I was lucky enough to be included on the last ConnectedLearning.tv webinar being produced in collaboration with HASTAC as part of the pre-conversation/kick off of the DML Trust Challenge. The Trust Challenge will be awarding $1.2 million to institutions and organizations that come up with tools that address the challenges to trust in connected learning environments that are scalable, innovative, and transformative exemplars of connected learning that bridge technological solutions with complex social considerations of trust. I was the representative from the HASTAC team administering. I was also there as someone who teaches University level media and culture courses in connected learning environments. My co-participants included:
- Anne Collier - Director of ConnectSafely.org, and Founder/Writer at NetFamilyNews.org
- Cathy Lewis-Long - Founding Executive Director of The Sprout Fund in Pittsburgh
- Carla Casilli - Director of Design + Practice at the Badge Alliance
- Barry Joseph - Associate Director for Digital Learning at the American Museum of Natural History
- Doug Belshaw - Project lead for the Web Literacy Standard at the Mozilla Foundation
Our topic was Trust Challenges Across Connected Learning Environments: How trust is modelled in collaborative connected learning environments, and how we tackle serious issues--such as digital literacy and equity--so that people can take full advantage of learning opportunities.
Going into the webinar I knew that this topic would be difficult, but I was unable to place the difficulty until we were actually in conversation. When we start talking about conceptual words that have a great socio-cultural significance, like "trust", we tend to lean towards our current cultural understanding of what that means and looks like now, and has looked, for a majority of our existence. We use this vision to paint the future, which totally makes sense, but sometimes we need to do something different. Seeing "trust" in connected learning environments is a hard conversation because we know what "trust" means for us in our day-to-day lives, and in small communal spaces, like classrooms (at all levels) or after school programs or library activities, summer programs etc, when it comes to connected learning. Moving the term to a virtual space, even if we all engage in these types of spaces (think social media, VLE, blogs, etc), is hard. Additionally, for many people trust doesn't come to mind when they think of these spaces, which is one of the Trust Challenge is hoping to address. I think the Trust Challenge is happening at a really great time, and I am 100% sincere where I say I can't wait to see the types of tools people are able to create. Last semester my class was almost exclusively seniors. They will probably be the last class I have that is full of students who were born 1-2 years before amazon started delivering books to my door. And the online activities we do now are so much more than those early books that seemed like a miracle. We live out our lives in these spaces as much as we do out in the world. To seperate trust into only the face to face encounters creates an uncessary binary between the analog and digital social learning experience that makes it harder to speak about trust in connected learning.
The video is at the top of this post so you can watch yourself, comment, and join the ongoing conversation. We had an hour, 5 speakers, and one moderator, so we weren't going to be able to break the concept all the way down. That was a given. Despite that, I think some pretty interesting and meaningful things happened. It was actually a fantastic conversation to be a part of, and I think it helped with understanding what some of the basic trust challenges.
Partway through conversation "tacit acceptance" was brought up. I think this is universal to both the old types of trust we have, and the new types of trust relationships digital environments create. While connected learning and the use of digital tools is not new in learning environments, the way we talk about them, especially trust in these environments seems to be stuck at an "analog versus binary" perspective. We need to speak more about how these two interactive worlds break in and out of each other. Though I have misgivings about the term, rather than a binary, it might be helpful to think of them as a dialectic, and start talking about what happens at synthesis. When we talk about things like "Learner at the Center of a Networked World", we tend to want to focus on either the learner and the learner's experience or the networked world aspect. We have to do more bridge work to understand systems, platforms, and tools, and the affordances, risks, and experiences these systems, platforms, and tools offer to the learner, even as these things are often obfuscated. In fact, that is part of twhat the Trust Challenge is trying to remedy.
Trust, privacy, and safety are critical to learning in an open online world. How can learners exercise control over who sees and uses their data? What tools do they need to navigate, collaborate, and learn online with confidence? What solutions will foster greater civility and respect in online learning environments? How can open technical standards create more opportunities to share and collaborate online in a spirit of trust?
Spoiler alert, we didn't manage to define "trust". Instead, we did come up with some things we think are necessary current trust challenges in connected learning environments. Here's a bulleted list:
In paragraph form, we need to be able to undestand not just who is involved, but how the learner in the center is effected, especially in terms of things like privacy and safety. We need to build systems to allow for things to be seen as credible or worth something. This is linked to transparency in as much as it is a call to make sure that as we engage learners in these connected learning environments by allowing learners to tie experiences to their overall educational goals. Learners should also understand how these experiences fit in their larger socio-cultural life. To do that though, we need to allow collaboration with the learner and other people doing similar work. We need to be able to allow the freedom for learners to take what we've given them and run with it, even if at times that means they do something completely different and unexpected. More often than not, based on the experiences we discussed during the conversation, the place where students end up is much more meaningful than where we hope them to get, and generally, if we've chosen the right tool and planned well, where the learner ends up will be in parallel with where we wanted them to get to. So, another trust challenge, trusting learners to be collaborators. We need to be authentic with this though. It can't be forced. We need to be ourselves and, again, let the learners know that they are valued and part of the process, and that we mean this and find it meaningful. We need to think of tools as scaffolding for a learning experiences instead of something that binds the experiences. Finally, these tools needs to be malleable. We need to be able to meet learners where they are and not where we want them to be, and work with learners to get them to where they need to be.
I think this list and the reasons that were given during the conversation do a good job of starting to think through trust in connected learning environments as well as some of the affordances of tools that might be created for the Trust Challenge. While our conversation was about learning and learners, we can easily apply all of these things to the digital tools we use today. We need to not just think about learner to learner, but at a basic level, how tools allow for interoperability, privacy, civility, and ownership to affect the learner in both obvious and not so obvious ways. We need to find ways to make these more transparent, collaborative, authentic, and malleable, too. Rather than thinking of learners as end users of ready to go, finalized tools, maybe if we start thinking tools as scaffolding to experiences we might start to take our old cultural understandings of trust and figure out if and how they map on to the new digital trust challenges.