First Monday

Using 'Visitors and Residents' to visualise digital practices by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu

‘Visitors and Residents’ is a continuum of modes of engagement which has been well established as a valuable way to understand how individuals engage online. This paper discusses how the original metaphor of Visitors and Residents has been developed into a mapping process which helps individuals to visualise, and reflect on, the digital tools and places they use or spend time in. The paper explores ways that the Visitors and Resident work has developed and proposes a method of analysing a body of maps through ‘engagement genres’ to discover broader trends in behaviour across groups.


1. Introduction
2. Mapping ways of engaging with the Web in different contexts
3. Piloting the mapping process: A form of qualitative research
4. Discussion and conclusions



1. Introduction

In 2011 we published a paper in First Monday (White and Le Cornu, 2011) that introduced the metaphors of Visitor and Resident as ways in which people’s online engagement might be conceptualised. Rather than associate engagement with age we proposed that a focus on two quite different albeit mutually compatible types of engagement allowed new insights to emerge relating to individual practice. A Visitor mode of engagement was likened to people using the Web as a garden shed which they went into to select a tool for a particular purpose. Having completed their task, they shut the shed door and left no visible trace of their entrance or use of the tool behind them. A Resident mode of engagement, on the other hand, was likened to inhabiting a part or parts of the Web. Social media platforms, in particular, offered opportunities to ‘meet’ others, to chat and converse, and to develop relationships. Key to this mode of engagement was the fact that it leaves strong evidence, visible traces, of personal presence through, perhaps, creating a profile, or posting photos, or interacting and communicating with others in a variety of ways. These metaphors recognise that for many people, and especially for those operating with a strong Resident mode of engagement, the Web is experienced and conceptualised as a place, somewhere to go in order to be co-present and to engage with others, to the point that at times individuals feel immersed in the location: it is truly a place where they live out dimensions of their lives. In publishing the paper we therefore wanted to demonstrate that the motivation to engage with the Web is more significant than generational distinctions and technical skill, moving the discussion on from a focus on a more haphazard accident of birth, as implied by Prensky (2001) with the notion of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants.

The metaphors of Visitor and Resident have proved their worth and we have become aware not only of their conceptual appeal but also of their practical value as individuals and teams from a wide variety of employment contexts and professional roles have spontaneously used them as a simple structure on which to base reflection and exploration (White, 2016). The metaphors have been correctly understood as lying at either end of a continuum, and as modes of engagement rather than as innate learning styles [1]. As a result, individuals may behave differently according to the context in which they find themselves. Nor is it necessarily the case that they are mutually exclusive: each can complement the other; each can be used, or selected for use, by individuals according to what they want to achieve; each facilitates an ever-expanding role of the digital in contemporary life, work and study. Our 2009 Jisc-funded project ‘Visitors and Residents’ involved interviewing students and academics, ranging from final year school (17 and 18 year olds) through to early, mid and late career academics (White, et al., 2014). The data we gathered revealed that at that time social media platforms were predominantly used in individuals’ personal lives but much less, if at all, in their professional or study contexts. Older academics especially (but certainly not exclusively) tended to engage with the Web in a Visitor mode, primarily, we assumed, because this form of engagement was similar to that of a traditional academic and research approach, requiring similar skills. A much smaller proportion of these, plus a slightly greater number of students, also showed evidence of operating in Resident mode in an academic context (White, et al., 2009). In the subsequent seven years we have witnessed this mode of engagement become far more prevalent in both personal and professional contexts, outside of higher education as well as within it.

Yet all is still not as it seems. While it is tempting to work as if we were operating with two dichotomies, Visitor and Resident, and personal and professional, such an approach would overlook the ubiquity of the Web and the fact that many people now do what we have loosely called ‘professional’ activities at home, and indeed, may also do what we have termed ‘personal’ Web-based activities at work or during formal learning sessions. The key point here is that the digital amplifies the ability to shift context beyond the constraints of our immediate, physical architectural environment (Fisher, 2009; Wittkower, 2016). In the same way, people can appear to be operating in one mode of engagement when in reality they’re doing something entirely different. They might appear to be participating in a class activity using a social media app, for example — a typically Resident approach — while in reality they’re filling in a job application online on a secure site: a predominantly Visitor approach. This is significant because it indicates a type of blurring, where the physical architectural environment no longer imposes the same degree of ‘authority’ as it once did in terms of behaviour or modes of engagement. In other words, the Web makes possible to undertake activities that once could only be done in specific physical places. Those places carried an expectation, sometimes supported by regulations, that people behaved in a particular way. While place/activity blurring has always taken place — in a pre-Web environment it was perfectly possible for an employee to sit at their desk and handwrite a love letter during work time, possibly without others noticing, just as it was possible for them to take work home to do in the evening — but the advent of the Web has meant that many of the principal boundaries between what people do when and where, and for what reason, have blurred considerably. This blurring is amplified further by the emergence of the Resident, or participatory, Web which allows individuals to connect with almost any group at almost any time, something which has usefully been described as “Collapsed Publics” (Stewart, 2016). This has begun to converge what we might have thought of as the split between ‘content’ and ‘identity’ (Lanclos and White, 2015) and has brought into question what it means to be authentic in certain roles such as that of the academic (Weller, 2011; Costa, 2013).

