Questions of creativity

The Harvard based Berkman Center for Internet & Society recently published a report entitled ‘Youth and Digital Media: From Credibility to Information Quality’.  It uses a promising contextual framework to assess a broad body of literature focused on the information seeking behaviours of learners 18 years old or younger.

What I like about their approach is the use of  academic, personal and social as the overlapping contexts in which information is sought, shared and consumed. There are also useful distinctions made about the basis on which information is assessed with the phrase ‘adult-normative criteria’ often employed. The most encouraging part of the report for me is its attempt to explore the relationship between ‘information creation and dissemination practices’ and learners overall perceptions of information. Two of the areas that the report suggests are currently underexplored caught my attention:

1. “How increased levels of creative interaction with information shape users’ ideas of information quality and how they influence search and evaluation behavior.”

2. “How to leverage youth content creation and dissemination activities effectively from the
personal and social contexts for the academic context, and how to resolve the conflicts of
expectations and norms between these two contexts.”

Both of these areas are a key part of our JISC funded Digital Visitors and Residents project which is interviewing and surveying learners from four educational stages which span late-stage secondary school, through university, to experienced academics. By using the Visitors and Residents principle as an underlying framework I believe we are beginning to gain an understanding of the answer to question 1 and we are certainly discovering some of the key factors within question 2.

For me ‘content creation and dissemination’ would involve the expected blogging, media posting and commenting etc but should also include tweeting, posting to Facebook and other forms of interpersonal contact/expression online. Content ‘creation and dissemination’ in this sense is closely linked to the notion of a Resident mode of engagement. This is especially relevant when considering the role of creativity as expressed in question 1 i.e. what is the individual contributing when they make, modify and/or share?

Plotting our participants engagement with the web along the Visitors and Residents continuum makes visible the common dislocation between these Resident style literacies often employed in a personal/social context and the more Visitor style literacies employed by learners academically. There are areas of cross-over such as what I have termed ‘Emergency Collaboration’ and the occasional participant who has an active professional/social network online. Generally however what we are finding is a range of ‘learner owned’ Resident literacies which are not officially valued by higher education institutions.

UKU3 map
V&R mapping of a UK university participant showing a distinct division between 'Institutional/Visitor' and 'Personal/Resident' activity.

It could be argued that this is not a problem and that Visitor style approaches are what we should reasonably expect to employ during our formal studies. However, if as the Berkman report suggests an ‘increased creative interaction with information’ has a positive influence on learners ideas about information and how to find it then understanding and ‘leveraging’ Resident literacies becomes extremely important.

The first of our 4 educational stages is the ‘Emerging’ stage which includes late-stage secondary school (from 17 years old) through to first year undergraduates. I was keen to include this ‘bridging’ stage in the project as I felt that historically there had been too hard a distinction between the educational research carried out with schools and that carried out with universities. It was almost as if we thought of these learners as two different species rather than individuals who normally only have a gap of a few weeks between these two forms of education. Our early findings indicate that learner’s information and digital literacy practices do not alter significantly as they enter university. This is why it’s so important for the higher education sector to take note of reports such as this, reports that give an insight into the information and digital literacies of incoming students who are unlikely to significantly modify their approaches to the web in their first years at university.

The Learning Black Market

Last week I gave a talk about what I call the Learning Black Market at a Guardian seminar on the uses of Social Media for learning and teaching in higher education. It’s something that I have seen emerging from the data we are collecting for the Visitors and Residents project and from interviewing students for our study on the use of Open Educational Resources. In simple terms students personal use of the internet is generally very effective for their education but they are nervous that their practices are not valid and don’t reveal them to their tutors. The messages or lack of messages from educational institutions on these practices is generating a learning black market which masks the sheer scale of these new modes of engagement.

Scott Room at the Guardian
Printing press outside our Guardian seminar room

The Visitors and Residents project is capturing student’s motivations to engage with the web for learning in as broad a manner as possible. To guide our understanding of the interviews with students in the UK and the US we have added a vertical axis (see below) to the Visitor and Resident continuum. The Personal/Institutional axis allows us to plot student’s online learning activity and accepts that this activity is not bounded by resources and opportunities provided directly by the institution they are studying at. As the project progresses we hope to plot students trajectory through this digital landscape. It should also be possible to use this map as a tool to reflect on institutional approaches to digital literacy.

