Thanks to Laura Czerniewicz for pointing me to this excellent video discussion by Oxford’s David White:
This isn’t really a full-on replacement of Prensky’s concept of digital natives (which is unfortunate, since I agree Prensky tends to be reduced to “old people just don’t understand this stuff”), but I think it’s a useful formulation of the divide between people who get value out of social networks and those that don’t. The short version for those of you who don’t have time to watch the video (although it is well worth your 15 minutes) is that digital residents see the web as a social space while digital visitors see it as a collection of tools. This has pretty profound implications for the differences between whether and how these two groups use particular technologies.
One of the more important points that David makes, in my view, is the link between your decision to be either a resident or a visitor and your ideology of education. If you believe that education is private affair between you, your books, and your professor, then you’re not likely to see the value of Facebook, Twitter, Elgg, or some other social networking platform in furthering your education. This actually links to another of David’s posts, “Does the Technology Matter,” in which he highlights two camps of instructional technologists: one that argues the technology should be transformational and the other that argues the technology should be invisible. It seems to me there’s a reason why there’s a high degree of overlap between people who are attracted to social networking, PLE’s and the like, and people who are interested in supplanting traditional pedagogies and institutions with more self-directed networked learning. Most people who fit David’s definition of a digital resident can probably remember their conversion experiences. For me, I had to be hit over the head several times. I used to think that blogging, Twitter, and Facebook were all idiotic, narcissistic wastes of time. (Well, OK, I still think Facebook is a kinda stupid.) In each case, I had a conversion experience in which I came to realize how the utility of the tool is not so much in what it enables me to do but in how it changes the way I want to be. I learned new behaviors and habits that I found to be productive and fulfilling. I learned to ask questions that I probably wouldn’t have asked otherwise, to reach out to more people more often for help, and to rely much more on the intelligence of my friends and colleagues to help me on my intellectual (and social) journey. These changes are intimately related to the ways in which we learn. I think it’s no surprise that people who are digital residents also tend to see technology as a catalyst of educational reform.