Taking a macro view, we see that the digital is eroding traditional temporal and architectural demarcations of social and professional behaviours. Furthermore, in some cases, it is redefining what is considered as acceptable or authentic behaviours in certain contexts, although this is frequently in tension with long standing social and professional norms.



2. Mapping ways of engaging with the Web in different contexts

Given that we cannot rely on time of day or physical place to define particular types of activity online it is important to find a way of understanding and potentially mapping the range of ways in which individuals engage with the Web, taking into account not only their modes of engagement (Visitor and Resident) but also what sort of activities they do in what context and to what extent. Our involvement with two Jisc-funded projects offered ways in which this might be explored. The Isthmus project (White, et al., 2009) looked at the institutional provision of e-learning and the culture of the wider Web and explored how the ever-increasing divide between the two, in an age when the Web was developing extraordinarily fast, might be bridged. In parallel with this the Open Habitat project (White, 2008) explored the potential of virtual worlds in teaching and learning. The latter inspired us to develop a metaphor based on place; the former provided the data which could be articulated using the metaphor.

A matrix was developed where the Visitor-Resident continuum formed the horizontal axis and two broad, common contexts where people engage with the Web — institutional and non-institutional — provided the vertical (Phipps, 2016). From there we were able to plot four points, one in each quadrant, which hypothetically indicated how an individual might behave. Figure 1 below shows these, each marked by a red circle, indicating that this imaginary person behaves in a much more Visitor mode than Resident, although they do appear to behave in a Resident mode in a strongly non-institutional context. The Isthmus project surveyed learners enrolled on distance learning modules at Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. The text in italics under Figure 1 contextualises and describes the map.


Map of how mature distance learners engaged with the Web
Figure 1: Map of how mature distance learners engaged with the Web.
Note: Larger version of table available here.


The blue area is a mapping of the general approach to the Web of mature distance learners who take part in the online short courses delivered by the Department for Continuing Education at the University of Oxford. These tutored courses run for 10 weeks via a Moodle VLE and are mainly in humanities subjects such as art history, philosophy and literature. The majority of these students have pre-formed learning strategies and existing peer networks. While they might use Resident-style technologies non-institutionally, their traditional, individualistic approach to learning means that they don’t tend to see the relevance of informal or ‘social’ online services in relation to their courses. Motivated to learn and with strong networks of friends and family these students don’t generally look to their courses as an opportunity to socialise and prefer to concentrate on moving deeper into their chosen subject. [2]

This contrasts against Figure 2 which maps what is typically assumed to be the nature of a ‘traditional’ face-to-face undergraduate group.


Map of how traditional face-to-face undergraduates might engage with the Web
Figure 2: Map of how traditional face-to-face undergraduates might engage with the Web.
Note: Larger version of table available here.


Here is what we implicitly assume a traditional, 18–21 year old undergraduate student group to be. Being Resident on the Web is crucial for their personal lives, a process which is normally mediated via social networking sites. They are also fairly comfortable with bringing their use of social networking/ blogging/microblogging across to facilitate their learning. For example, setting up a Facebook group to organise a collaborative project or getting involved in an institutional blogging system. This type of student group would be looking to an institution to provide both an opportunity to learn and a new network of friends. However, it is dangerous to assume that this mapping is accurate. Many student groups are homogenously mapped as being ‘Digital Natives’ or assumed to be highly Resident even though the truth is much more complex. [3]

This matrix therefore evolved into a useful tool that allowed us to capture the different ways in which individuals engaged with the Web in their institutions as well as outside their institutions. The horizontal axis became the mode of engagement; the vertical, context. The vertical axis has gone through a number of iterations since then. In the first place, we were aware that these behaviours should not be restricted to students, or indeed to learning. They may well be typical of many employment roles, and, of course, higher education employs academics, support staff and managers, all of whose genres of engagement could be role specific or role-related. We gradually moved to using the terms ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ to describe the poles of the vertical axis, again seeing this as a continuum rather than a dichotomy. None of the four pole labels should be taken as an absolute; each frames a considerable number of complexities.