The learning black market exists largely in the Personal area of the map. Our data from the Transitional education-stage (Late stage secondary school + first year undergraduate) is indicating that learning activity in this area has two main elements:

Vistors and Residents map

1.    Emergency collaboration

Many of the students we have interviewed wait until the night before coursework is due then IM their friends in Facebook to confirm what they have been asked to do and to check they are taking the right approach. If they can’t find their friends in Facebook they text them to either ask for clarification or to encourage them to log-in to Facebook. There is an expectation that someone from their class will be in Facebook when they need them which is one of the reasons that coursework can be left to the last minute. I suspect that Facebook IM is used extensively for homework as it’s convenient and immediate. It’s also private and a very low risk way of collaborating with a fellow student. The extent to which coursework is actually completed via this method rather than just clarified is difficult to assess. There is a lack of understanding amongst students as to what constitutes plagiarism in this scenario and a consequential wariness around discussing this type of practice. The line between collaboration and plagiarism is not easy to define and I believe students would benefit from this area being openly discussed. This practice is also an interesting reminder that much of the activity in Social Media is not visible. Wall postings and twitter streams only represent a portion of the activity in these spaces meaning that platforms such as Facebook are effective at facilitating Visitor style approaches.

2.    G.W.R.

The majority of students activity is information seeking, this could be via another person but is usually a more direct engagement with ‘content’. What appears to be a common practice (we are still in the process of analysing our data) is this very simple process.

Google > Wikipedia > References

A search on Google to help complete an assignment commonly returns a Wikipedia article. As we know Wikipedia articles are pitched at an ideal level and length to get a handle on a new subject which is something our Transitional students have to do a lot. The problem is that most of the students in the Transitional education stage we have spoken to in the US and the UK have been told not to use Wikipedia and so keep this practice a secret. A simple way to do this without losing the value of the platform is to cite the references attached to the Wikipedia article rather than the article itself.  This appears to be a very successful strategy for coursework but can be done without any substantive learning taking place.

Learning Black MarketThere appear to be two main reasons that students have been told not to use Wikipedia. The usual, culturally acceptable, reason is that it’s not accurate because ‘anyone can edit it’. It’s difficult to support this claim and as Jimmy Wales said recently the decline in Wikipedia editing activity is partly because many entries are now so accurate that only key experts could add to them. There are examples of what I would call knowledge vandalism but these tend to be so farcical that they are easily identified. Even so the students are wary of Wikipedia despite rarely finding it lacking when they use it:

“…a lot of the times teachers say don’t use .com or don’t use Wikipedia, they like hate when we use Wikipedia.  But Wikipedia is always right, so I always use that. “

The second and more telling reason which is rarely expressed is because it’s too convenient. One of the US students asked a tutor outright why they didn’t like Wikipedia and got this response:

“The problem with Wikipedia is it’s too easy.  You can go to Wikipedia, you can get an answer, you don’t actually learn anything, you just get an answer. ”

The tutor then goes on to say that the process of learning is about collating and critiquing multiple sources not simply taking in a correct answer i.e. the path you take in forming a new understanding is as important as the resultant knowledge. The very valid ‘show your workings’ standpoint.

Student at laptopThis is fundamental to the debate around technology and learning and the real issue at stake. Describing the web or Wikipedia as ‘inaccurate’ or negating the use of sources that have been written by multiple ‘non-expert’ authors has little impact on the actual practice of students (or the success of those practices). The debate should be around how we evolve educational processes to take advantage of or to account for these new forms.  We cannot continue to teach the literacies that have been the mainstay of the educational system in their current form because the web smashes traditional paths to understanding.

There are good examples of the ways in which the web can be used to facilitate learning, new approaches which accept the situation has fundamentally changed and that learning is now less likely to be the result of successful information seeking. Many of these methods involve a more Resident approach to negotiating understanding and use classic scholarly notions of discourse to encourage learning over and above the now largely redundant retention of knowledge.  Unfortunately it appears that many practitioners are turning a blind eye to these issues and are stigmatising emerging learning practices by simply banning talk of platforms such as Wikipedia.

