The issue of trust in open networks #ccourses

Photo source: George Balanchine’s Apollo – David Ingram & Traci Gilchrest – photo by Peter Zay


It’s such a vast concept. Galactic even.

Unit 2 of Connected Courses raised these questions:

In the quantum learning space where interest is a key driver, how do we employ the same dynamics in our teaching? Or, how do we leverage the power of open? How do we maintain trust and a sense of security in open networks? How do we build our networks? What is social capital? How do we enable at-large learners to engage in our courses? Where should we teach our classes?

I started my pre-thinking by focusing on ‘trust’ as a general concept in my own understanding.

My reflections over the last week or so have been fuzzy, but now I think it’s time to attempt some kind of personal definition of trust in open networks, especially if I’m advocating these spaces to teachers.

Trust – we can talk about this from so many perspectives.

One of the difficulties of trusting in people you connect with online is the problem of not seeing them face to face, or not hearing what they have to say on a regular basis as we would with people we work with daily. I think we read visual clues about people without even thinking about it, even though some of our assumptions are not always based on scientific observation.

It’s also very difficult to read tone in text. You don’t always know for sure if people genuinely mean what they say, or if they are saying what you think they mean. This relates to people you know well in real life too. I go in and out of being sure that I know where people are coming from, especially online, and that’s part of the whole trust issue in open networks.

I usually stay away from self promoters while being aware that I may be coming across as one myself. I suppose I keep some sort of distance from people who don’t give back, that is, share things others have said without giving something themselves. This is not trust with a capital T: you don’t fear these people but you might not want them in your inner circle.

So, to state the obvious, to trust someone you have to know them to some degree. Trust is knowing someone well enough to make a judgement that they are someone you are willing to interact with.

Having said that, I ask a question: how do you know someone online?There is no simple answer, and I still don’t know. Maybe I rely on instinct?

Perhaps I warm to people who have similar interests? I’m in awe of people who have superior or expert knowledge, and so I trust them enough to learn from them. I think trust requires an openness, and a transparency, so that I can peek inside the person a little.

Who do I trust to be in my inner circle? (Haha, inner circle sounds very mystical and elitist). How can I trust that what they share is credible? Of course, it’s up to us to evaluate what others post online but I think that once you have a clear picture of their background and credentials, you can trust their shared knowledge. That’s why it’s important to provide a reference point for people in the form of a short biography, blog(s), Twitter handle, Google+ profile or similar.

So, turning the issue of trust around to me –

How can people trust that what I share with them is good quality and worth looking at?

This is a very important professional question for me: How can I build my trust as a teacher librarian who regularly shares online resources? Trust is at the core of everything that I do, and it’s been instrumental in the way I have developed my digital profile. I’ve made myself transparent online, which means interested people can check my bio, blogs, google+, twitter, etc.

My personal professional blog hopefully shows I’m serious about education. I’ve provided opportunities for people to contact me if they want dialogue through email and comments in many of my networks. When I share educational resources, I’m open to talk to teachers if they have any queries.

Why do we want to be trusted online? Some people might think it a strange question. They might think it’s nobody’s business but their own who they are even if they have an online profile. What if people want to be on Facebook, for example, so that they can see what their friends are up to but don’t want to reveal much of themselves?

I think that what you gain from a connected community will determine how much you get from it. To be accepted and considered a valuable participant requires trust, and then a continued demonstration that you can be trusted, for example, to behave respectfully, not to take over at the expense of community balance, to listen as well as contributing, to make an effort to contribute as well as taking from others.

It’s important to be yourself, to add value to the community, to share your unique perspective. If I’m hoping to be accepted as a valuable member of a community, people should be able to trust that I won’t be lazy and just piggy-back others. That is to say, it’s okay for me to retweet and share others’ stuff because I’m in awe of it or excited about it and want to share with others, but I also need to balance that out with my own contribution – and often that just means sharing my unique perspective on things.

From my observations, the best connected networks consist of people who are not afraid to be themselves, who push past the platitudes that sometimes make sameness in online communities undesirable or boring.


Yes, I admit, I’m guilty of being lazy sometimes, of sharing of others’ resources without the value added comments, and I will try to add value each time with my own perspective, by sharing Diigo annotations, adding my perspective to retweets (although word restriction!), doing the hard work of research and deeper reading to get to the deeper observations which add to the group’s understanding.

Some people might say, I don’t have anything to add that is unique, and to these people I would say:

Trust in yourself. You do have something to add that is unique, and this enables you to become someone real online. In my interaction with people through Connected Courses, I would say there are many people who exemplify this online. Maha Bali stands out for me through her open, encouraging and accepting online interaction, but there are also many others.

Lastly, I think that trust goes hand in hand with being interesting.

Everyone is interesting because there is something about all of us which is unique and which others may be interested in, but it’s important to bring that part of yourself out. I connect with people online who give a little extra detail about themselves because it enables me to picture them eg playing an instrument, cycling, getting worked up about something they care about. Sometimes photos are useful in providing a little window into ourselves. Howard Rheingold gives us many insights into his life and his interests through photos. Of course, it’s up to you how much you want to share about yourself beyond the educational context. I could trust someone online and interact for the purposes of educational exchange but they don’t become real for me until they paint a little more about themselves.

But that’s another thing to think about in another post.


