Introducing: Learning Footprints

Ancient footprints of Acahualinca
Reading Time: < 1 minutes

2 October: Learning Footprints – this series will explore concepts such as digital residents and visitors together with personal learning environments and networks and also discuss privacy and safety in digital learning habitats.

Day 1: Where do you learn?

A diagram of a personal learning environment
Reading Time: 5 minutes

This week’s Learning X is exploring learning in a digital world and thinking about our learning footprints.  There’s often lots of talk about students needing to be aware of their digital footprint as they live their lives online through social media channels.  Over the course of this week we’re going to switch the focus to how we as academics learn and the places we learn in.  We’ll  look at how we use technology more generally and go on to consider areas such as privacy, ownership and who’s in control of what we see online.  Developing our understanding of these issues can help shape how we can develop as teachers in the digital space in safe and positive ways and consider how we might then go on to use technology with our students.

A diagram of a personal learning environment
An example of a personal learning environment

As we begin to explore our learning footprints let’s start by thinking about how we learn. Everyone learns in different ways and about a vast array of different things.  We learn facts and skills and about our professional identities.  The process of learning is complex and how we approach it varies according to what we’re trying to learn or master together with the context of the learning.  Whilst many of us maybe have been, or are, involved in elements of formal learning through higher programmes of study and continuing professional development activities, much of our lifelong and life wide learning is informal and self-directed.  Different forms of content play a role in supporting our learning as do people, so much of learning is social and situated in the workplace in our communities of practice.  The digital world is also playing a growing role in supporting our learning and changing the look and feel of our learning environments and leading to the concept of the personal learning environment (PLE).  With access to information online 24/7 we can learn anytime, anyplace, anywhere and self-organise our learning and create our own PLE.  We can think about our PLE in terms of:

  • The spaces that we learn in, both the physical and the virtual world. For example in the office, on the sofa at home in the evenings, on the commute into university, at academic seminars, online courses or online forums.
  • The tools and resources that we use. These might be open and free to use or are paid for or closed and restricted access. There’s Google and the Library search and other databases to access resources to support our learning,  there are the tools, apps and websites that we might use.
  • Where we record and reflect on our learning.  Perhaps using pen and paper, by creating sketch notes or using digital tools and note taking apps to organise and file resources that support our learning.
  • How we share what we’ve learned.  In team meetings, conversations with colleagues or maybe share our learning through social networks and online forums.

The look and feel and what makes up a PLE will look different for each of us.

Think about your own personal learning environment (PLE).  The physical and virtual spaces that you learn in, the tools and resources that you use, how you record and reflect on your own learning and then share it more widely.

Begin to map out or sketch your own personal learning cycle or learning environment, detailing the places, spaces, resources and tools that you use to support your learning.  You can sketch this out any way you like. As you think about this don’t restrict yourself to learning that applies to your professional work life but also to your hobbies and interests, for example learning how to fix something, how to use the more advanced settings on a digital camera, how to ice a cake etc.  Consider whether there are differences between where formal and informal learning takes place. Once you’ve finished mapping your personal learning environment you could compare with some that other educators have created over on this PLE wiki.

Are there similarities  between your PLE and those on the wiki?  This was created several years ago and you’ll see that some of the images are missing which highlights that transient nature of content on the web.  Individuals close down sites and the content disappears.

It would be also be great to compare and contrast across the University so if you take a photograph with your phone you can upload it into this folder on the University’s One Drive only, open to those within the University.  Alternatively share it via Twitter and include the hashtag #UoDLearnX.

You might want to try this exercise with students.  It will give you an insight into how your students are learning and help them share useful resources and tips to support their learning.

With knowledge growing at exponential rates it can be a challenge to keep up to date and not feel over whelmed by constant streams of information flowing from multiple channels.  The ability to filter information is an essential skill and our professional and learning networks can play a key role in helping to sign post us to useful content and resources.

Building on the concept of the personal learning environment, Canadian Harold Jarche has coined the term – Personal Knowledge Mastery  (PKM) built on the principles of Seek > Sense > Share.  Jarche suggests that we need to take responsibility for our ongoing personal development and that we can’t always do this alone.  He encourages individuals to

  • Continuously seek out people and knowledge to improve the breadth and diversity of your knowledge networks.
  • Experiment on a regular basis to try out new practices in order to learn by doing.
  • Make sense of your life and work by making your thoughts explicit (sense-making). Review these from time to time.
  • Seek out communities of peers that will enable you to improve your professional practices.
  • Share your learning with discretion at work, in your communities of practice, and with your social networks.

Jarche highlights the process or routine of undertaking PKM will vary from individual to individual as we all adopt our own approach.

Some examples of approaches to PKM are outlined on this blog post ‘What is your PKM routine?‘ and there are links to other examples.  Harold’s blog provides a wealth of blog posts written over more than a decade on connecting work and learning and sharing.