“They don’t fail you but you get ridiculed in front of everyone for sourcing Wikipedia.”

This is generating the learning black market in which is it all too easy to simulate understanding for coursework and formal assessments. Worse still, it is a market in which genuine learning can take place but is not being recognised because resources and practices are not seen as valid and therefore do not become visible to the formal education system. Students have told us that they learn from Wikipedia but also skim read the textbook to cover their backs in case they are asked a direct question…

Whatever the case it is clear that students need guidance on how to engage with the web for their learning and would greatly benefit from clearer messages around what it means to learn in the twenty-first century and how their practices may or may not intersect with the formal educational frameworks they find themselves in.


Scott Room – David White – CC attribution
Visitors and Residents map – CC attribution
Learning Black Market – Gilderic
Student at laptop – cindiann

Disappearing digital resources

One of the most striking aspects of our JISC funded Open-Educational-Resources Impact study was the extent to which using digital resources has become embedded in teaching practice. Digital resources are ‘disappearing into use’ as they become part of the fabric of higher education.

We interviewed strategists, academics and students to find out how they found and used digital resources. It wasn’t surprising to find that students were Googling for anything they could get their hands on but the extent to which academics are doing this as well was unexpected. The difference between the groups was that staff have the expertise required to critically evaluate what they find while the students are nervous about waiting-time using resources which might prove to be off-topic. They are also uncertain of how to cite non-traditional resources or if they should admit to using them as all. This is a good example of where digital literacy and traditional research skills are both essential.

But what about licensing? Well, those whose practice was highly visible on the web and therefore closely tied to the reputation of their institution were keen to use openly licensed materials. E.g. an online distance elearning team or groups that make modules which are rereleased out onto the web. Those in course or programme teams were less focused on licensing because their practice is largely private – within the VLE, in the lecture theatre etc. In day-to-day teaching the technicalities of reuse come second to the potential of a resource to make the student’s learning experience richer.

The OER Impact project analysed the link between the value of use and its impact in teaching and learning. There is a full research report and a shorter ‘accessible’ report available for download from JISC. Or you can watch the short video below to get an overview of our findings.

The video is published under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY)

OER Impact project team-

Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning:
Mr David White
Ms Marion Manton

Learning Technologies Group:
Dr Elizabeth Masterman
Ms Joanna Wild

The cost of Residency?

We like to think of online platforms usurping each other as we move to the latest and greatest of a particular format, leaving the previous version eroding in a Kipple like fashion – the MySpace to Facebook to Google+ narrative. I’m not convinced that this is a useful story and wonder if the web is better thought of as an ever expanding space rather than a migrating community. I suspect that Google+ for example will be inhabited by more than the diaspora from Facebook and Twitter. In fact what interests me about Google+ beyond ‘circles’ is the way in which the platform has expanded the geography of social web so massively in such a short space of time.

Estate agent window smashed

Given this Google’s new platform highlights the impossibility of residing everywhere online, of having a live profile in all of the key places – it’s time-consuming to maintain a meaningful presence in one social media space let alone two or three.  To keep things practical you have to decide where you are going to reside online and have a reasonable idea of what role that residency will play in your life: personal, professional, academic, escapist or a delicate cocktail of the above (and we all know how dangerous cocktails can be). To counter the potential alienation of residing online it is useful to reflect on what your motivation to engage is: maintaining f2f relationships, living-out ‘strong-tie’ relationships, building a professional network, building a personal learning network or just good old fashioned self promotion in the hope of invites to warm places… Time is the non-negotiable cost to Residency and to maintaining fulfilling relationships of any form. The way this precious resource is spent, especially in the context of learning, needs to be better understood by those of us promoting the idea of digital literacy.

We are just coming to the end of the pilot phase of the JISC funded Visitors and Residents project framed round my original idea for understanding individual’s engagement with the web. The project is in partnership with the OCLC and for the pilot phase we interviewed students from the US and the UK in late-stage high school and first-year University. There are many interesting trends emerging from the project and it is the case that some students are more Resident than others. Most of our participants talked about the cost of being Resident online in some form which has led us to include ‘time-wasting’, ‘distraction’ and ‘addiction’ into the code-book we are using to analyse the interviews.

