Transcript to the Visitors and Residents video

http://tallblog.conted.ox.ac.uk/index.php/2009/10/14/visitors-residents-the-video/

 

My name is Dave White and I’m the co-manager of an e-learning research and development unit based here at the University of Oxford.  So the Visitors and Residents Principle is a guide to assessing people’s motivation towards the Web.  Well, the principle came out of work that we were doing on a JISC-funded project called Isthmus, where we were looking at the institutional provision of e-learning and the culture of the wider Web and trying to bridge that divide, because the culture of the wider Web had changed significantly with the emergence of social media over the preceding five years or so.  And we surveyed our students, our students are lifelong-learning students, at a distance, but generally speaking older than the traditional undergraduate.  And we surveyed them and we interviewed them; and one of the things that came out of that project was this Visitor-Resident Principle.  Because we started to note that people seem to have very particular approaches towards the Web, which weren’t based on their skill, and techno-skill, if you like, and it also didn’t seem to be based on their age.  It seemed to me to do with a different form of motivation altogether.

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Now, obviously, as soon as I say visitors and residents, many people will think of Prensky’s Principle, Natives and Immigrants, which he proposed in 2001, which is a long time in terms of the Web.  And the question with the Natives and Immigrants Principle really is, is that something to do with biology, is it to do with the way our brains are wired and how that may or may not be changing, is it to do with language, or is it to do with some sort of sense of territory?  Well, it did seem to boil down for us to a question of language, with the native not having a discernible accent in their engagement with these technologies; but the immigrant, it being clear that they’d come in from outside.  Which is fine, but the Natives and Immigrants Principle ultimately came to be understood more like this: old people just don’t understand this stuff.  That was the problem.  And, certainly, in higher education, there was panic that the kids would be coming up through the system and they understood this stuff and they were native to it; and we were immigrants, we were dinosaurs and we had to plug this stuff in and get our heads round it; otherwise we’d look totally anachronistic.  And, I don’t think that was the case.  I think the situation was much more subtle than that.  So the Visitor-Resident Principle is a way of trying to tackle some of the space that the Natives and Immigrants Principle tried to tackle, but sort of uncoupled from this idea of age.

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Just to describe the visitor quickly, they go online, they do what they need to do, they come away again, they leave no trace.  They have got no social persona online.  So here are a number of keywords: private, individual, goal-orientated that describe the visitor; whereas the resident, they live out a portion of their life online.  They have a form of their identity, which stays out there online even when they log off.  Now it might erode, there might be this kind of social latency so that the longer they stay offline, the more that their persona sort of fades away.  But, nevertheless, they are, in some senses, resident, to a certain extent, online.  And here are some keywords that might describe a resident: social, communal, visible.

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So that’s the visitor and the resident; and I want to be clear that even though I have sort of pigeon-holed them as two distinct categories so that I can talk about them, what I’d like this to be seen as is a continuum with the visitor at one end and the resident at the other.  So you can be more or less a visitor or a resident, and I’ll go over that a little bit more later.  But in terms of describing them, I have to do that in a fairly sort of binary way.

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So, lets just go back into the resident and sort of unpick some of these phrases that I just used, some of these keywords that I’ve just used, to describe their approach towards the Web.  So in terms of being communal, it’s important that we don’t necessarily assume communal means collaborative.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that people are cooperating on shared objects or shared projects.  You can be part of a community and still remain quite autonomous.  So the resident enjoys the idea, enjoys that sense of ambient social presence, that there are other people in these sort of social media platforms with them, because the resident is likely to be a member of a social networking site; they’re likely to upload media, such as photos; they might comment on people’s blogs or on other people’s social media sort of areas; and they might have their own blog, although, obviously, that’s less likely.  But, while they enjoy that sense of community, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re closely collaborating with others around them.

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Visibility.  It’s quite important to a resident that they remain visible, because if they’ve got a certain amount of their identity or persona out there online, they want it to stay visible within their networks.  And the way that social media works is that you have this kind of visibility latency or this social-presence latency where your visibility erodes over time.  And that’s sort of become more and more amplified or accelerated, so you could think that blogging, you might be doing a blog that’s 600 to 1000 words, the value of that blog probably remains live for a reasonable amount of time.  Then you think about social networking, you’re starting to reduce down the size of the chunks of material you’re putting out there.  You’re going to have to do it more often because the value of those chunks of material are eroding faster; and then we think about the current extreme, which is Twitter, maximum of 140 characters.  If you want to stay on the top of that stack, you’ve got to keep feeding that machine.  Now, the idea of micro-celebrity is quite useful from this point of view, because what it’s trying to say is that people within residence within these social media spaces are treating their own personal identity like a brand.  They’re selling their brand into these spaces and they’re trying to keep visibility high.  Now, the problem here, the negative aspect of this, is that to keep your visibility high, you have to keep, as I said, feeding that machine; and you’re going to feed it with whatever you can think of, and that’s why an awful lot of material that floats around social media spaces is enormously banal.