Given our own professional context of working within higher education, this is where our primary interest lay, and lies. As has been discussed more recently the social or Resident web is fuelling debate around what it means to be a scholar in the digital era (Lanclos and White, 2015; Stewart, 2015) which is one of the reasons the mapping has proved of value. Through the Visitors & Residents project and experimenting with the mapping, however, we became aware of a number of education related variables that were likely to affect people’s individual maps. Working practices and modes of learning were two, but to these could be added discipline, level of study, the ethos of the institution, pedagogical approaches, and more. The maps offered us a way of teasing out some of these differences and the real benefit of so doing became apparent. Not only might they provide institutions with a means of ‘taking the pulse’ of how students and staff are engaging with the Web, but new insights could be gleaned into which disciplines appear to lend themselves more easily to what types of engagement and what this might look like. They would offer a means for managers, course designers, decision-makers and budget-holders to understand trends and respond accordingly. They could also facilitate a heightened awareness by individuals themselves of how they behaved and see how they compared with and contrasted against colleagues, peers and institutional cultures. As mentioned, this centres on universities but the mapping would also make visible relevant themes, practices and modes of engagement in more directly commercial settings too.



3. Piloting the mapping process: A form of qualitative research

In 2014 the Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the U.K. funded ‘The Challenges of Online Residency’ project in conjunction with the University of Oxford. This gave us the opportunity to pilot the mapping process in a more formal way than we had previously had, and to use it as a qualitative method of investigation. The project brought together representatives who ran programmes of study from 17 higher education institutions (including a private provider) and one further education institution from across the U.K. The higher education institutions spanned from rank 5 to 116 in the 2015 Guardian university league table. The groups worked in their institutional teams, most of which were disciplinary, and were shown and then participated themselves in the mapping process at a workshop in London. They then took this back to their institutions to run their own sessions with staff and students on the programmes of study they ran. The resulting maps were then uploaded via a bespoke system which captured information about each individual that had created a map. The result, after having removed maps we considered to have been created without a proper grasp of the process, was 345 maps from across a broad range of disciplines, educational levels, and higher education providers.

The project was designed to explore Resident modes of engagement, not because these are thought to be ‘better’ than Visitor modes but because they are less understood and present new ways to engage staff and students. Institutions were invited to apply for a modest amount of funding to be involved in the project and pay for travel to the London based workshops. The project selected as broad a range of types of institution, level and discipline of course as possible from the applicants. These were collated into broad disciplinary areas using the Higher Education Academy’s taxonomy of:

It is important to note that the project was designed to help teaching staff better understand the way their students were engaging online. It was practice-focused and not, strictly speaking, designed as research. As such the data were a convenient sample, collected to explore the viability of the Visitors and Residents mapping process as a method of discovering broader trends in engagement, beyond individual maps or interviews. We present the data here for consideration and draw out only the broadest themes and patterns. As discussed later we suggest that the maps need to be enriched with annotations or interviews for a detailed understanding of modes, behaviours, motivations and practices to emerge. This is largely because the discussions and reflections the maps engender in groups is a potentially richer source of data than the maps themselves.

Two key features of the project method were that, first, teams participated in discussions between themselves and individuals plotted their own maps. No interviews were involved with members of the project team. This represented a considerable shift from the original approach we had taken where we, as investigators, had plotted maps as an interpretation of interviews conducted with students and academics. Second, we instructed participants to consider their engagement with the web by mapping the online platforms, apps and other software which they regularly used. As part of the induction process they were shown an exemplar (Figure 3 below) which functioned as a visual prompt.


Exemplar provided to pilot participants
Figure 3: Exemplar provided to pilot participants.


The ‘V&R’ map of David White — note that the vertical axis now reads ‘personal’ and ‘institutional’ and that these contexts have been inverted on the vertical axis as compared to Figures 1 and 2. Also of note is the shift to mapping particular online platforms and technologies rather than simply plotting a general shape.

