What Does Trust Look Like in Online Spaces? An Overview of TIL’s Latest Report

A photo of Nicholas Smith in a grey sweater, wearing dark rimmed glasses.

Written by Nicholas Smith – Design Research Assistant for Transforming the Instructional Landscape

As the UofT community continues to navigate the transition to online learning, maintaining bonds of trust amongst instructors, staff, and students has become increasingly important.  

Students need to trust that the quality of their education is not being compromised and that the University can accommodate the diverse ways that COVID-19 has affected their lives. Similarly, instructors and AV technicians need to be confident that the University will support them with the many ways that their roles and daily working lives have changed.  


Online learning environments afford new opportunities to instructors and students, but the transition has also faced many challenges related to technology, accessibility, and community building. This report, entitled “New Forms of Learning Require New Forms of Trust”, draws on interviews and focus groups conducted in the Winter and Summer semesters of 2020. Its aim is to foreground three forms of trust that contribute to successful and empowered experiences of instructional space and of the university experience more broadly.

Indentifying Three Forms of Trust

In the report, the three forms of trust identified are presented as three distinct themes. Our first form of trust, “Inclusive Teaching and Learning Spaces” describes the challenges and opportunities that digital technologies present in online course delivery. “Experience Beyond Academics” reveals the impact that COVID-19 has had on the UofT community more broadly, including the ways in which it has affected extracurricular activities, social structures, and mental-health supports, as well as the significant life uncertainties which have been brought about. Finally, “Trust Through Honesty” speaks to the need for transparent communication—including the need to hold space for discomfort and vulnerability—and the importance of considering the emotional impact that the transition to online learning has had on students, staff and instructors. 

Collectively, the three themes our report uncovered are not independent of one another, but are interconnected in ways which inform experiences of the University. This is why we have visualized them as the base of a pyramid which underpins fulfilling and successful university experiences.  

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