Taking up residence

David White, who is at Oxford University, is probably best known for his theory of Digital Residents and Visitors. Along with Alison Le Cornu, White published an article in 2011 that countered the Digital Natives and Immigrants ideas of Marc Prensky. Prensky's Natives and Immigrants was a popular theory within the education world a decade ago, but upon close examination it turned out to be fraught with difficulties and flaws. We discovered that Natives and Immigrants didn't actually exist - and that the theory was based largely upon speculation and anecdote. It was simply a myth.

Unfortunately, the genie was now out of the bottle, and people believe what they want to believe. The legacy of this theory is that many teachers continue to trot out the same old line that students are 'natives' whilst they, being older and less familiar with technology, are 'immigrants.' It has become a convenient excuse for many, who then feel free to dismiss their own involvement in the use of new media, whilst simultaneously overestimating the abilities of their students. The media and press also persist in using the term with alacrity, even though several academics, researchers and thought leaders (including Prensky himself) have repeatedly warned us about its lack of veracity or misinterpretation.

White's argument of Residents and Visitors is therefore a very welcome and timely alternative perspective. His argument is that the use of digital technologies is not about when you were born, but about what tools you decide to use most often. Those who habituate into the use of Twitter for example, become adept at using it, and adopt the role of residents within that digital environment. They may not be such regular users of Facebook, so are more likely to be visitors rather than residents within that particular social media environment. In essence, it's about context and use, not about age, says White.

My view is that ultimately, although we may be residents in some spaces, we are also temporary residents - or tenants - because we don't know how long our familiar spaces might exist before something else comes along and replaces them. Such is the volatile nature of the Web. However, we can often become touristic in our use of many other social media, because there are so many to choose from, and we will never have enough time to become resident in all of them. This is why networked learning, and communities of practice are so important. Everyone knows something, but nobody knows everything.

Residents and Visitors is a simple yet very effective idea, and is a much better way to explain the digital phenomenon. Now David White has recorded a short series of videos in which he expands upon his concept of Residents and Visitors. It's easy to follow and has been professionally produced. I believe this video series will become a significant resource that helps us to define our new and emerging identities and make sense of how we relate to each other within digital environments. Below is the first in the series of the Residents and Visitors videos.


Photo by Tawheed Manzoor

Creative Commons License
Taking up residence by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Mitchell Lane said…
Greetings Mr. Wheeler,

My name is Mitchell Lane and I am a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, AL. Our text this semester is Prensky's "Teaching Digital Natives". I like David White's terminology much better than that of Prensky. Residents and visitors seems much more welcoming and amiable than natives and immigrants. I also found the videos very helpful as well. Thanks for the post.

Mitchell Lane
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Mitchell. White's theory certainly has simplistic elegance, doesn't it? My regards to Dr Strange.
Anonymous said…
Really like David's continuum model and enjoyed the video. At the same time I did feel there was room for more nuance. On my blog I expanded the continuum beyond visitors and residents to include Tourists and Pioneers - http://timklapdor.wordpress.com/2013/10/21/from-natives-immigrants-to-visitors-residents/ provides a bit of an explanation. Thanks for the introduction to the video resources!
Steve Wheeler said…
I like that Tim - along similar lines to my thinking about the additional nuances, as you can see in my blog above. Thanks for sharing the link.

Popular Posts