Trust in Social Constructivism
Constructivism posits that knowledge develops in individuals through iterations of interactions between the individuals’ existing experiences and their sense of the external world (McComas, 2014). Social constructivism is opposed with cognitive constructivism in that in the former, the interaction is with others rather than purely inside the individual’s mind as in the latter (Powell & Kalina, 2009). Online forums form the ‘Virtual Communities of Practice’ (Ardichvili, 2008) that are instrumental in creating the social environment in which social learning can occur.
A necessary, if insufficient, condition for social learning is the disposition among group memberss to share their intellectual property (Chiu et al., 2006). Chiu et al. propose that issues such as ‘social ties, trust, norms of reciprocity’ amongst others, are important factors in the decision that individuals take regarding contributing online (p. 1873). Ardichvili evaluates trust as an ‘enabler’, i.e. a constituent of success, which he contrasts with ‘barriers’ (Ardichvili, 2008). When sharing sensitive information inside Blackboard, we are motivated by trust in the ‘larger social entity, the whole organisation’ (Ardichvili, p. 551). When trust is high social learning is possible, but equally, trust may be a barrier when it is low. As trust is an aspect-laden construct, and the decision to trust in a virtual community of practice (VCoP) is a risk endowed calculation (Bryk & Schneider, 1996), it is worthwhile noting the dangers of low trust for our community.
We are students in a VCoP and our knowledge of each other is still minimal. This second week requires us to submit a more detailed personal narrative and begin working in Learning Teams. When Wenger (1998, cited in Booth, 2012) reminds us that knowledge ‘is defined only in the context of a specific practice’, two conflicting contexts become apparent. The first is that of the ‘expert’: who holds that position in our VCoP? Ostensibly we are expert to at least a masters level in our own fields, and we are expected to participate in ‘dialogic engagement’ (Hussein, 2008) with each other as critical practitioners. Yet the subtext—the second context—which I assume we all adhere to is that of the Ed.D. itself. The course tutor advises and assesses us formally. This action presumes the notion that there are rankings within our VCoP: The nature of the ‘expert’ is less stable in this context. Complicating a fuller understanding of the ranks are radically different ways in which each of us may experience our mandate as our learning spaces ‘are sites of goal-oriented activities’ (Smith, 2005). We differ in the degree to which we make demands on our fellow classmates and how we view issues of ‘receptivity to and acceptance of the learning contingencies’ (p. 32). A self-generated Hofstedian type analysis of each classmate may be useful (see Hofstede, 2011, for a useful overview). At any rate, we must trust first and perhaps challenge any reticence we may hold while acknowledging Wenger’s observation that ‘People’s willingness to ask questions that reveal their ‘ignorance’, disagree with others in public, contradict known experts, discuss their problems, follow others in the thread of conversation—all these behaviours vary greatly across cultures’ (Wenger et al. 2002, cited in Ardichvili, 2008).
Ardichvili, A. (2008). Learning and knowledge sharing in virtual communities of practice: Motivators, barriers, and enablers. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 10(4). 541—554. DOI: 10.1177/1523422308319536
Booth, S. E. (2012). Cultivating knowledge sharing and trust in online communities for educators. Educational Computing Research, 4(1). 1—31.
Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (1996). Social trust: A moral resource for school improvement. Chicago: University of Chicago, Center for School Improvement.
Chiu, C-M, Hsu, M-H, Wang, E. T. G. (2006). Understanding knowledge sharing in virtual communities: An integration of social capital and social cognitive theories. Decision Support Systems, 42(3). 1872—1888.
Dalsgarrd, C. & Paulsen, M. F. (2009). Transparency in cooperative online education. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning 10(3). 1—22.
Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing cultures: The Hofstede model in context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1014
Hussein, J. W. (2008). An existential approach to engaging adult learners in the process of legitimizing and constructing meanings from their narrative knowledge. Action Research, 6(4). 391—420.
McComas, W. F. (ed.). (2014). The Language of science education: An expanded glossary of key terms and concepts in science teaching and learning. Rotterdam: Sense.
Powell, K. C. & Kalina, C. J. (2009). Cognitive and social constructivism: Developing tools for an effective classroom. Education, 130(2). 241—250.
Smith, R. (2005). Epistemological agency and the new employee. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 45(1). 29—46.
 although see Dalsgaard and Paulsen, 2009, for a discussion as to why online communities cannot be ‘communities of practice’. In this essay, I adopt the stance that VCoPs are viable.