being iPad ready it really isn’t though I imagine it works as it should on the iPhone – and touched on its added value as an app, which I felt was small as it doesn’t do anything a real container and marbles can do.

The more Anna tries to show me workarounds for the technical difficulties via blog comments and the more she tries to point me towards others who gave her positive feedback about Marble Jar on twitter, the more I feel as if I am being told – look, you made a mistake with your review. See, other people like it! The way I see it, it’s ok for me to not like the app and it’s ok for others to like it. A review is based on a variety of things, a big one being opinion.

Let me give you some background as to how I formed my opinion – the underlying reasons for my dissatisfaction with Marble Jar. Fundamentally, they point towards my essential beliefs to do with teaching and learning: the appropriate use of technology to enhance learning and the fostering of logical consequences rather than reward systems.

The appropriate use of technology to enhance learning
What do I mean by that? Some of the answer touches on a recent question I posed around using technology with children. In that post, I described how unsettled I was by my young son’s vacant gaze as he stared at a slide show in a waiting room. I was reminded of that in a comment to my review of Marble Jar, “As we know, for better or worse, kids love the screen.” If the only reason we are using something is due to its technological novelty it will soon lose its glamour. I still do not see how tapping virtual marbles into a jar on a screen can enhance learning about goal setting. As I conclude in my post (and comments) about children and tech, it is essential for me to ensure that technology is used purposefully, mindfully, and not merely for the wow factor. For me, technology is about making connections in ways that we otherwise can not. This app simply doesn’t do that.

The use of logical consequences and external reward systems

At the heart of this app is the setting of goals and the actions that are necessary to achieve the goals: essentially a behaviour modification program based on action and reward – an example given on the app’s website is if I brush my teeth x amount of times I will be able to go on a camping trip. This is no different than using real jars of marbles (or stickers on a chart or any other tracking system) in which I don’t believe, either. Why does a child have to perform unrelated activities in order to earn the right to go camping(or whatever their goal is)? And what does marbles (or stickers) have to do with it? The consequence of brushing your teeth is that you’ll have good oral hygiene and has nothing to do with camping. These are not logical consequences and don’t jive with my belief system around that. Motivation theories all point towards the concept that in order for real change to happen motivation needs to be intrinsic – coming from inside. When we try to get people (kids) to do certain actions while holding an unrelated goal as a carrot, we are more often than not either a) disappointed that the child gave up before achieving their goal and/or b) not teaching anything transferable about motivating oneself to achieve anything. Indeed, the child is working for the reward and each subsequent reward often needs to be bigger and better for the child not to get tired of it. Again, no logical connection between the what (brushing the teeth) and the why (going camping), and certainly not the how of it all (putting virtual marbles into a virtual jar).

Having written all of this I know that there are many people who do believe in the use of external reward systems to get all kinds of things done. For them, this app may very likely be useful. For me, based on my beliefs around learning, it isn’t.

I’d love to hear what others think about this!

Marble Jar: A review of the new goal setting app

A representative from Marble Jar sent me an email about 2 weeks back asking if I could review their new app for the iPhone and iPad. After a bit of back and forth getting me a promo code for the app and my little holiday to beat the heat with Jack in my parents’ air conditioned home, I am back at home and ready to write the review.

I’m writing this as I play with the app on my iPad. I don’t have an iPhone so this review will focus on the iPad experience.

It’s disappointing that the app is optimized for use on the iPhone as opposed to the iPad. As such, it is a phone sized display on a black background, the text input is phone sized as well. I evidently need to cut my nails as I kept hitting the wrong letters while logging in. It also does not change orientation. My preferred iPad orientation is landscape and it is only offered in portrait.

Creating an account is an easy process and once logged in, I am taken to my ‘shelf’ where there are already some jars with example goals, such as ‘calm mom’ and ‘morning routine’ to inspire my own goals. These can be edited or I can add a new jar if I need to.

marble jar

At the bottom of the app screen, there are 3 icons – tips, add jar, and settings. Tapping on ‘tips’ brings me to a screen where I can learn how to use the app. I’m not sure if this is because of the iPhone size on iPad or not but when I tap on any of the 3 options: ‘Parenting on Track’, ‘Using Marble Jar’, or ‘Setting up a Jar’, I am only provided with a partial ‘tip’, it ends in mid-sentence and no amount of tapping or scrolling gets me any more info. The ‘Shake to Refresh’ instruction doesn’t seem to work either. I’ve given this iPad shakes ranging from the delicate to the hardy and nothing refreshes.

I suppose I could go to the website to find out how to use it but I really shouldn’t have to.

So I start to play around with adding a jar and creating goals and actions. It is pretty easy to figure out, though it took me 2 tries to realize that I could slide a slider to a max of 30 to require more than one marble to fill my marble jar :) Once a jar is filled, there is a little audio celebration.

And that is pretty much it. All in all – not a great app for the iPad as

a) it doesn’t seem to work properly (missing parts of tips, no shake to refresh action)
b) it is really too small for the iPad.

The overall concept of creating goals with actions to achieve those goals is a nice one. I can see some kids really liking the idea of getting to put a marble into a virtual jar on their parent’s phone as an action is achieved as opposed to having to wait until they got home to a real life marble jar. However it is too easy to put in more than one marble by accident (I did it twice while playing with it just now) and a real, physical jar of marbles (or bag of marbles if one wants to keep it in a purse) that we can touch and see is more motivating. Kids like to touch and hold. It makes the attainment of goals more tangible.

So all in all, I’m not a huge fan of this app and won’t be using it. But you should play with it for yourself, it may be for you. It will cost you $2.99 in the iTunes app store, link at the top of the page.