By Guest Author: Jenn Patrick
Recently, an interviewer asked how I build trust within my workgroup. While answering, I had one of those realizations that tend to surface at the apex of interview mania, copious research and over caffeination: I need to create trust with my students! But how do you develop trust in the often accelerated and asynchronous classroom?
With workplace trust being a popular ongoing issue, I suspected I was not the first person to ask about instructor trust in the online environment. I was correct; many researchers have written articles in the last several years regarding trust in the virtual world.
But I wanted some simple and practical behaviors that would cultivate a relationship of trust when time is short. With some online courses lasting as few as 5 weeks, trust creation must be much swifter than the old adage, “trust takes time.” And so I turned to Stephen M. Covey’s work The Speed of Trust to use as a springboard.
Swift Trust in Online Learning
Below are some suggested strategies any instructor can use to quickly build trust in the online classroom. They, in themselves, are not revelatory. Some are techniques you may already use because they are just good pedagogical practice; some are from the research; some are just extrapolations from what I read. I do, however, think they all contribute to building an environment of trust in the short time you have with your students.
- Keep Your Commitments – Do what you say you are going to do and within the time frame that you specify. This is usually one of the quickest ways to build trust. In fact, Sheridan and Kelly (2010) identified that keeping commitments was one of the top ten most important teacher behaviors according to online students. So that means that you really do need to check your email as often as you indicate in your syllabus!
- Clarify Expectations – Provide as much detail as possible so students can manage their time accordingly. Sheridan and Kelly (2010) found that half of the most important indicators of instructor presence were related to clarity of course requirements. Be specific about your expectations so they can meet them. Include rubrics and exemplars whenever possible so they can see exactly how to achieve success. Open all of the modules at the beginning of the course so they can look or work ahead. Document page numbers, not just chapters, so they can easily plan how much time they will need to read.
- Communicate Early, Frequently, Enthusiastically and Qualitatively – Be the first person to post in the forum and follow up regularly. Be positive and excited about the students and the topics. Present substantive responses and detailed experiences to engage students and confirm your dedication. Be the communication role model. Much of the research suggests that trust in virtual teams depends on the frequency and quality of communication (Clark, Clark, & Crossley, 2010; Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999).
- Share Personal Stories and Experiences – Discuss your hobbies, activities, and your work background. Jarvenpaa and Leidner found that building this rapport in the beginning “appeared to foster trust” (1999). Aragon suggests that sharing your work history helps to build credibility and legitimacy, as well as letting students know that you have traveled the path they may want to pursue (2003).
- Provide Honest and Timely Feedback – Be honest in your assessment of the student’s performance. It takes more effort to provide constructive feedback than to award all of the points just for submission. And it takes diligence to grade the work immediately after the due date. But nothing erodes student trust faster than when they feel you aren’t putting in the same effort and care that they are. Students prefer timely feedback so they know how to improve their next assignment before it’s due (Sheridan & Kelly, 2010).
- Be Diligent – Make your very best effort to do things correctly the first time. Proofread your communications. Verify the integrity of the documents that you post. Double check the students’ work and ensure you are correctly assigning points to the right students. Try to minimize the number of errors that students see. Note that I said minimize, because errors are inevitable.
- Right Wrongs – Admit when you are wrong and resolve it. Don’t let your ego get in the way and don’t spend time justifying why it happened. If it is a situation where you can make restitution in some way, do that as well. For example, if you accidentally provide an incomplete article for the students, give them extra time to read it once you remedy the problem.
- Demonstrate Respect and Show Loyalty – Speak of both individuals and groups respectfully and loyally. Don’t talk negatively with students about other instructors. Don’t speak negatively with one student about another. If one student presents a concern about another, acknowledge the concern and let them know it will be addressed, but don’t discuss it beyond the facts. Give credit where it is due by acknowledging the contributions others make.
Obviously this is not an exhaustive list, but it does include some important highlights.
What other ways can we help build trust with our students in our online classrooms?
Aragon, S. (November 03, 2003). Creating Social Presence in Online Environments. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 2003, 100, 57-68.
Clark, W. R., Clark, L. A., & Crossley, K. (2010). Developing multidimensional trust without touch in virtual teams. Marketing Management Journal, 20(1), 177-193.
Covey, S. M. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. New York: Simon and Schuster.
Jarvenpaa, S. L., & Leidner, D. E. (December 01, 1999). Communication and Trust in Global Virtual Teams. Organization Science, 10, 6, 791-815.
Sheridan, K., & Kelly, M. A. (2010). The indicators of instructor presence that are important to students in online courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(4), 767-779.