Trust in education

Trust in the school context, especially around the use of technology.

Trust in the digital age

Online Trust

Evidence of the existence of trust in the wider digital world can be seen where information and advice are shared on blogs, questions are answered on forums,  software is made available without charge.

Sometimes businesses and corporations who are not operating in a culture of trust are in fact made accountable by publication of reviews of their products or services.  While many of these “commentators” are probably motivated by a bad experience to get online and vent some frustration, others inhabit the digital space on a more ongoing basis and establish a reputation built on the helpfulness and relevance of their input.  They may even experience positive effects in the “real world” (job offers, sponsorship deals and offers of free goods and services) because of their activity in the digital world.

Rachel Botsman in her TED Talk, “The Currency of the New Economy is Trust” (2012), talks about “the power of technology to build trust between strangers”.  Her focus is on collaborative consumption but she sees trust as the factor that enables it to exist and a good online reputation as a valuable possession.

In the “real world” there are laws to protect consumers, laws which prevent vendors from making false claims, and avenues for complaint if consumers believe they have been wronged.  While these laws may apply equally to online transactions, the path is not so clear if a product was purchased from another country, if the whole thing turns out to be a scam or if the product sought was not so much a tangible item but advice or a recommendation.

Buying from or collaborating online with someone who is a “Top-rated seller” with “99.8% positive feedback” on eBay or booking into a hotel which has been positively reviewed on TripAdvisor offers some reassurance.


Participatory Culture

Jenkins et al. (2009) define “participatory culture” as “a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby  experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices”.

In a participatory culture members “believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another” (p. xi).  Perhaps Wikipedia is the most widely known example of this.

While many of the traits associated with the “digital native” are arguably mythological, it has been documented that many students engage in participatory practices on a day-to-day basis.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project  (Lenhart & Madden, 2005) found that more than half of teenagers have created internet content and one-third of teenagers who use the internet  have shared their content online.

MOOCs and Trust

With the rise of MOOCs  (Massive Online Open Courses), there has been a rise in the use of digital badges as a recognition of the holder ‘s achievement and a proof that the holder has done what he/she claims to have done, although the use of badges is not confined to MOOCs.

Sheryl Grant and Kristan Shawgo have annotated  a bibliography of sources which offer information and opinions on different aspects of the badge system.

A major issue associated with the badge system is the notion of trust, i.e. whether an employer or person authorised to grant accreditation for prior learning can trust the validity of a badge and the rigour of the learning behind it.

Carla Casilli notes that “Badge systems, as well as their constituent badges, if they are to take firm root and drink deeply from the vast underground sea of social semiotics must not only engender trust, but actively work to build it.”

Casilli, along with writers such as Erin Knight and Scott Leslie, envision a robust, valuable and open system of accreditation and as Leslie writes, “the value of the system overall increases as more nodes join and a large, robust network emerges over time”.


Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Weigel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A. J. (2009).  Confronting the challenges of participatory culture. Media education for the 21st century.

Knight, E. (2012). RFC: An Open, Distributed System for Badge Validation. Working paper. Mozilla Foundation.

Lenhart, A., & Madden, M. (2005).  Teen content creators and consumers. Washington: Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Photo credit: <a href=””>rcade</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


2 thoughts on “Trust in the digital age

  1. A really interesting blog and a timely topic. I feel like many institutions (including schools) just charge ahead with technology and fail to recognise the big issues, such as trust, until it is too late. Then is seems everything in response is a band-aid quick fix response to issues as they arise.

    I like the format of your blog, personal anecdotes with links to research and other works. I wonder if it might be useful to have a space here where people can share successes/ideas surrounding the issue of trust and technology in education. I think there are some great things happening out there that we don’t always get to hear about.

    • Hi Lyndal,
      Thanks for your comments. I like your suggestion about space for visitors to enter their stories. I’ll think about how to set that up.

      I think I realise more and more that expecting students to act in a trustworthy way without teaching them what that looks like is not the best way to go about developing a culture of trust. Of course there is a need for teachers to respect students and have an attitude that says that they can be trusted, but as with a lot of things, kids often need explicit teaching. Today we had a day where kids were finishing off assessment pieces and different kids were doing different things depending on where they were up to. There were several children who did very little work, seeming to be constantly off-task and I was applying the band-aids responses you mention. I asked myself at the end of the day why it didn’t work for them. I think part of the answer is that they don’t have the skills to work independently. I trusted them to work independently but I haven’t given them the skills to do it. That project starts tomorrow! Thanks again.

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