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Who are Visitors and Residents?

Dave White explains the Visitors and Residents concept, the reasoning behind it, and how it can map technology use.
DAVID WHITE: Young people, they’re good with using digital technology, aren’t they? It’s easy for them because they grew up with it. Going online, using the web, it comes naturally to them. They learned how to use technology the same way they learn their own language. By being immersed in it from a very early age. It’s this metaphor of language which underlies the digital natives and immigrants idea put forward by Marc Prensky at around about the turn of the century. The theory goes that if you’re young enough to have grown up with digital technology, then you’re native to it.
If you’re that little bit older and didn’t grow up with access to the web, for example, the way you use it will be like attempting to speak a second language. It won’t be innate. In this way, you’re an immigrant in the online world. And you will never gain the natural fluency with the web that those who grew up with it have. This notion was and still is very attractive. But over time, it’s become casually simplified into, old people just don’t get this stuff. The idea that past a certain age, there’s very little chance of you elegantly adapting to the digital environment, leaving behind a generation fossilised in their pre-digital habits.
The digital natives and immigrants idea also encouraged the attitude that we didn’t need to teach younger generations how to use technology. The expectation was that they were going to teach us. But being socially adept at Facebook or owning the latest phone, for example, is not a foundation for using the web effectively for study, for critically evaluating a range of digital resources, or even having the capability to formulate and express cogent arguments online. These are examples of learning literacies, which don’t come for free with the latest technology. Literacies which are all the more crucial as learning continues to move online and beyond institutional boundaries.
In recent years, even Prensky himself has grown wary of the digital natives and immigrants idea, as it’s become ever more clear that age is not the predominant factor in the successful engagement with digital technology and the web. Now, I propose an alternative model to understand our relationship with the web. It’s one that’s not based on age or technical skill, but on our motivation to engage, visitors and residents. It’s a simple continuum of modes of engagement. And we can use it to map our use of services and platforms online, and importantly, how and why we use those platforms.
Using visitors and residents as a lens can help reveal underlying approaches and attitudes, which in turn can help us to support and engage the people we work with. As I mentioned, this is a continuum, not two hard-edged categories. We’re not trying to type people into two groups. In actual fact, most of us will use a combination of visitor modes and resident modes when we go online, depending on the context we’re in.
At the visitor end of the continuum, we tend to think of the web as being like a collection of tools. Things that are useful for getting a particular job done. So in visitor mode, we decide what we’re trying to achieve, rummage around in the untidy toolbox of the web, select a tool we think it’s going to work for us. Use that tool, and then put it back and close the lid. A good example of this would be going online to search for a piece of information, using that information, and then coming back offline again. Or perhaps using the web to pay some bills or book a holiday. Those kinds of activities.
The point is that in visitor mode, we leave behind no social trace of ourselves online.
At the resident end of the continuum, we think of the web as a series of spaces or places. When we’re in resident mode, with choosing to go online to be present with other people. We’re living out a portion of our lives online. This mode of engagement does leave a social trace. One which remains after we go offline. People who regularly operate in resident mode are very likely to have a profile on a social networking site of some sort. They might be happy to express their opinion by commenting on other people’s blog posts or videos, for example. They might even have their own blog or be happy to post photos and videos that they’ve created themselves.
The extreme end of residency in the continuum involves highly visible activity online and is relatively rare. More common is activity towards the centre of the continuum, where we’re active within known communities online. For example, regularly contribution to an email list or posting to friends and family in Facebook. The point is that these types of activity are linked to our identity and persona. We are residing as individuals online. As I mentioned earlier, context is very influential on our modes of engagement online. So what we can do is add a vertical axis to represent this. It’s important to separate the personal from the institutional or professional. But here again, we’re dealing not with opposing forces, but with a sliding scale.
The resident web will tend to blur traditional boundaries between socialising, work, and study, unless we actively compartmentalise our online lives. Even so, the ways we choose to engage with the web in a personal context, the practices we develop here, do not necessarily translate smoothly into more formal contexts, such as education. In this short series, we’ll be exploring resident forms of practice. Not because resident modes are necessarily any better than visitor modes, but because they’re less widely understood. Resident forms of practice give us a whole range of new ways that we could potentially engage our staff, or our students, or our users online.
They have implications for our professional identities, for how we produce and consume knowledge, and for how we go about assessing the credibility of individuals, information, and institutions.

In the video, Dave White explains the Visitors and Residents concept, the reasoning behind it, and how it can map technology use. In the next activity you will draw on your viewing of this video when reflecting upon your own use of technology.

For now, watch the video and make a note of the reasons why White proposes the use of terms ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’, and how he determines which technologies to place on the grid.

Share your thoughts about the ‘visitors and residents’ concept in the comments area below.

© The Open University

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