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1.1 Visitors and Residents

The different ways in which people interact with, and perceive, digital technology are the subject of ongoing research and debate. For example, Prensky (2001) coined a distinction between ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’. He argued that younger generations are immersed in technology when entering education and they have a different understanding and relationship with technology than the ‘digital immigrants’ who have to learn it. This idea was appealing and gained much coverage. However, its claims did not withstand scrutiny, for example Bennett et al. (2008) found as much difference within the technology use of the younger generations that were deemed to be ‘digital natives’ as there was between them and the older generations of ‘digital immigrants’. Importantly, the technology skills of the digital natives were often limited. So it looks like we shouldn’t assume that someone is confident or proficient in using technology based on their age.

David White has rephrased this idea as ‘Digital Residents’ and ‘Digital Visitors’. This describes a range of online behaviours, and the same person can operate in Resident or Visitor mode for different tasks. White and Le Cornu (2011) define them as:

‘Visitors understand the web as akin to an untidy garden tool shed. They have defined a goal or task and go into the shed to select an appropriate tool which they use to attain their goal. Task over, the tool is returned to the shed.

Residents, on the other hand, see the web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building, in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work. A proportion of their lives is actually lived out online.’

When making changes to your practice in terms of online teaching, be aware of how much the technology is shaping your advances, and try to analyse whether you are acting as a Resident or a Visitor, or whether you expect learners to be one or the other.

You should also reflect on any assumptions you make about who will be capable of engaging with online learning, and the importance of assessing and, where necessary, developing the skills of learners and teaching to properly engage with online learning.

Activity 1 Thinking about your learners as ‘Visitors and Residents’

Timing: Allow about 20 minutes

David White explains the Visitors and Residents model in this video entitled Visitors and Residents [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

As you watch the video make notes on which elements you feel might apply to your learners – for which activities do you think they would identify as Residents and for which Visitors? Do you have a mix in your class – and if so in what approximate proportions?

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This activity is designed to help you to think about the technological skills (and needs) of your learners. The models described might help you to categorise the learners with respect to different tasks or technologies, and this in turn should help you identify how to meet their needs with your online teaching. For example, you may find that some of your learners are always present, and could be very comfortable with merging online learning activities into social media practices that are a part of their everyday life. Others may go online to do a specific task that is set for them, but will not think that they need to always be connected. You need to examine your expectations of their behaviours and be flexible to their approaches.

The video places importance on not oversimplifying assumptions about the need to teach digital skills for any audience. Instead, it is important to recognise that all learners and teachers may need to develop their skills in order to fully engage with online learning.

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