3.1. Visualising the virtual

Visualising digital engagement via the mapping helps individuals to conceptualise what can be a complex collection of differing practices. Mapping takes advantage of our habit of tying practices to locations, for example, reading to the library, cooking to the kitchen, socialising to the pub or coffee shop and so on (notwithstanding the erosion of these demarcations by the digital). In a similar manner, the mapping encourages participants to create a geography of their online environment in which certain modes of engagement are given a visual location.

In effect, the Visitors and Residents mapping process spatialises the digital and gives it a conceptual, visualised, architecture which is not inherent in the virtual. The mapping of technologies or digital spaces as modes of engagement in mapping workshops also makes individuals practices visible to each other. This fosters discussion as participants seek to understand why their maps look different or if similar maps represent similar practices, behaviours and attitudes.

3.2. Engagement genre templates

The following ‘engagement genre’ templates were then developed using the maps from the Challenges of Online Residency project in much the same manner as a code book would be when analysing interviews of focus group transcripts. They cluster individuals who are likely to share similar motivations to engage online and therefore share similar practices and ways of working.

All of the maps were reviewed and recurrent themes, or in the case of the maps, patterns were noted. These patterns or overall map shapes were then categorised into the following templates which broadly represent particular genres of engagement as underpinned by the Visitors and Residents continuum of modes of engagement and the contextualisation of the vertical axis. The design of the templates is also informed by discussions engendered by the maps at numerous workshops.


Visitor and Resident engagement genre templates
Note: Larger version of table available here.


Visitor and Resident ‘engagement genre’ templates. Note that we found no examples of VP-RP in our dataset because everyone who mapped was a member of a university (institution) in some manner and at the very least had an institutional e-mail account. We have not included an ‘R’ map as we do not believe it is possible to operate online, only in Resident mode.

Example maps from the four most prevalent engagement genres


A V-R map from a Health and Social Care student
Figure 4: A ‘V–R’ map from a Health and Social Care student. Note how they have chosen to annotate their map. (Map 207)
Note: Larger version of table available here.



A V-PR map from a STEM student
Figure 5: A ‘V–PR’ map from a STEM student. (Map 110)
Note: Larger version of table available here.



A predominantly V map from an Arts and Humanities student
Figure 6: A predominantly ‘V’ map from an Arts and Humanities student (Map 130)
Note: Larger version of table available here.



A predominantly V-IR map from a Social Science student
Figure 7: A fairly sparse ‘V–IR’ map from a Social Science student (Map 354)
Note: Larger version of table available here.


As with the Visitors and Residents continuum itself it is important to stress that these templates are not ‘types’ of people and instead indicate preferred ways of engaging with and via the digital. The term ‘genre’ is used here to indicate that the day-to-day motivations and activities of individuals categorised by a given template will differ to a certain extent but stay within a broad set of conventions. Nevertheless, while the specific online platforms and tools which make up the shape of a map will vary, two people falling into the same template are likely to share similar motivations to engage and in effect will have a similar character of practices. The emphasis here, then, is on clustering the manner in which the technology is being used and appropriated and does not assume that a given technology mandates a particular way of working or engaging. Hence the use of ‘genre’, indicating a broad set of conventions which indicate an overall style of engagement in which individual practices and motivations might differ considerably.


One platform, many mappings
Figure 8: One platform, many mappings.
Note: Larger version of table available here.


A range of maps from the first mapping workshop held at Educause in 2011. The highlights show the location of Facebook in each map, demonstrating that the same platform can be engaged with in different modes and contexts.

Analysis of the ‘genre templates’

Given that the data are drawn from a convenient sample of participants it has been converted into ratio form and presented as tree graphs below. These are not presented as pie charts to avoid the assumption that they are an apportioning of 100 percent which would have required a controlled sample of each attribute. Values of ‘n’ are provided in brackets so that confidence of the ratios within the tree graphs can be assessed. For example, the number of maps represented in the V–R template for undergraduate year 1 was significantly higher than the number of maps represented in the VP–R template in postgraduate year 1. Overall this ratio-based approach highlights broad patterns in the engagement genre relative to headline participant chrematistics such as age. Of note is the fact that the most prevalent form of map was ‘V–R’ with 208 examples, followed by V–PR with 64 and so on left to right.


Data from 345 Visitor and Resident maps presented in ratio form categorised by engagement genre template
Figure 9: Data from 345 Visitor and Resident maps presented in ratio form categorised by engagement genre template. Original values of n indicated in brackets.
Note: Larger version of table available here.


Although developed as a result of a grounded process it is notable that the broad engagement genre template shapes did map well across the full data set. Overall it is clear that engagement genre is not significantly contingent on discipline, level, age, or any other factor. The way people choose to engage online is highly personal, just as their approach to learning is. However, even in this convenient sample a number of broad patterns emerge.