I thought like coming into A levels, I’d need to be able to focus without having Facebook at the back of mind, because at GCSE, you know when you have coursework, I’d always go, okay I’ll go on Facebook, I’m going on MSN, I’d just stay logged in and then I’d do my coursework on the side, but I just ended up staying on Facebook.


I live on my email and Facebook also, which I’m not as proud of.  Just because it’s a time vortex.


I am not that bad with Facebook but I get annoyed sometimes … I find myself being on there for more than 15 minutes or 20 minutes. It is pointless, it is a waste of time and then I think sometimes I get annoyed with how long I can spend on the computer when I could be probably doing something else.


Essentially if your normal mode of operation is mainly Resident then it’s difficult to go online and get on with activities that require a Visitor approach without checking-in to all your Resident spaces and risking distraction. The participants in our study are well aware of this and one even put her Facebook account on ice so that she could pursue her learning more effectively. It’s a tough decision though as much homework is discussed and possibly collaborated on (participants are always wary of this idea as it is unclear where collaboration merges into plagiarism) in Facebook IM. If your friends aren’t logged into Facebook at that moment then a text message goes round asking them to get online so that work can be tackled.

People do post a Facebook thing so and saying something like, “Everybody in my Biology class, what was it we were supposed to be doing?”


Like usually with homework I usually can do it myself.  But like, like sometimes I will just like IM my friend on Facebook and will be like, “Hey do you know how to do this?”


Facebook messaging has really replaced email in the lives of students.  So that’s – if it’s more something that we’re trying to structure and actually build upon over some time, it would be a Facebook message…


When the Visitors and Residents idea is discussed it is often with the implication that becoming more Resident or facilitating that process is going to be of value. In my video discussing V&R I make the point that a Visitor approach to formal education is more likely to be successful than a Resident one given that all students are likely to end-up isolated at a desk in an exam room at the end of their courses – i.e. the education system assesses our ability to be Visitors not Residents.

We also have to consider which mode of engagement is most appropriate for the world of work and perhaps more importantly which mode best supports individuals as citizens or as members of a range of communities? Thinking in terms of mode-of-engagement is one way of framing our approaches to digital literary– the definition of this as taken by the JISC strand of digital literacy projects being appropriately broad:

“ literacy defines those capabilities which fit an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society..”

Characterising digital literacy as a  simple drive towards Residency would be dangerous; digital literacies are required and acquired as much at the Visitor end of the continuum as they are at the Resident. If we are attempting to support students and equip them with relevant digital literacies we need to be more precise about the value of ‘just-visiting’ or ‘moving into’ particular online spaces. Our project is mapping motivations-to-engage and evaluating a wide range of approaches.  I’m hopeful that we will be able to develop methods by which individuals and groups can plan their travels through the ever expanding online landscape.


Image credit:  CC – Some rights reserved

Product or Public Good?

I was delighted to be invited to speak about our Study of Online Learning our group authored for the HEFCE Task Force at this years ALT-C conference. I  focused on the issues that I felt arose from the long awaited report which is due to be published shortly.

Or view the talk in the ALT-C youTube channel

The vast majority of online distance offerings are postgraduate ‘professional’ courses. eg. Masters in Law, Medicine, Business, Engineering etc.

I made it clear in my presentation at ALT-C that I don’t see this as a problem in of itself. The institutions providing these courses have found that the online distance format works well for those in full-time employment and that these types of courses have a ready market. Setting up successful online distance programmes is challenging enough so it make sense to pick the low hanging fruit in terms of potential customers when developing new products.

Did that last sentence grate a bit? It does for me and not just because of the dubious grammar. As soon as we talk in terms of ‘customers’ and ‘product’ I get nervous. There seems to be something inherently at odds with the philosophy of higher education as I understand it when it is couched in economic terminology. This is then compounded by the apparent keenness of the government to involve private partners in the delivery of higher education programmes online with the possibility of giving some companies the right to award degrees directly.

