This week I attended an interesting HEA event in London run by Alison Le Cornu and David White in which we considered their Visitors and Residents way of describing users’ relationships with the Web and in the workshop we mapped our own relationships with it. This was part of a project called The Challenges of Web Residency in which we will run the same workshop with our students, asking them to map their own relationships with the Web .
I have been familiar with David and Alison’s Visitors and Residents view of web interactivity for a while, but now realise I had misunderstood it. Their concept came as a reaction to Marc Prensky’s Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants categorizations, which I was never happy with since it seemed not to include or describe me – ‘a Digital Pioneer‘ if we stick with the Digital Country analogy – someone who has been involved from the beginning.
Anyway, I had thought that Residency expressed the idea of living in the web whereas Visiting saw the web as a somewhere to go to get things done – somewhere to pop in and out of without lingering. I had thought that it was possible to be passively resident. An example might be someone who only listens to music online, who listens to other people’s playlists and recommendations, but who does not share theirs.
When we came to map our own interactions with the Web this misconception caused me to produce a map at odds with David and Alison’s expectations.
What Alison and David say makes a resident is a ‘social trace’ not how ‘plugged in’ you are to the activity. So I had to revise my map above and in the end discarded it to produce this…
But still I didn’t feel as though this satisfactory described my status.
One issue I have with the mapping template is the position of the words, at the end of lines. In fact David’s examples had arrows on the ends of the lines too, which emphasised in my mind (though not to everyone present I am aware) that they were lines of travel. That there were gradations of visiting and residency and one had to think about where to place an activity on that continuum.
Not only could activities be placed on different points on the visitor-resident axis but they could span different lengths of it…
And as can be seen, the same can be said of the Personal – Institutional/Professional vertical line.
I recognise that in this project it will be important that we all adopt the same map template with our students in order to get consistent and comparable results, however, outside this project I might prefer a simpler approach – that of simply using the four quadrants and dropping the interactivity into one of the four quadrants.
Some activities, of course, belong in more than one quadrant which is why in David’s example above, some of the rectangles span lines and even the intersection in the middle. Using discrete quadrants would mean that you would have to use multiple activities, but that for me makes more sense. My personal blog about my motor racing activity is only connected with this blog about e-learning because they are both blogs – I manage them very differently and the social trace they leave is different and managed differently. I also interact with other blogs without leaving any trace at all.
This to my mind is easier to understand than simply putting a big Blog rectangle over the cross hairs. Some blogs are interacted in a passive way (followed but not commented upon, or commented on anonymously, leaving no social trace) while others are written (resided in); some are personal and some professional. I can see that the Personal/Professional boundary might be spanned but I need an example of how any blog can span the visitor/resident line to understand that.
So where does this lead? I like the concept of Visitors and Residents and see the value of discussing this with our students so that by understanding how they operate we can better design learning opportunities for them. Also, by the students themselves coming to realise how they operate (and how they don’t) they may see advantages to modifying their behaviour and moving something from one quadrant to another.
I was toying with the idea of creating cards (with some wild cards) to see if this made the exercise (outside the project) any easier, but concluded that there are too many variables and it is better to let participants create their own activities and discuss what can and cannot be included, for there is real value in these types of conversations.
The downside of the freer approach is that it is difficult to analyse and to know what should be counted with what.
When we did the activity in London, we were all professionals working in Higher Education. I hesitate to say middle aged for fear of upsetting some of my younger colleagues, but I don’t think we had any under 25s in the room. So we were a mature, professional bunch of people all interested in education and the web, otherwise we would be somewhere else. In this environment all the activities that were mapped were known to me – Flickr, Facebook, email, Skype, youtube, Forums, Blogs etc etc. But would I recognise the proprietary names of sites used by another, younger, not yet professional group? I’ve only recently discovered Reddit (which I guess makes that very mainstream now).
Another difficulty in analysing the maps is understanding what the activity is that the user does and was thinking of when they placed it on the map. Take Facebook for example. Facebook offers the following services: (not an exhaustive list)
- file sharing
- image editing
- image tagging
- video tagging
- interest groups (open and private)
- pages (that can be subscribed to , i.e. ‘liked’)
- live chat
- importing feeds
- creating petitions
- managing event invitations
And of course Facebook allows users to add apps to their Facebook pages so increasing their functionality. Putting ‘Facebook’ on the map doesn’t tell us very much and I suspect we simply think others use it as we do. But that may be a big mistake.
So maybe it is better to map, not sites (as we tended to do in London) but activities.
- writing a blog
- commenting on a blog
- reading a blog
- uploading photos/sounds/videos
- editing photos/sounds/videos
- downloading photos/sounds/videos
- reading emails
- sending emails
- posting micro blog messages (e,g, twitter, Facebook status updates etc)
- reading micro blog messages
But then won’t the list just become never-ending?
I don’t have the answer. I like the concept, I like discussing it, I want to map it, but I am not sure how Alison and David will be able to decipher and analyse the maps we will produce.
So here’s my third attempt at a map, this time with equally sized blocks in discrete quadrants.
Placing some of these elements wasn’t easy but I kept in mind what social trace they left.
It’s also worth noting that despite all the thought I’ve expended on this, I forgot some things. Students will forget things too. So this is a good reason for brainstorming sites and activities before mapping or for providing them with activities to map rather than sites. I had a go at that too, so here’s another way of looking it, thinking about the activity rather than the website.
All the issues I have with the mapping process have been anticipated by David and Alison and for the project they provide guidance to running a mapping session with students. This includes the following which also addresses many of my points above.
- There are a few aspects to the Visitors and Residents idea that usually need clarifying when mapping:
- In Visitor mode you leave no ‘social’ trace, leaving a data trail on a web server somewhere which is not ‘visible’ to others online is a side effect of Visitor activity.
- As you approach the extreme end of Residency it becomes all about visibility. ‘High’ Residency involves posting material online which anyone could find via Google etc. This is actually a fairly rare behaviour.
- Most people’s Resident activity takes place more toward the centre of the continuum within social ‘walled-gardens’ of various forms. The individual might not ‘know’ everyone in the group but it’s clear that the group is finite. Examples of this are email lists, most Facebook accounts and the social use of things like Skype etc.
- Some technologies/platforms actively encourage Residency such as Social Media sites but many technologies can be used in a Resident manner such as email or SMS texting etc. The places online where you are most present as an individual.
- The vertical axis for the mapping has the term ‘institutional’ at the bottom. For some participants this won’t be a relevant or resonant term. Feel free to substitute a more effective term for your participants such as ‘course’ or ‘professional’. For some the vertical axis is not relevant. This is an interesting finding in and of itself.
- Don’t be afraid to include multiple versions of the same technology if you engage with it in various ways across a number of contexts. For example, mapping a personal and a work email account or multiple Google/Twitter/Facebook accounts that are used in various roles.
- Don’t be afraid to use various colours to indicate multiple roles etc. on your map.
- The process is designed to be extended and modified to include aspects of online engagement which are pertinent to specific groups. For example, some groups might want to colour code their maps to include ‘device used’ or ‘time spent’.
I think my stumbling through the process and my struggles with mapping have probably prepared me better to use the original map template with my students and to help them complete their own maps. Will be interesting!