September 1, 2014

Addressing Trust Challenges in Connected Learning

Categories: Connected Learning, Digital Citizenship
tiger licking top of mans head representing trust

Any learning is inherently risky. The second we enter spaces to learn stuff, we are acknowledging that there are things we don’t know and that we trust the environment, place and people we are learning with and from to help us fill in those knowledge holes. By entering learning spaces, we are agreeing to form a community around the knowledge attained. We go through this process socially, even if only in a time-constrained environment like a museum. We do all of this without questioning the risk because we’ve come to some sort of social contract that has turned this process of learning into a cultural norm.

One of the wonderful things about digital media and learning is that it is a change in kind in as much as we have new tools and similar but slightly different social relations in digital and digitally augmented spaces. Because of this slight difference, things we don’t normally think about become more obvious. That is, what is happening with risk.

The reason we need a Trust Challenge (the competition I’m administering with my colleagues at HASTAC) in this moment is because we are seeing the risk in ways we couldn’t before, especially when we start thinking about the data, privacy, and safety of learners in digital environments. We are also being forced to acknowledge that learning happens in almost all social interactions, not just institutional ones. In fact, we are seeing institutions try to take advantage of what unstructured learning, the “biggest textbook in the world” (the internet according to Jonathan Worth), offers.

So, what is “risk literacy?”

For me, risk literacy is central to digital literacy. It is our ability to assess the drawbacks, dangers and limits of control in digital and digitally augmented environments. It is an acknowledgement that by using digital tools, no matter how open, if a learner is unable or not required to modify the code to create a learning experience, as much as we’d like them to stay learners, they occupy the role of an “end user.” It is understanding that this acknowledgement means that we are asking learners to be interpolated not just by the structure of the learning, but also by the tools they are using. We are asking them to share data and information that is personal and of personal value. Once data and information are shared, they are no longer solely in control of the learner, and we don’t always know what the risks are but, we have to anticipate them, especially if we are responsible for guiding learners through new areas of knowledge.

I think it is a good time to acknowledge that I have a little bit of a leg up on doing this as it is my area of research. I’m extremely interested in how tools and systems structure and limit both knowledge creation and the social position of the learner. I teach courses on the role of media and technology in culture and society. I love to play with making structures obvious so they become easy to think about, and I’ve already started to work through ways to teach students about the risks of using digital tools.

One of the items I’ve developed to increase risk literacy in courses is the “Interactive Project Release Form” assignment. I’ve written about it briefly on HASTAC, but I wanted to share it here as well. At the beginning of courses, I either have required or optional media projects that are either public on the web or engaging with social media. These interactions, as far as I’ve found in my research, are in the gray when it comes to FERPA in the US. Additionally, students are using sites and services that are outside of class, and entering into agreements with them. To engage in projects, students are made to sign an “Interactive Project Release Form.” It is not legally binding (I think? I mean, if the world operates like websites it is), but it is to get students to think about the work they agree to do in classes and the larger ramifications. In addition to the release form, we discuss these ramifications by doing related reading, and going through some of the Terms of Service contacts they’ve already agreed to.

Suggested Readings:

Crawford, Kate, and Jason Schultz. “Big Data and Due Process: Toward a Framework to Redress Predictive Privacy Harms.” Boston College Law Review55, no. 1 (2014).

Gillespie, Tarleton. “Designed to ‘effectively frustrate’: copyright, technology and the agency of users.” New Media & Society 8.4 (2006): 651-669.

Hogan, Bernie. “Pseudonyms and the Rise of the Real-Name Web.” A Companion to New Media Dynamics (2012): 290-308.

Required Readings:

The Terms of Service from of at least 1 social media site or service (i.e. iTunes, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, snapchat, Tinder, Grindr, instagram, etc.)

The day they come to class after the readings, I hand out the release. They read it, we have a class discussion about privacy, rights, ownership, limits, what we understand and don’t understand, and then, because I am in the wonderful position of power as the professor, they all sign the release… but, I hope that as they move forward, they might pause for a moment before they check the box that says they agree to the terms and conditions of the site. 

Release Template

Interactive Projects Release Form 


Course Name:_________________________________________

Department and Course Number:________________________


I hereby consent to the saving and digital redistribution of projects completed by myself, 

(Please print name)

I consent to being involved with class projects that take place on social media as

Legal Name 

Pseudonym ___________________________
                     (Please provide pseudonym) 

I understand that all material obtained will be used by the instructors at _________________ for educational and related purposes, including external distribution and sharing in various digital formats through distributions services such as YouTube, SoundCloud, Vine, Twitter, WordPress, etc. I understand that by using these services I am agreeing to their Terms of Service.

This agreement does not in any way affect the ownership of rights of the content presented in projects. I agree that nothing in my projects infringes the copyright of any third-party.

I understand I will receive no compensation for my consent to participate in this class.

I have read this form and have the opportunity to ask questions about it. I agree to be bound by this consent form. 

Signature: _____________________ Date: _______

I would love to learn about other things people are doing to help students and learners make informed decisions by understanding risk, or what some of the risk literacies we need to understand as digital tools become more and more central to learning. I recenlty took part in a webinar discussing Trust challenges across connected learning environments. In it, I join colleagues from a variety of backgrounds, presenting how trust is modeled 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.

Banner image credit: Dobi