ALT Proceedings
A fortifying cup of tea with some mini-chedders

I was at an amusing talk recently given by an American company who claimed that their “for-profit university was not preoccupied with money”. It’s very easy to sit in a university and poke fun at commercial educational providers, too easy in fact, especially as I’m quite happy to take my salary home each month. I haven’t done an MBA so I’m not an expert but I find it difficult to distinguish the financial approaches of public and private sector bodies sometimes. Universities are diverse businesses and have many money-making activities some of which are funded by the government and some which are straight commercial ventures. I believe that a simplistic argument around ‘for-profit’ and ‘not for-profit’ masks the real issue which in the case of online distance learning is to do with diversity.

Almost every institution in this field whether a university or a big corporate is providing an extremely narrow curriculum because certain courses have a better Return on Investment than others. The problem is not what we are providing online but what we are neglecting to provide. Where are the humanities and liberal arts? Where are the foundation and undergraduate degrees? There are a few examples of these (I cited The Sheffield College) but certainly not enough to reflect the character of our face-to-face universities.

The reason for this lack of diversity in both curriculum and academic levels is because non-STEM, non-Business, non-Postgrad courses have a less reliable income stream. It’s expensive to kick start an online programme. It’s a lot less expensive than building a lecture theatre or a library but because it’s a ‘new’ mode of delivery it’s assessed outside the economic machinery embedded in our institutions and has to be seen to pay-for-itself. Here is where the financial challenges bite. At ALT-C I made the statement that “Universities should enrich society not make society rich”. I admit that this becomes increasingly difficult when money is scarce but I feel that it’s important that we retain those aspects of our activity which work towards the public good. A public good which is not predicated on wealth and material growth but on wellbeing, one which equips individuals to be more than economic units.

Dave Walks
I got quite animated (Image: Creative Commons "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales" : Mark Gregory of

This challenge is distinct from abstract notions of ‘quality’. I can’t honestly say what the standard of teaching and learning is like on the offerings our study discovered but I see no evidence that a lucrative course is destined to be a less ‘educational’ experience than one that loses money. In many cases I suspect that the quality of online learning is higher than equivalent face-to-face courses because students expect significant amounts of contact when at a distance. In face-to-face teaching scenarios the lecture (a controversial subject this year) provides a very efficient sense of contact and notional cohort cohesion. For online this cohesion has to be built by regular feedback, tutor-student contact and peer-to-peer learning. The risk of a lack of social presence in a predominantly text based medium coupled with the influence of the micro-contact culture of the web means that only the online courses with excellent learning design will survive. The mode of delivery inherently demands good pedagogy and active engagement or students simply drop out.

I think it’s helpful to consider this area in terms of identity because this forces a consideration of values beyond the economic. As it stands the ‘digital identity’ of online higher education provided by the UK largely looks like a highly academic professional development programme. I must reiterate that I’m not criticising this activity in of itself rather I am holding out hope that future funding models will allow programmes outside this area to move online and better represent the varied and excellent teaching and learning this country is rightly known for.

If you are keen to discuss the role of technology within/around higher education in a political context then you might want to consider registering your interest for the proposed ‘Tech, Power, Education’ seminar series.

Slides from the talk:

Initial reflections on the future of online learning

The first few months of 2010 were very busy for our group as we tackled (with the support of JISC) a complex and wide ranging study for the HEFCE Online Learning Task Force (OLTF). On 17 March we submitted our overview of the current provision of HE level online distance learning in the UK to the OLTF. Recently, as a result of the study and other research, HEFCE published a short paper to encourage discussion and feedback from the sector on the work of the OLTF. In the paper they highlight a number of our key findings:

  1. More should be done to provide a simple taxonomy of the wide range of student experiences that currently fall under the broad title of ‘online distance learning’.
  2. The vast majority of online distance learning offered by HEIs is focused on postgraduate-level provision.
  3. Most online distance learning can be identified as professional development, or as having a strong vocational focus.
  4. It can be challenging for potential students to find out about online distance learning courses, with information often hidden in complex institutional web-sites.
  5. Where details are available, they frequently fail to provide the full range of information that a potential student needs to make a decision about studying online.
  6. We need to improve the market intelligence available to give a clearer picture of the position of UK online distance learning in an international context.

