Day 2: Online identities, digital residents and visitors

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Image of woman's face with no facial features and to the right a series of concentric circles with different social media icons, digital icons and communication icons

Having looked at our personal learning environments and started to think about the digital spaces and tools that support our learning we’re going to move on and consider our interaction with digital spaces and where we might leave traces of our online identities.  As many of us live out elements of both our professional and personal lives in digital spaces it’s worth taking time to consider how we manage the various personas we may present in the digital realm. If we use digital tools and spaces in our teaching we also need to take care to make sure our students have an understanding of the implications of using them and encourage them to think about how they will manage their digital identities and gain awareness of how they can manage their learning footprints.

Dave White and Alison Le Cornu have proposed a metaphor for mapping how we engage with the web and different technologies in both our personal lives and professional lives as a continuum of visitors and residents. Previous attempts to categorise how we engage with the digital world have suggested that the extent of our use may be linked to our age  leading to the notion of digital natives and digital immigrants as outlined by Marc Prensky.  White and Le Cornu challenge this assumption and the premise behind their metaphor is that we visit some online spaces and don’t leave a footprint or trail of our presence whilst in other spaces we are resident and a record of our engagement and our identity is evident.  Many of us are visitors on Google as we undertake a search, we might also be visitors on a site like YouTube as we look for videos that we might use in our teaching or to support our learning but if we’re posting our own videos or commenting on videos on YouTube we can be seen as residents in this online space. Dave White gives a helpful overview of visitors and residents in this video.

Many in higher education circles have been guilty of perpetuating the myth that our students are all digital natives and therefore more digitally savvy than us as their teachers.  Evidence from work done by Jisc and others over the past 10 years has highlighted that whilst our students may be adept at using social media they do not necessarily have well developed understanding and skills on how to use technology to support their learning.  Applying the digital visitors and residents metaphor can help us gain a better understanding of where our students sit in the digital realm and help them begin to explore and better appreciate the identities they are leaving traces of online.
References and further reading

Have a go at mapping out your own digital visitors and residents map, either draw your own out on a piece of paper or download this Digital resident – visitor mapping template and complete.

Once you’ve completed the mapping exercise reflect on the following points:

  • Is there anything that surprises you having completed this mapping activity?
  • How likely is your map to be similar to that of your colleagues?
  • Do you think it would differ much from one created by one of your undergraduate, postgraduate or research students?
  • How many digital identities or personas relating to different areas of your life are resident on the web?
  • Given that individuals may have different motivtaions and philosophies which shape their interactions with and use of technologies, what impact do you think this might have on using different technologies in teaching and learning.  Think in particular about the use of social media tools such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in  education.  Do you think they have a role?  Have a read of Catherine Cronin’s post on Enacting Digital Identity.
  • Do you think students consider how the data and footprints they leave online are used by organisations such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple?
  • Is there anything you would change about your online activity or how you manage your online identities having completed this mapping exercise?

Feel free to share your reflections and thoughts in the comments sections below.

Asking your students to create their own visitor and resident maps is a useful way to understand how they are engaging with the world wide web and in particular how they use it to support their learning.  Also as we look to incorporate learning and teaching on digital skills and information literacy into our curricula, the visitor and residents exercise can help prepare the ground to go on and explore issues around online privacy and how online channels, and in particular social media channels, use our data and how in turn algorithms control much of what we see in our social media channels.  It’s an activity that can begin to raise students awareness of what they are doing online and make them consider their own digital identities in a more positive context than the more usual approaches that tend to focus on the negative aspects of online behaviour.

If you’re interested in doing this activity with your students, Dave White had produced a facilitators guide to support a group activity on visitors and residents that has been licensed for open use and reuse. You can access the guide and the accompanying resources and notes on his website Digital – Learning – Culture.

A recent paper from Maralyn Druce and Stella Howden outlines how this mode and exercise can be used as a lens to gain perspectives of students online learning behaviour. They highlight how understanding the visitor and resident spectrum of our students can provide insights into how they use various digital tools and could also help inform course design.

The visitor and resident model could also help you see where students might need some guidance on how to use some of the tools that we take for granted in our disciplines and help us to develop strategies to nurture their self efficacy when it comes to online learning.


Druce, M. and Howden, S., 2017. New perspectives on health professions students’e-learning: Looking through the lens of the “visitor and resident” model. Medical Teacher, pp.1-6.

Today’s link of the day is to a report titled ‘What makes a successful online learner?’ published by Jisc and which builds on their work looking at students’ digital experience in relation to learning.  Whilst it identifies that some of the attributes of successful online learners are more applicable to postgraduate and CPD courses delivered online it’s useful to read this report in the context of all of our students and reflect on how we can help them to develop as successful lifelong learners in a digital world.

This Slideshare presentation from the Jisc team working on this project outlines how this project was approached and summarises key recommendations for lecturers involved in delivering and designing online learning.

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