17 thoughts on “The issue of trust in open networks #ccourses”

  1. An interesting article, Tania, and some thought-provoking ideas.
    One thing more to explore, perhaps, is the confidence of the user. I know some people who love to browse – and yes, harvest, online, but they don’t think they have anything to contribute themselves. They’re not lazy, they just don’t think that the resources they make are good enough, or that their ideas are anything special. So, despite encouragement they say nothing.
    PS Congratulations on making the move to self-hosting:)

    1. A good point, Lisa. I know many of these people who are unconfident in terms of what they have to offer. There are many more issues to explore, and I’ve only just jotted down a few thoughts for now. A very broad topic. Thanks for reading and for the comment, Lisa. PS I ordered the Heston Blumenthal book after reading your review – and seeing photos of your culinary efforts – and will now have a difficult time giving the book away as a gift. Thanks for all your reviews.

      1. Wow, that’s a compliment about the book – thank you! I must say that I loved experimenting with the ‘easy’ recipes that I’ve tried, and I’ve learned some useful new techniques. So on that score alone, it’s well worth having, and there are more ideas that I plan to try as well.

        1. I might have to buy a copy for myself as well as the one I’m giving away. As far as actually trying the recipes, I think my friend is more adventurous than I am.

  2. Hi Tania. I really appreciated this open dissection of what trust means to you in online interraction. For myself as an English teacher, I am continually coming up against these sort of questions and they are further complicated by fear for how people might perceive attemps to write in a foreign language. Thanks again. We work with a team of librarians here in Clermont Ferrand to help students with information literacy/curation and thereon foreign language development. There is much to be gained in working together in connected networks 🙂

    1. Hi Simon, thanks for dropping by! I can appreciate how difficult it must be to tackle issues of trust with the added layer of foreign language. Self confidence is crucial to FL success, that is, being prepared to make mistakes and play with language is how you improve, but it’s not always easy to do that. I’m speaking from experience. As a past teacher of French, German and Russian, I’m now lacking confidence in all of these languages due to lapse in oral practice. I imagine adding the public or transparent aspect of online spaces would be even more testing. On the other hand, if, as a teacher, you could help your students overcome these fears, the online environment would be fantastic.

  3. What a great post, Tania! I found it because I decided to create a Connected Courses Pinterest Board (I’m just losing track of things in all the busy goings-on, so I thought a Board might help), and when I searched for Connected Courses there, it took me straight to your Board which then led to this post. Super! I esp. like what you said here about trust and transparency. I feel the same way too, and I know it has helped so much in my classes with the students that I am very present online… but less so with my colleagues whose suspicions and doubts about the online world are not alleviated so easily. I look forward to reading more of your blog posts and I am glad we have connected! 🙂

    1. Hi Laura, I wonder how many of us have created Connected Courses Pinterest boards! It might be good to have a collective one, but on the other hand, it would become too big to navigate. We’re all adding different links because there is so much contributed by members of this course that you can’t read everything. I’m definitely going to follow yours though – and see what I’ve missed. I think I’m curating on too many levels though. I seem to be saving to Diigo, Pinterest, and Feedly simultaneously. Good to see you here. 🙂

    2. Hehe I just read Laura’s comment after posting mine… I think we are asking similar questions…RE: people who are not as willing to be open online…

  4. I love this line: “From my observations, the best connected networks consist of people who are not afraid to be themselves, who push past the platitudes that sometimes make sameness in online communities undesirable or boring.”

    1. Thanks Kevin! Isn’t it great to have the opportunity to write out our thoughts in a community, and to read and be read?

  5. Hey Tania, so much I loved about this post. I found myself nodding at so many different parts of it, and even though I read parts of your thoughts here on google + i am so glad you put them together in a blogpost (easier to find later, and take into Diigo to annotate and highlight, which I plan to do in a few mins’ time).
    Particularly, I love your emphasis on trusting oneself, and on what it means to make more of oneself vulnerable/open online than one’s professional knowledge/expertise. I find this helps immensely online, but I also understand why some people are more reserved about it.
    Wondering now if certain personalities are more likely to have deeper online intimacies than others? And for the ones that don’t, are they missing out on something really valuable, or would it never be of value to them? Of course, there are also a few “converts” (not meaning to imply superiority, although I guess we tend to assume that what we find valuable has value for others). Muddled up thinking right now… Need to think some more 🙂 But thank you for this awesome post!

    1. Thank you, Maha, for taking the time to respond here. It really is one of the most valuable parts of writing out your thoughts in a blog post – the valuable comments for personal confirmation, sharing of ideas and even more ideas – and even more questions. We are definitely in a good place together with so much conversation happening. Oh yes! Diigo – and often there’s so much to save that I miss the valuable annotating which later on is fantastic in terms of key ideas summary.
      I think personality definitely has something to do with being more likely to get online in a deeper way. I’m an introvert, and I prefer to write out my thoughts than talk in a group (I’m better one on one). I notice with teenage students that some who are silent in class will be quite open in their blog writing.
      Yes, it’s sometimes difficult not to think that if we find something valuable is a must for others. I need to back off sometimes, but also not to give up sharing the good things. See you, Maha!

  6. There’s plenty to admire here; I was particularly taken by your decision regarding “turning the issue of trust around to me” as you were outlining your thoughts, for I believe that’s an important part of how all of us within communities build and develop trust: if we work over a long period of time to foster and develop trust, we are able to more easily have the context and spot the nuances that support trust (both offered and accepted). We set out standards (just as we do in face-to-face environments); we live up to them and expect others to live up to them; we acknowledge the forgivable moments that are part of positive, long-term onsite and online relationships; and continually try to be the most trustworthy people we can online while accepting only those deserving of trust as we establish and redefine on an ongoing basis who belong within our trusted communities.

    1. Yes, we do all those things, sometimes without thinking we’re doing serious relationship building, so part of it must be intuitive based on how we operate F2F. It’s good to have the opportunity to think about that trust building together with others, and learn from people. Everyone has someone new to add – thank you for coming in to share your thoughts, Paul. I’m learning so much from people.

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