Notably the paper also mentions that: “96% of undergraduate students use the internet as a source of information and 69% use it daily as part of their studies”. The Task Force however are not distracted by this level of uptake and set out a clear position with regards to technology:

“…It is also clear that technology platforms are not a barrier to success. The OLTF does not intend to dedicate significant attention to this area. We intend to pay more attention to business models to ensure sustainability and cost-effectiveness, and to pedagogical good practice to support academic quality.”

In my opinion this is indicative of a Post-Digital approach in which as one of the study’s interviewees put it “the technology is vital but not central”. I’m pleased to see this underpinning philosophy being taken by such an influential group (especially as Post-Digital thinking informed my two presentations to the Task Force).

As ever it is important to stress that the Post-Digital does not discount the importance of those groups and individuals employed to develop and manage technology. In fact this approach makes clear the need for ongoing innovation and an active engagement with emerging platforms/services.

“The OLTF is aware that there are a number of organisations that are already active in supporting UK HE as a world leader in online learning: for example the British Council, the Higher Education Academy and the Joint Information Systems Committee. It is keen to ensure that institutions harness such expertise…”

I hope that the ongoing work of the OLTF continues to recognise the importance of academic expertise, institutional savvy and the need to understand (and occasionally challenge) student expectations. Certainly any approach that does not imply that technology is some sort of ‘magic bullet’ for the limitless up-scaling of HE level education must be healthy. This approach also helps to manage institutions’ expectations of technology and those who are responsible for its implementation.

Our full study of online distance learning in the UK is due to be published by the OLTF in late June 2010. In the meantime take a look at the HEFCE discussion paper. Responses are due in by 14 May.

The Transition from the Co-Digital to the Post-Digital.

Having made public the original discussion paper ‘Planning for the Post-Digital’ members of the 52group then blogged the concept. These posts generated some strong responses, both in comments and in further blog reactions.Initial reactions to the Post-Digital interpreted the concept as dismissing the importance of technology (and the technologically minded) claiming that somehow the ‘digital’ had passed into history:

“In short, this isn’t the post-digital world, just like it isn’t the post-jet age or the post-space age. All of these technologies are not magic, they’re here, they’re real and they have real consequences. The way to deal with these changing technologies is the same as every craftsman has done since the iron age: respect the tools of your trade, without being obsessive about them (leave that to the toolmakers), and remember that any tool can be improved, and therefore will be.” Wilber Krann (comment on original post)


“I think that we should have some people obsessed with the technology (where has most of the technology come from?) and we should have people who can analyse it, and critique it, and say “Yes, this works in this situation because X” or ‘This is not useful as a learning technology’.” Pat Parslow

The Post-Digital was seen as a negative principle which devalues engagement with the technical encouraging us to be unthinking consumers of new hardware and platforms as they become ever more culturally ‘transparent’.

“what are the implications for accepting that we are in a postdigital age?  Don’t we then accept that our IT environment will be owned by the mega-corporations – Google and Microsoft…It strikes me that the postdigital agenda is a conservative one, in which we are asked to accept that we (in our institutions and in our working environment) cannot shape our digital environment. And for me that is a worrying point of view which I don’t accept.” Brian Kelly

Alongside these discussions Frances Bell suggested the term Co-Digital as a better term to describe the process of  “…seizing the opportunities presented by the newness of technologies to spot changes and then shape the development of the technology.”

The Co-Digital then describes the period of ‘flux’ (this is a term from the ‘Digital Habitats’ by Etienne Wenger, Nancy White, and John D. Smith) which a technology goes through as the user community appropriates it and influences its development. This period is early in a technologies life-cycle but may not be in effect for very long as the user community expands.

Instead of the Co-Digital replacing the Post-Digital I think that they are concepts which describe different points of a larger process of transition.

I have tried to describe the transition technologies make from the Co to the Post-Digital in the diagram below. The model is an attempt to bring together the thinking that has emerged from the Post-Digital idea and put it in a larger context.

Technological transition from the Co-Digital to the Post-Digital.

(The visual design of the diagram is a homage to the excellent ‘Hierarchy of Digital Distractions’ by David McCandless which I have stuck to the wall by my desk)

Rather than attempt to discuss through the diagram in detailed prose I have written up some simple notes which may help to describe the overall model:

Transition Stages

Co Digital:

The point at which the socio-tech flux (Wenger uses the term ‘Vortex’) is most fluid. Social appropriation of the tech influences its development. Similarly the tech starts to form the manner in which social engagement takes place and in which social capital is built.