Scot Leslie, an educational technologist in British Colombia, posted some observations on PLE diagrams over on his blog back in 2012.  It’s worthwhile reading this and seeing which category your own PLE diagram falls into.  What’s striking in reading Scott’s blog post is that a number of the images that Scott embedded into the blog post are missing, there are empty boxes where these diagrams would have appeared when he first published his post.  This highlights how some of the spaces that we use to support our learning can so quickly and easily disappear.  Individuals who were once enthusiastic bloggers stop and take down their sites.

The same is true of organisation websites and information portals.  One only has to think of the old HEA subject centres and the websites that supported their work which have all now pretty much disappeared.  This all points to the digital aspects of our PLEs being transient and in some cases having a short-shelf life as sites and digital tools come and go.  Even Google has retired tools which 5 years ago might have been a common feature on some PLE diagrams. Scot Leslie – Some Observations on PLE Diagrams

Day 2: Online identities, digital residents and visitors

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
Reading Time: 5 minutes

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.

Day 3: Privacy

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Private - hanging from a chain.
Shared with CCO licence  on Pixabay  

Over the next two days we’ll look at two of the fundamental issues of starting to generate a learning (or any form of digital) footprint – what others can see about you.

Today, we’ll be looking at those aspects you may prefer to keep to yourself, tomorrow, it’ll be what you actively want to promote.

Over the last few days, you have started to look at the tools that you use online, and we’re aware that many of them leave a trail of content. You’ll probably also have read assorted news items about content that others would rather people haven’t found online.

The term Digital footprint is often used, and, though we are focusing on learning footprints, for most people, the personal and work/learning are intricately linked, unless you are assiduous in your use of a pseudonym in one or the other case. There are two main aspects to a digital footprint – the passive (data that exists about us) and the active (data we create about ourselves).

As we can do very little about the former, it’s the latter we’ll be looking at primarily.

You have probably already done this many times, but just in case you haven’t, try searching for yourself. One thing that you may find useful, is to try to see what others see, as your own browsing history can influence current search results.

How much did you have to refine your search to find stuff that’s about you, rather than someone with the same name? About you as a learner, rather than other aspects of your life? Could you share the search (or a screenshot thereof?) If you ask someone else to search for you, do they find the same as you?

Do you use a pseudonym in some or all aspects of your online life, if you do, does searching both your name and the pseudonym find anything that would link both (do you want them linked?).

You may well have heard of the “right to be forgotten” – this allows you to request the removal of content from search engines, though not from the site that’s hosting the content (if it’s a site that you can’t edit).

Some people will go to the extent of trying to hide all online activity, though many would argue there are potentially more issues in being totally hidden (e.g. why would someone want to hide everything?)

Another approach that some use is to use anonymity,and, perhaps predictably a number of tools have grown up to support anonymity- but, there has been a lot of negative press about the potential issues of cyberbullying via anonymous channels. We do, however, mark anonymously – so should we (and students) be able to learn anonymously?

As we’ve already said, today, we’re thinking about content that you may not want others to see, tomorrow, we’ll look at how to engage with others as part of your learning. As food for thought, how happy are you to share online aspects of learning through failure (ACM article, may require login if not on campus)

While there is a lot of research into privacy of online content generally, there are rather fewer articles on privacy of learners online. Here is  selection of those you may find interesting.

  • David John Lemay, Tenzin Doleck, Paul Bazelais, “Passion and concern for privacy” as factors affecting snapchat use: A situated perspective on technology acceptance, In Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 75, 2017, Pages 264-271, ISSN 0747-5632,
  • Karen Kear, Frances Chetwynd & Helen Jefferis (2014) Social presence in online learning communities: the role of personal profiles, Research in Learning Technology, 22:1,19710, DOI: 10.3402/rlt.v22.19710
    (looks at the different ways students with / without profile information behave in a learning community)
  • John Suler. “The online disinhibition effect” CyberPsychology & Behavior. July 2004, 7(3): 321-326. (though dated, it’s a good overview, one that has been used many times since)

Future learners.


Siân Bayne, from Edinburgh University, gave a presentation at alt-c about YikYak – a tool that encouraged anonymity, and how the students there used it, in a primarily positive way.

Day 4: Open practice

an open conker
Reading Time: 3 minutes

an open conker
Shared as CC0 on Pixabay

Yesterday we looked at privacy, and the content that you may wish to keep private. While academic staff are used to sharing the outputs of their learning (research papers etc), it can also be very valuable to share the process of getting to that point, and indeed, learning about things other than research.

Over the past few days, you’ve been thinking about the online tools you’re currently using while learning, and how you have been using them. You may have included in your PLE learning events that others have put together (e.g. a MOOC), and those that are entirely self driven (such as your blog)

We’ve also looked at privacy, and how you decide what you want to be private. In some cases, this division can be blurred.  For example, if you participate in a MOOC, is it “public” – because anyone could enroll on the MOOC and see comments you post on your learning, or is it “private” – because others have to enroll on the MOOC to see the comments? If you use Twitter, and set your account to be protected (rather than the default public, which allows anyone, Twitter user or not, to see your tweets) – are you sure you know who everyone is who you’ve granted access to?

