For more than a decade Marc Prensky’s (2001) notions of digital natives and digital immigrants has had a powerful influence on how educational institutions perceive students and technology:
"Prensky’s distinction between people who are entirely at ease within a digital environment and those who manage to learn to exist but who (in his view) will never be fully competent, has gained enormous currency and, until recently, widespread acceptance. Similarly, his linked assertion that the differentiation also signals the need for an educational revolution, requiring a new approach which accommodates the up-and-coming Natives, has not only been largely believed but has provoked a sense of panic among ‘Immigrant educators’ who now perceive themselves wrong–footed and unable to step up to the plate."
White and Le Cornu, 2011
In recent years educational researchers have come to treat the natives and immigrants idea with suspicion. Nevertheless it has become embedded in many areas, and still forms the basis for much strategic thinking and implicitly underpins the decision making process in universities where the digital is concerned.
This guide draws on the findings and methods of the Jisc/OCLC funded digital visitors and residents (V&R) project which is underpinned by an alternative to Prensky’s typing of technology users. Visitors and residents is a simple way of describing a wide range, or continuum of, modes of online engagement. It has proved to be a useful way to come to an understanding of individuals’ motivations when they use the web in differing contexts.
We are not proposing that one mode of engagement is better than the other, simply that different modes are employed depending on the individual’s motivation and context at the time.
When in Visitor mode, individuals decide on the task they wish to undertake. For example, discovering a particular piece of information online, completing the task and then going offline or moving on to another task.
"We propose that 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. It may not have been perfect for the task, but they are happy to make do so long as some progress is made."
White and Le Cornu (2011)
In visitor mode individuals do not leave any social trace online. Much online activity is undertaken in this mode as illustrated by our research participants:
"Well, I’ll Google and see what comes up, and if I need to know just the basis and just to get my head around it I’ll use Wikipedia."
UK, emerging, male, age 18
When in resident mode the individual is going online to connect to, or to be with, other people. This mode is about social presence.
"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 where the distinction between online and offline is increasingly blurred."
White and Le Cornu (2011)
Resident behaviour has a certain degree of social visibility: for example, posting to the wall in Facebook, tweeting, blogging, or posting comments on blogs. This type of online behaviour leaves a persistent social trace which could be within a closed group such as a cohort of students in a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)/Learning Management System (LMS) or on the open web.
In information-seeking, Resident behaviour is more relevant in cases where individuals are going online to seek out other people for information. This might be by asking a direct question online or by asking for advice on trusted sources.
"The Facebook group is extremely active also, if not just for complaining about an assignment or trying to find a particular reading, but also sharing current news articles with each other."
UK, embedding, female, age 22
In this case the provenance of information shared is partly related to the person who shared it, and also in how trusted they are in assessing the validity of a source. They are vouching for the course and are bringing a social dimension to the information-seeking process. The other significant factor in Resident behaviour is the production of non-traditional sources such as blog posts, which are in turn used by learners.
For an example of how the continuum can be employed to assess user engagement see the visitors and residents mapping section of this guide.