The tech is seen a culturally ‘shiny’ but its role is beginning to become ‘fixed’ in the mind of its growing community and in its socio-tech function.


The tech is no longer ‘shiny’. It is culturally normalised and not conceived of as ‘technology’ (‘Disappearing into Use’ is an brilliant phrase I have hear which describes this).  The tech is now understood by its core function i.e. culturally, the phone is seen as the conversations you have when using it. It is not generally considered in technological terms anymore. This phenomenon could also be seen as a transition to the Post –Technical.

‘Types’ of Users


They build new stuff because they think it’s cool. Likely to be very tech orientated. Pushing the boundaries of what is possible technologically.


Probably community leaders. Not as tech focused as the Pioneers but they are adept at appropriating the new tech to their own ends. This is often done by building networks/community or promoting themselves as a brand. They are happy to subvert functionality and influence the evolution of the tech.


They follow players into technologies. They want to know what a tech is ‘for’ and how to use it ‘correctly’ before joining. They enjoy the ‘shiny’ once there is a cultural consensus. i.e. They are buying iPhones from Tesco’s now. They also actually like ‘top ten’ style lists on how to use platforms properly.

Phollowers (apologies):

They use the tech once it is fully culturally normalised. They are not interested in experimenting. This group bought the mobile phones they claimed they didn’t need once all their friends had one.


When these guys get involved they accelerate the shift from the Co Digital to the Digital. Think Twitter and the BBC.

What is the point?

  1. We need to influence the evolution of technology while it’s in the Co-Digital space. i.e. Edtech folk need to be players (well, some of them at least). Once a tech has moved out of the Co-Digital it is difficult to influence although it may be re-appropriated later in a different context. In my opinion Twitter is currently moving out of the Co-Digital space.
  2. As the user base in a tech expands the Pragmatists begin to out number the Players. Because the Pragmatists have a relatively fixed idea about the function of the tech this means that it becomes increasingly difficult for the tech to stay in flux. Think of the backlash every time facebook attempts to make changes to its interface or functionality.
  3. Once tech hits the Post Digital it is pretty much game over for direct innovation (but as I have mentioned re-appropriation is possible). Once Google and the ‘cloud’ become Post-Digital they will actually be running the world.

The model is clearly a work in progress…  I welcome your thoughts (especially as it was comments and posts on the original idea that helped move this forward to this stage)

Visitors & Residents: The Video

Last month I gave a presentation on the ‘Visitors & Residents’ principle at the ALT-C conference which was well received so I thought it would be worth videoing the talk under laboratory conditions…

Some of you might also be interested in our paper on Visitors and Residents:

Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement
by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu.
First Monday, Volume 16, Number 9 – 5 September 2011

Just a few notes to go with the video:

The original ‘Prezi’ presentation is here:

The tinyURL that is supposed to link to Andy Powell’s ‘Twitter for Idiots’ post is incorrect. Please follow this link instead.

At points I use the term ‘real life’ which seems to imply that anything which is online is somehow not part of ‘real life’. A better phrase would have been ‘offline’. Language in this area is difficult at best…

The quote “…just knowing how to use particular technologies makes one no wiser than just knowing how to read words” is a quote from Prensky’s recent paper on ‘Digital Wisdom’. In the journal ‘Innovate’. In other versions of the talk I refer to Prensky directly but seem to have omitted it when I was in front of the camera.  All other non-attributed quotes are anonymised statements from our students.

The images I used are under the Creative Commons license:

‘Tourist Trap’ visitor image
‘Rusholme’ resident image
‘Sunny Park’ web as a space image
‘Tool Box’ web as a toolbox image

Sir Tim Berners-Lee Says My Name!

Evidence of my socialite networking can be seen in full effect in the video below. Tim Berners-Lee responds to my question (via my @daveowhite persona): “Do you think of the web as technology or people? (If he says both I want details…)”

Yes, an 11 word answer (including the word ‘Dave’). Not so big on the details part really. I especially like the bit at the end were he makes a pleading face towards what I assume to be the producer. The look basically says ‘quick let’s move on, there is no way I’m digging into this one’.

