British universities have world-class reputations and
they are vital to our social and economic future. But they
are in a tight spot. The huge public investment that
sustained much of the sector is in jeopardy and the
current way of working is not sustainable. Some are
predicting the end of the university as we have known it.
The Edgeless University argues that this can be a
moment of rebirth for universities. Technology is
changing universities as they become just one source
among many for ideas, knowledge and innovation. But
online tools and open access also offer the means for
their survival. Their expertise and value is needed more
than ever to validate and support learning and research.
Through their institutional capital, universities can use
technology to offer more flexible provision and open
more equal routes to higher education and learning.
We need the learning and research that higher
education provides. But this will take strategic leadership
from within, new connections with a growing world of
informal learning and a commitment to openness and
collaboration. By exploiting this role, universities can
harness technology as a solution and an indispensable
tool for shaping their vital role in the future.
As part of the JISC funded Isthmus project we have been taking a close look not at what technologies our students use but at how our they use them. We found that our students could not be usefully categorised as Digital Natives or Digital Immigrants. I.e. This distinction does not help guide the implementation of technologies it simply provides the excuse that “some people ‘just don’t get it’ which is why your new approach has failed so badly…”
Anyway, our students appropriation of online services did not seem to follow a simple pattern based on skill level. It seemed to depend on if they saw the web as a ‘place to live’ or as a collection of useful tools. This underlying motivation led us to outline two main categories of distance learning student.
The resident is an individual who lives a percentage of their life online. The web supports the projection of their identity and facilitates relationships. These are people who have an persona online which they regularly maintain. This persona is normally primarily in a social networking sites but it is also likely to be in evidence in blogs or comments, via image sharing services etc The Resident will of course interact with all the practical services such as banking, information retrieval and shopping etc but they will also use the web to socialise and to express themselves. They are likely to see the web as a worthwhile place to put forward an opinion. They often use the web in all aspects of the of their lives; professionally, for study and for recreation. In fact the resident considers that a certain portion of their social life is lived out online. The web has become a crucial aspect of how they present themselves and how they remain part of networks of friends or colleagues.
The Visitor is an individual who uses the web as a tool in an organised manner whenever the need arises. They may book a holiday or research a specific subject. They may choose to use a voice chat tool if they have friends or family abroad. Often the Visitor puts aside a specific time to go online rather than sitting down at a screen to maintain their presence at any point during the day. They always have an appropriate and focused need to use the web but don’t ‘reside’ there. They are sceptical of services that offer them the ability to put their identity online as don’t feel the need to express themselves by participating in online culture in the same manner as a Resident.
In effect the Resident has a presence online which they are constantly developing while the Visitor logs on, performs a specific task and then logs off.
This is of course not a polar distinction. There is a spectrum of which the Resident and the Visitor represent two extremes (Watch this space for a couple of possible sub-categories). It is a useful distinction because it is not based on gender or age. While our data would indicate that the portion of the population over 55 is predominantly made up of Visitors there are examples of Residents in this section of the demographic. Similarly it is the case that not everyone younger than 25 is a Resident.
It is not always easy to spot who is in each category as the level of sophistication with which a Visitor might use any single service might well be greater than that of a Resident. Again, this is not a skill based distinction. In fact I know of at least one ed-tech researcher who considers himself to be a Visitor out of choice.
The Resident is likely to have arranged some sort of system to manage the relationship between services and the flow of information through their browser but this does not mean that they will be any more effective at researching a specific topic than a Visitor. This is why data from a survey that simply asks what online services a group of students use is next to useless.
This Visitor, Resident distinction is useful when considering which technologies to provide for online learners. For example if your learners are mainly Visitors they are unlikely to take advantage of any feed based system for aggregated information you may put in place. They are also unlikely to blog or comment as part of a course. The Resident will expect to have the opportunity to offer opinions on topics and to socialise around a programme of study. In fact they are likely to find ways of doing this even if they are not ‘officially’ provided. We offered membership of a facebook group to our students as they left their online courses. The majority signed-up without question as they wanted to stay in touch with fellow students and continue discussions. The remainder saw the group as pointless and a possible invasion of privacy. Both sides of this argument are correct… It’s a question of approach and motivation, hence Visitors and Residents.
This entry was posted by @daveowhite on Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008 at 3:30 pm and is filed under JISC, community, isthmus, privacy, projects, research, society online. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
With many thanks to Chris Hall for his post on the Swansea Learning Lab blog which alerted me to this article.