How Do You Build Trust in an Online Community?

Currently I am taking a graduate course on Connected Coaching from Powerful Learning Practice. In the past year I have been exploring my general interest in coaching. I also have an interest in better understanding how we develop cultures of learning and risk taking in our schools. I do believe that engaging in the coaching process can support the continuous learning and reflection of teachers, staff and administrators alike. This commitment to continuous learning and reflection of practices are essential components to creating change in our profession.

From now through December, I will periodically post about my learning and reflections on my Connected Coaching experiences.   

Creating the environment to build relationships

We are about to embark on week four, but I have been really mulling over this idea of building trust, one of the first topics we explored in the course. My head is swimming with thoughts and ideas, some of which have yet to fully form, so this topic is clearly a work in progress. As I reflect upon our time spent on that concept, I start with the question of: how does one structure the online environment so that trust forms between members?

When I think back to the first week, while the topic was an introduction to trust building, we actually didn’t spend time talking about specific strategies (though that perhaps inadvertently came out in discussions). In fact, the whole time was spent in giving us space and time to share, getting to know one another, and engage in discussions around our stories about learning or coaching. Even in the second week, while the topic of trust was not the explicit focus, this idea was really extended into having us share our values and beliefs about coaching. In essence, we were really sharing values and beliefs that were important to us as individuals, an activity that required a little more risk taking as we revealed a bit more of whom we were as individuals. At the same time, we were building community as we discussed these values and how they resonated with us relative to coaching.

In the third week, our own values were used as a starting point to talk about coaching dispositions. Building on the values we identified allowed us to create our own models of understanding of the coaching content. By valuing our experiences, our instructor was modeling trust. I should add that this was further emphasized in how discussion questions were reframed back to us, asking for further reflection upon past experiences and to share these stories. In essence, we were being trusted to be sources of expertise.

Thoughtful Technology Use

I am starting to see first-hand that as a facilitator in online spaces, one must be just as reflective about the tech tools used to carry out these activities. This is because the use of a variety of tools is important for engagement. Also, given individuals’ varying experiences with technology, ease of use of these tools is critical. A tool that is difficult to use decreases accessibility and the means for the group to build on their work.

Perhaps most importantly, technology cannot be used for the sake of doing so.  I can see a clear purpose for why we are using the tools we do. For example, one of our assignments included having to compare ISTE and IAC coaching standards with the Connected Coaching standards, as well as further insights. We were asked to share these ideas on Voxopop. (For those not familiar, Voxopop is like a message board, but all done through recorded voice messages.) I’m sure I could have done this activity in a simple comparison chart and posted it, but the act of being able to speak to and hear from my co-learners around the world really focused my thinking and led to some unexpected insights. Tech tools are not just about engaging the individual, but must absolutely be about deeper learning.

My take away thoughts on building the foundations for trust in online spaces:

  • Building trust means giving space for it to happen.
  • As a facilitator, a balance is required between the need for structured activities (so individuals feel safe to share and discussions remain on the learning at hand) and flexibility to let individuals express themselves.
  • Identifying the pre-existing values and beliefs of a group is critical to both building trust and identifying a path forward for one’s work together.
  • Valuing and building upon the experiences and voices of others emphasizes trust in the individual and models trust for the group as a whole.
  • In online spaces, take the time to ensure you have selected tools that are engaging, accessible and promote deeper learning. All three qualities will be needed to further entrench group trust.

What have I missed? What other ideas or insights do you have on building trust in online spaces?

One thought on “How Do You Build Trust in an Online Community?

  1. Dawn,
    Your narrative and takeaways offer so many insights into building trust online; thank you for sharing transparently so that others can learn from you.

    This statement really resonated with me and I am delighted to see you highlight it here:

    Tech tools are not just about engaging the individual, but must absolutely be about deeper learning.

    That you are a traveler on this learning journey– I am most grateful–

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