I asked the question because I don’t think we have a very good understanding of how society and technology are influencing each other at the moment. Etienne Wenger uses the term ‘Vortex’ for this relationship which I quite like because it’s fast, chaotic and powerful.

The opportunity to ask Sir Tim questions came via @BBCDigRev on Twitter. It’s part of an ‘open and collaborative documentary on the way the web is changing our lives’ will be interesting to see how much of the activity on their blog makes it onto the small screen.

Post-digital – an update?

Earlier this week I ran a post-digital session with Rich Hall as part of the fringe (#falt09) activities around the ALT-C conference. We had an interesting time in the upstairs room of the Lass O Gowery in Manchester debating a series of statements which were designed to provoke post-digital thoughts, for example:

  • Learning technologists are obsessed with technology more than learning, which is why elearning will never make the mainstream.
  • We are purveyors of the worst kind of spin: ‘This new thing will solve all your problems’.
  • The speed of the change has left us with the mistaken belief that social change was somehow ‘created’ by the digital rather than simply played out on the canvas of the digital.
  • People with educations have huge advantages over those with skills and always will.

While these did lead to a lively discussion, I was still no clearer by the end as to how to describe post-digital as a concept. For many the term seems to imply a discarding of digital technologies as if they were no longer important. It also appears to promise some sort of new world order – which is not helpful.

After the fringe session I was even more convinced that the post-digital was a useful concept but that we hadn’t found the right way of expressing it yet.

A room with a view at ALT-C 2009

A couple of days later I gave my presentation at the ALT-C conference on my ‘Visitors & Residents’ principle. I had inserted a reference to the post-digital at the end of the talk to make the point that the Visitors & Residents idea rests on issues of motivation and personal preference rather than age or technical skill. This seemed to me to be a post-digital principle but, influenced by my conversations around the subject during the conference, I suggested that the term post-technical might be more appropriate.Ok so before I continue, yes this is a kind of semantic exercise, but what we have here I think is a strong idea which is difficult to express. One of the conclusions of the fringe sessions was that the rapid rate of change in technology is causing accelerated cultural effects which we are struggling to describe. (This was echoed in Michael Wesch’s keynote at the conference.) So I think it’s important to develop our thinking in this area even if it is a bit of a bumpy ride.

I can recommend Ian Truelove’s recent post on some of the pragmatic effects a post-technical approach can have in education. As Ian points out the technical is all about learning, and then following, a series of rules. Rules that we need to grasp before we can express ourselves ‘properly’. The manual for most software is written in this style – a button-pressing, linear approach. And yet the most successful (I’m thinking here in terms of uptake) online platforms don’t seem to have manuals. This is not necessarily because they are especially simple to use, but because they are massively multi-user and simply by watching the behaviour of fellow users it is possible to ‘pick up’ not only how to use the platform but also why you might want to use it. This should come as no surprise as we are particularly good at learning by observing fellow members of our own species. (There will be a fancy pedagogic/sociological term for this. If you know it then please insert it here as you read.)

Basic button-pressing, user-interface-comprehending activity is becoming culturally normalised and an ever-decreasing factor in our engagement with digital technologies (i.e. many of us are already digitally literate, if you will excuse the terminology). In effect our approach to technology need not be technical.

A simple post-technical example: the substantive effects of Twitter as a platform cannot be described by its technical functionality. Reading a technical manual for Twitter would not help a user to become resident in that online space. As Andy Powell suggests this in his ‘Twitter for Idiots’ post, individuals have to experience the culture of the groups/communities/networks/flocks/whatever to really ‘get’ what the platform is all about.

The post-technical then does not put technology second or first, it simply liberates the debate from those who build/code/provide the technology and puts it into the hands of those who appropriate it, the users, or ‘people’ as I like to call them, who write essays and poetry in Word, transform images in Photoshop, sustain friendships in Facebook, learn stuff by reading Wikipedia and express opinions in blogs.

The perspectives we are currently using, to come to an understanding of the cultural/educational influence of digital technologies and the opportunities therein, need to be reconsidered. I’m not sure yet if the answer lies in post-digital or post-technical approaches but I’m looking forward to tending these ideas over the next few months and seeing if something beautiful grows.