Visitors and Residents (David White)

White persuasively criticises Prensky’s digital natives and digital immigrants binary, and the conceptual assumptions underpinning it. In particular, White makes the important point that learning literacies are needed to use technologies effectively, and in particular the web, especially when it comes to study. Critically evaluating digital resources and formulating cogent arguments online, for example, do not come with the latest gadgets or tools.

Instead, White proposes a different model, that of digital visitors and residents, which is premised on the modes and degrees of engagement. How and why do we use digital platforms? As White says, these categories do not exclude each other (unlike the digital natives/immigrants binary), as we are likely to engage with the web in different ways at different times depending on our purpose and the context that we are in, so that we combine these modes. “In visitor mode, we leave no social trace being online”: we see the web simply as a toolbox. At the resident end, we see the web as a collection of space or places, where we want to be present with other people, “living out a portion of our life online”, which then leaves social trace also when we go offline. People who ar residents have some form of presence online, such as social media accounts: this means most of us.

White additionally distinguishes between personal and institutional practices. White seeks to investigate resident forms of practice an how they relate to our identities, whether they be professional or personal.

Part 2 of the video focuses on credibility. White starts off with a key difference between analogue and digital sources of information, with the former–books–having been written by experts and carefully curated. Libraries are therefore highly selective and also much more limited in reach than materials online, which can be found by anyone who uses a search engine;  audiences can be vast, which also among other things suggests huge potential in extending the reach of education.

But online, curation takes place by means of algorithms (likes, search engines), not librarians, so convenience often outstrips credibility, one key reason why academics are skeptical of information from the web and why they discourage students to use the web for finding (academic information), including for such sources as Wikipedia. Interestingly, this then leads to what White terms a “learning blackmarket”: students are using online sources for their learning, but more often than not, they are not being upfront about because of fears of institutional opprobrium (which has implications for plagiarism, though White doesn’t go into this area). Consequently, a tension arises between students’ personal learning practices and the demands of institutional, formal academia.  The resident/institutional quadrant remains relatively empty as students, perhaps because students are wary of mixing their private residence online with their institutional commitments, but also because institutions see themselves as operating in a visitor rather than resident mode: students come to university for a few years, and then they depart.

However, given that learning needs to become more liquid, as Savin-Baden argues, educational institutions will need to find ways of engaging student in such a way as to ensure that that they become lifelong learners: residents rather than visitors. And certainly, if universities are to draw on the affordances of technology to foster liquid learning, then some basic assumptions about education and learning more generally will need to change.

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