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Now, I’m not against being banal in principle because the majority of our communications in real life off the Web are also banal.  It’s an important part of the way humans interact with each other.  Just saying, hello I’m here, I exist, and to get feedback is an important thing for our own sense of personal identity.  But, I think what we’ve got to be careful about is that just being highly skilled at remaining visible and being very prominent within these social media spaces and having a large network that you influence, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re skilled at other things such as critical evaluation or research. So, somewhere in there, implicitly, we had this idea that if you were very, very, good, if you were adept at social media, then that somehow meant that you were adept at all forms of engagement on the Web.  But a lot of those skills actually exist outside of the technology, so your ability to research a subject is a skill which is non-digital; and you apply it in a digital space.  So we have to be careful about that.

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Now, probably the most useful way of conceiving of what a resident is, is that they see the Web as a space, okay, so it’s a bit like this image here.  It’s a park, there are people milling around, they’re chatting to each other, there are little informal groups of people kind of clustering, breaking apart, reforming.  They see the Web as a social space.  So that’s the resident.  

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Now let’s move over to the visitor and go through some of these terms.  So, when we think about visitors, one of the key things that they’re concerned with is this idea of privacy; and what I would say is that I do think that our cultural concept of privacy is, perhaps, shifting over the generations, and that younger generations conceive of privacy as being something very different to older generations.  Perhaps that is actually changing on an age basis, I’m not totally sure.  But, certainly, for our students, the ones that wanted to remain as visitors, the ones that weren’t interested in engaging, were primarily concerned with this idea of privacy and they were worried about identity theft.  They couldn’t see the point of what they saw as flaunting themselves in front of strangers.  What they didn’t realize is that the core of most people’s social media networks or social networks online is actually made up of people that they already know in real life; and so they’re using social media to extend relationships in terms of negating distance and having more opportunities to engage with their pre-existing friends through a different media.  To the visitor, it’s just this sort of egomania; and this is a quote from one of our students—I’m not likely to join Facebook as some of my colleagues have; but some are going, oh, I thought it was for perverts and weird people. And they genuinely… the visitor genuinely doesn’t see the need to create these networks online.  They’ve probably already got a strong peer network offline.

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In terms of being goal-orientated, the visitor will critically assess as to whether the platform that they’re going to use is actually going to solve a problem for them, or move them forward in a goal that they’re trying to achieve.  Now, if they decide that it does, they’ll learn it.  So the visitor is no more or less technically adept than the resident; they’re just more focused in trying to achieve particular ends.  So we have examples of people who are at the far end of the visitor spectrum, if you like, who, once that they decided that they needed to use Skype, they picked it up just like that.  Now, obviously, that doesn’t happen across the board, but I think it’s important to make it clear that the visitor is not the sort of poor cousin, technologically, to the resident.

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In terms of having an individual rather than communal approach, the visitor, and this is in an educational context, is acting in that particular individualistic way because of what they conceive education to be.  A lot of our students have already been all the way through the education system; they’re in their lifelong-learning part of their education.  And, as they went through the education system, they were encouraged to become increasingly autonomous; and so their approach is autonomous.  So, if we create a social-networking space or, say, let’s do some informal learning, or you just might want to chat to people, why don’t you join Facebook, or Twitter’s good for staying in contact with your fellow students, they’ll just say, well, what’s that got to do with education?  What’s that got to do with learning?  Learning is between me, the content, and the expert.  I don’t want to talk to these other people; I mean, they’re nice people, I’m quite happy to be friends with them, but it’s got nothing to do with learning.  So, within an educational context, the idea of being a visitor and the way that the visitor acts has got more to do with their kind of educational ideology than it has to do with their approach to technology.

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So, the visitor sees the Web as a collection of tools. The resident sees the Web as a space, a social space to mill around in.  The visitor sees it as like a relatively untidy toolbox.  So they’ll have something that they want to achieve, they’ll rummage around in the toolbox, they’ll find the tool they need to use, they’ll use it, and they’ll put it back again.  So, I think that that comparison between the resident milling around in a sunny park on a Sunday afternoon as compared with the visitor who’s rummaging around in the toolbox, using something and putting it back, I think that’s the most useful way of coming to understand the Visitor-Resident Principle.