There is a great deal of value in allowing others to see the learning journey you’re taking, both to help your readers learn, and, often to support your own learning. One of the earliest blogs I came across, when looking at using blogs to support learning, was one (sadly no longer on line) created by a PhD student. She was looking at life in the trenches, the engagement she got with others – often children of those who’d served in the 1st World War, as she documented her research, gave her a much more in depth view of life in the trenches, than had she not made the research easily available to the public.

As an open (or public) learner, it can be very daunting, to know that others have the potential to see what you are doing, and that material may be found at any time. While finding material for this section, I came across a blog post by Inger-Marie C. She’s only written blog posts (on that blog), over 3 months, and I don’t know her full name. I do know, however, that she’s participated in an OU course about Open Learning, is clearly outlining what she’s learned – as well as providing me, the reader, with links to relevant other research – much of which, given the nature of the blog, is relevant to this theme.






Thinking about the tools that you have included in the PLE, which, at present, would you see as being valuable to others for their learning?

Could you see ways of adding to those tools you are using to further enhance your learning footprint? How public do you want to be?


Cover of the book - the digital scholar
The Digital Scholar

Next week, we will be looking at an OU course “The Digital Scholar“. It’s run by Martin Weller, and based on his book of the same name. (shared as CC on the Bloomsbury Press) OU Open Learn Courses, unlike FutureLearn MOOCs, are open ended, with no start / end date.

Some of the earlier MOOCs looked very much at connected online learning, in particular those run by Stephen Downes and George Siemens, and, while there is debate about the role they played, they were key to raising awareness of the power of shared, online learning experiences.

LSE have a range of blogs, and, while they mainly focus on completed research, rather than the process of learning, they provide a powerful way of engaging with others.



We’ll go for a nice easy watch today for the link of the day!

Day 5: Where do you teach?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Over the course of the week, we have looked at where and how we learn; what aspects of our learning is public and networked. Today, we’ll focus on how we teach. Often, we don’t have as much choice of that as we may wish. If you are a student, you might want to think about what is restricting the way you are taught – as well as your own preferences, remember that in many cases, we have external bodies that may govern, as well as *what* you need to cover, some aspects of *how* it should be taught or assessed.

In much the same way as we got you to think on Day 1 about how you learn, we’d like you to think of the same aspects of your teaching.

Looking at the questions posed at the start of the week, we’ll re-ask them in terms of teaching.

  • The spaces that we teach in, both the physical and the virtual world. For example in the lecture theatre, your office, a coffee shop, on the sofa at home in the evenings, on the commute into university, at academic seminars, etc.
  • The tools and resources that we use. We may not have choices over some of these. Most will be using My Dundee or Moodle, along side other tools that you may decide to include.
  • Where we record and reflect on our teaching.  Perhaps using pen and paper, by creating sketch notes or using digital tools and note taking apps to organise and file resources that support our teaching.
  • How we share what we’ve learned as a result of the teaching.  In team meetings, conversations with colleagues or maybe share our learning through social networks and online forums.

Have a go at drawing out how you feel you are currently teaching; the locations, the tools.

This was a quick image that I created, using a couple of different tools  – Mindup to create the mind map, and The NounProject for most of the icons. In my current role as an educational technologist, I’ve moved from the more formal teaching a couple of hundred students in in lecture theatres – to classroom sessions for staff, and more impromptu questions and conversations, over the phone, in peoples offices, in the library cafe …

When you have created this – what overlaps do you see between this and the learning one you created at the start of the week? Are you happy with the differences? [For example, you may be entirely happy to have video purely as a learning tool, and not feel the need to teach using it!]

Share your thoughts in the discussion areas – and, as with Day 1, feel free to share your “Personal Teaching Environment” diagrams with others.

As a side note, while I’m not claiming to have coined the term Personal Teaching Environment – it’s hard to find other cases where it’s used.

There are a great many resources about teaching, and many of them cover incorporating digital approaches into teaching, so rather than providing a list here, we’ll just point you to the NMC’s Horizon reports.

They have been producing these reports for a number of years, looking at where they see Education and technology being in “one year or less”, “two or three years” and “four to five years”. They have reports for K-12, Higher Education, Libraries and Museums, and, as they have reports going back to 2004, it can be interesting to see how accurate (or otherwise) their predictions have been.

We’d also be interested in other reports and research you have found, or perhaps MOOCs you have found useful to learn more about the futures of networked learning and teaching.

In the next week or so, we’ll be looking at the Digital Scholar, an open learning course run by Martin Weller. To get an idea of what’s to come, have  a look at the following video: