by Matt Smith
I recently visited the University of Namibia (UNAM) with fellow Cardiff University learning technologists Dewi Parry and Karl Luke as part of the Phoenix Project. I led a workshop, supported by Dewi, which introduced the Visitors and Residents concept and encouraged participants to reflect on their online practice and presence. This blog post describes briefly the concept, the exercise and some of the discussion and outcomes.
De-bunking “Digital Natives”
In 2001, Marc Prensky wrote a paper that essentially coined the (now de-bunked) terms “Digital Native” and “Digital Immigrant” (Prensky, 2001). Although this was seen, at one time, as a useful method to describe the difference between those who have experienced our society before the onset of digital technologies and the web, and those who have grown up entirely within the age of digital technology, it has been widely debunked, and I personally feel that these terms have not been helpful. Basically, it’s been translated into meaning that your age will determine the extent to your digital capabilities. It has given opportunities for people to claim that they are too old to understand or use technology. It has also given opportunities for sweeping statements to be made, such as the young, or “Digital Natives” are naturally adept at engaging with digital technologies as part of their lives and as part of their learning. I think that many of us working within the Learning Technology profession can appreciate that this is far from the truth and practical nature of the matter.
Visitors and Residents
I first found out about an alternative viewpoint called “Visitors and Residents” whist participating in the pilot for the JISC Digital Leaders Programme in the Autumn of 2015. I participated in a mapping exercise which allowed us to reflect and discuss online engagement. Since then, I have developed further interest in this and its deep links with the work that is on-going from JISC surrounding Digital Capabilities and our CEI funded project Digicap Cardiff.
The great thing about this workshop is that the authors, in conjunction with JISC have released the materials and guidance under Creative Commons to aid the sharing of the exercise via facilitated workshops. It is from this resource base that we have been able to replicate a version of this workshop for UNAM.
The following video introduces visitors and residents, and is also available for use as part of the workshop materials:
I explained the mapping exercise by drawing my own map and talking through where I was placing elements and why. There is a video provided in the workshop materials, but I would purely use that as a personal preparation tool or to provide re-enforcement on the mapping guidance to participants at a later date. I found it important to get the discussion flowing and by drawing my own map and allowing questions, analysis and discussions around the map helped bed in what we were trying to achieve.
We carried out the mapping exercise with our UNAM colleagues, and this created some very powerful discussion among the group and some interesting practice maps. As you can see from the following video, there was so much discussion going on, it is impossible to pick out the individual conversation. I was really taken back by how much discussion the exercise generated:
— Matt Smith (@mattsmeeth) April 5, 2017
Some interesting maps were created. It was important to stress that particularly sparse maps, were not a negative sign, and the workshop materials very handily provide some examples to help demonstrate this and generate discussion, if it isn’t forthcoming.
The following map caught my eye due to some of the shapes used, and it mentions WhatsApp. During the visit, it was clear that the use of WhatsApp is quite prevalent, and is something that I really want to follow up on. It’s interesting that on this map, it just tips into professional use, and certainly, we experienced this during our time at UNAM. We kept communications flowing between Cardiff and UNAM teams by using a WhatsApp group (including sharing documents and links etc).
The following map was produced by a member of the Distance Education Team. The distance education provision within UNAM is primarily delivered in print format currently. However, this member of the team uses Blackboard as part of his own studies. It’s interesting that they are not yet using UNAM’s LMS (Moodle), however, it is clear, that there is quite a bit of resident activity on a personal level, capabilities which could easily be translated into other aspects of digital life.
The next map really encouraged the creator to ask a lot of questions, and really reflect on their practice, even identifying ultra-visitor and personal activity in terms of banking. We had an interesting conversation around blogging. As the map visualises, the map’s owner does guest blog in a professional capacity. We can see another mention of personal blogging. This user had identified (very similar to my own practice!) that they desire to have a personal blog dedicated to their professional practice (rather than guest blogging). The map owner had therefore identified where they need to develop their digital capability around building confidence to write regularly and publicly on a professional basis. This capability may be developed by accessing local learning technology support, practice, discussion with peers etc.
What’s the point?
This last example really helps to explain the question that you may be asking yourself – so what’s the point of all this?
Paying attention to the way people engage online is crucial. Not only for understanding what engagement with digital tools and places actually looks like, but to also inform the potential transformation of those tools and places to effectively meet the needs of institutions. It encourages participants to move away from thinking about “digital tools”, and to start thinking more about people and online places. It also encourages participants to gain a deeper understanding of their own online engagement and the various motivations and assumptions within this.
Finally, it provides an opportunity for participants to visualise their own practice, reflect, and begin to consider what they would like to change, what they would like to continue with, and what they would like to stop. Participants can then be supported or guided going forward. We were amazed by the amount of discussion this exercise generated and we look forward to following up the activities at UNAM as a result.
We only carried out the individual mapping, but this can then be taken further to map the practice of groups, teams, departments and institutions, which can then help feed into strategic thinking. The mapping exercise can also be used as a starting point to explore areas such as digital capabilities.
Finally, I would like to thank the Cardiff University Phoenix Project Team for supporting our activities and all the staff at UNAM for welcoming us so warmly and engaging with is during our visit.
Karl Luke: Video and Pedagogy