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So, let’s just look at some overall issues here to do with the Visitor-Resident Principle.  Here’s a map of my visitor-residency, if you like.  And what you can see here is that, professionally, I’m very much the resident.  I’m out there, I’ve got a persona online; when I log off, my personal, my identity, my professional identity stays out there.  I’m on Twitter, I blog a lot, I’m quite happy to be recorded at conferences and have those things posted; and that’s quite important to me, professionally.  But privately, non-institutionally, I’m very much the visitor.  I don’t particularly want to put my private life, my family, out on the Web.  And so you can see, that whether I’m a visitor or a resident is to do with context; and people can be in different positions on that continuum depending on their context.  And I think that individuals are quite good at managing that and have quite a clear idea of what they think about that.

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So, what’s my point?  I have to put this slide in, otherwise I might forget to have a point.  Well, I’m going to use this as an example.  Twitter for Idiots is a blog post by Andy Powell, and it was kind of his reaction when he found that a number of people were doing training courses on how to use Twitter.  Now, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, but if I just read out what he said: I’m not totally sure that you can teach people to get Twitter; people get Twitter by using it.  I think the point here is that Twitter is a residential platform.  If you’re going to come to understand what it really means, what it might mean for you, you’ve got to get in there and you’ve got to experience it.  It’s a kind of socio-cultural platform; it’s so much more than its underlying functionality would lead you to believe.  I could give you a manual that told you how to use Twitter, which buttons to press, but it wouldn’t really help you understand what Twitter was.  So, in terms of the Visitor-Resident Principle, it’s important that we recognize that some platforms are designed to be residents within, and we have to approach them accordingly.  If we approach a kind of residential platform with a visitor mindset, then we’re going to become unstuck.

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So, what’s the point from an educational perspective?  Well, I’m going to use an example from another Gist-funded project that we did recently called Open Habitat; and we were looking at the use of virtual worlds for teaching and learning.  And the reason why virtual worlds are useful for this example is because they’re inherently a residential platform; because, clearly, they’re a kind of realized space that you’re embodied in as in Avatar.  And there were two sides to the project.  On the one side, we were teaching lifelong-learning distance students philosophy in a fairly traditional seminar format; and what happened here was that the tutor treated the space like a visitor, or more like a visitor, and so appeared when we ran the pilots and then disappeared.  Now, in the meantime, some of the students were actually beginning to become resident in Second Life, in this case.  And, towards the end of the piloting process, there was a slight cultural friction as the tutor came in and took control of the situation, as the tutor would in a real-life scenario, and said, this is how this seminar is going to run; this is how it’s going to work; and, basically, ran the show.  Now, for the students that had become resident in that space, it started to seem a little bit peculiar because in residential platforms, it’s not necessarily possible to copy and paste authority for a for a real-life scenario into that space.  You have to re-earn your social capsule and your [unclear] within that social media platform, like Second Life.  And so there was a little bit of friction there, I think, from a tutor treating what is a residential platform like a visitor, acting as a visitor, but in a residential space.  And that has got some authority and hierarchy implications.

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On the other side of the project, we’re working with undergraduate art and design students; and in this case, the tutor had spent a lot of time in-world, had become resident in-world, and had a kind of identity or persona through his avatar in that space.  And that helped things move along.  Also, the pedagogy evolved over time.  So, rather than assuming a kind of authority, the tutor began to act more like just a more-experienced other, rather than somebody with a given authority.  So, this image here is a good example of this where the students were asked different types of thematic tree; and they went onto an island, spent a whole day on the island, and the tutor built a tree at the same time as the students and they discussed their practice along side each other, which is a little bit like what used to happen in sort of traditional art design studio space.  And, because the tutor was a little bit more resident within that resident platform, that helped the pedagogy of the situation run more effectively.

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So, that’s the Visitor-Resident Principle.  And I think what I’d say, overall, about it, is that it’s not about academic or technical skills; it’s about culture and motivation.  And, to me, that is a much healthier emphasis than maybe we’ve seen over previous years, where we’re not focusing primarily on the technology, but we’re looking at how people approach the technology; and, as I say, not in a skills basis and not in an age basis, either, but in terms of their motivation.   And I’d ask whether we’re moving into a kind of a post-digital, post-technical space, because the technology itself is working quite well and there’s an awful lot of it; and most of the really substantive challenges that we face, appear to be socio-cultural rather than, particularly, technological.

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And this brings into question what things like digital literacy and digital skills might actually mean.  Obviously, at one level, you do need to know how to just literally engage with the technology and which buttons to press; but perhaps that shouldn’t be our primary focus in terms of the way people engage with online spaces or online tools, depending on whether you’re a visitor or a resident.

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So, that’s everything I wanted to say about the Visitor-Resident Principle for the moment.  You can find out a little bit more about what we’re talking about on the TALL Blog, and thank you for listening.