How does trust figure into educational services online? What role does the internet play in the trust between, for instance, teacher and student? Does the online environment add to feelings of trust, or does it undermine them?
Explicit here is that this does not concern the trust in systems or services. These are issues of reliability. Friedman et al. (2000) argue that the word trust should only be used when it concerns a relationship between two actors capable of consciousness and agency: “…trust exists between entities able to experience good will, extend good will toward others, feel vulnerable, and experience betrayal.” (Friedman et al 2000:36)
One of the things that could impact trust relationships between teachers and students is the anti-plagiarism system installed into the Blackboard Environment, called Ephorus. Students are required to submit their work to this system, which will then run a comparison scan, and will produce a percentage of similarity to other existing documents. Whereas in the old days teaching staff would read an essay and would, based largely on intuition, investigate passages that looked suspect, now the entire student body is subjected to automated scrutiny.
There have yet to be any real incidents with this new method of submitting academic work, but it could be imagined that trust issues could arise. For instance, if two students work together on a paper, and both submit this paper to the Ephorus system, it will report a duplicate (100% similarity). A more suspicious teacher might view this as an attempt to mask plagiarism by purposely glitching the system, whereas without the automated checking, no conflict would arise. There are more permutations of such scenarios imaginable where automated systems mediating between parties can affect trust and perception, and not necessarily in a positive way.
Another intervention in the trust relations between teachers and students is the availability of powerpoint files and/or videorecordings of lectures hosted online. Teachers generally trust students to show up to the lectures, if only because they are a crucial device for students to pass the course. This relationship of trust, where students are not required to attend lectures but are assumed to attend, might be (or is) disrupted by the introduction of these new technologies. Why travel to the lecture hall when you can access the content of these lectures at your convenience at home? This is the prime reason many lecturers refuse to make use of either technology; they do not trust their students to keep showing up if an easier alternative is offered.
But it can’t be all bad news. The increased connectivity and availability that comes with our screen-bound lives offers new opportunities for cooperation . Trust relations can be fostered by stimulating communication held through e-mail or discussion boards. A flourishing discussion in, for instance, the Blackboard environment might very well stimulate the teacher to perform better, because there is the trust that the effort will be noticed, utilized and appreciated.
The way technology is employed could have a profound effect on a teacher-student trust relationship. A worthy hypothesis would be to check whether services and policies that bring teachers and students closer to each other (through fostering communication) will also increase the trust between these parties. Conversely, technologies that may seem to marginalize teachers, but do aim to increase student performance , such as automated tests, videolectures and powerpoints may widen the gap between students and teachers and thus undermine the trust relationship.
Alternatively, maybe the student-teacher trust relationship is traditionally more or less fixed and the more determining factor on how either party perceives one another is the kind of educational relationship – anonymous first-year student or master-thesis-writing student. Even if so, however, the internet will figure as a medium in this relationship, and can draw both parties closer together or push them apart depending on how it is (ab)used.