The ratio of genre templates across the disciplines is fairly even in the two most prevalent categories of V–R and V–PR. Overall the maps indicated that the specific manner in which teaching staff incorporated digital into their courses had more of a bearing on the institutional portion of the map than the overall discipline, i.e., physics students are no more, or less, inherently Resident than nursing students. Even within a given cohort in a specialist subject there will be a range of engagement modes as demonstrated by Wright, et al. (2014) when mapping bioengineering students. This emphasises that we are discussing modes of engagement not types of person.

Even though discipline does not appear to be a major factor in the data the V genre is skewed away from Social Science and Health and Social Care. These are both discipline areas which are often people-focused and therefore which is possibly reflected by their minimal representation in the most Visitor leaning maps. This is reflected in the VP–R maps which indicate that Social Science and HSC have the most Resident-only activity in the institutional portion of the maps. This is more likely to be a reflection of the general pedagogical approach taken by these subjects in digital locations rather than the ‘type’ of person who might chose these subject areas.


The most obvious data pattern is the prominence of the V–R genre, or a map in which every quadrant had some activity in. There could be a number of reasons for the prevalence of this type of map:

  1. The teaching staff attracted to participate in the project had heard of the Visitors and Residents idea and so were likely to be pro Resident forms of pedagogy, thereby encouraging their students to engage in this manner.
  2. The sample skews young, with the majority of maps being created by 18–25 year olds.
  3. In recent years engaging online in Resident modes has become more socially and professionally acceptable and overall usage of Social Media has significantly increased.

Taking a closer look at the maps indicates that while point 1 is probably a factor the occurrence of pedagogically specific platforms is rare. For example, a small number of maps from one particular institution make the only reference within the sample to a ‘tropical diversity blog’ in the Resident/Institutional quadrant. It is certainly the case that teaching staff who take an Open Educational Practice (OEP) approach will bring student activity into the Institutional/Resident (IR) quadrant. In this data there is evidence that a couple of the teaching staff working in the Health and Social Care discipline area had OEP related pedagogical approaches which could explain the higher levels of HSC in this genre (hence the name of the blog above). As could the fact that HSC students often go on work-placement and so rely on Resident modes to stay connected with their programme of study in the absence of face-to-face opportunities to meet as a cohort.

Much of the activity in the IR quadrant is based in fairly mundane platforms such as the VLE and e-mail. This indicates a broad trend towards using ‘standard’ institutional platforms in a Resident manner and a shift towards students perhaps becoming more comfortable in being ‘present’ online in the ‘safe-spaces’ provided online by institutions.

Refuting the notion of the Digital Native

Significantly the data clearly refutes point two above referring to the sample skewing young, as when the age brackets of participants creating V–R maps are normalised and expressed as a percentage it shows an extremely even spread across the overall age range. This then cuts against assumptions that ‘young people’ are more likely to operate in Resident modes and, again, demonstrates that the notion of the “Digital Native” (Prensky, 2001) is at best unhelpful and unrepresentative [4]. Obviously, the majority of V-R maps were created by 18–25 year olds in this sample but to infer the Digital Native idea from this would be a misreading of the data, a misreading which would be easy to make in institutions where the majority of people are likely to be in this age bracket. The even split between tutors and students again supports a refutation of Digital Native thinking.

We would argue that any age-related trends in discipline contexts are because those entering a discipline are more likely to incorporate ‘new’ practices into their approach while those who established themselves earlier (and are therefore older) are more likely to keep the practices common at the time at which they became embedded in a particular field [5]. This, we believe is a more helpful interpretation of age related factors as it does not claim that ‘young people’ are fundamentally different in some way and avoids falling into the kind of generation-gap thinking inherent in the Digital Natives idea. It also highlights the need to teach even the most Resident of students the fundamentals of critical thinking, online identity development/management, dialog and discourse as these literacies are required as much as they ever were, if not more, in digital environments and do not ‘come for free’ with a functional understanding of the technology.

The ‘L’ shaped genres

V–PR, V–IR and VP–R genres are all ‘L’ shaped, and are most usefully interpreted by which quadrant is empty rather than which have activity in. It’s common for participants to forget to map certain activities because they don’t see them as relevant or because they have become so normalised to them that they forget they exist. For example, searching on Google, using Wikipedia and e-mail are quite often not mapped.


This genre omits the Institutional/Resident quadrant and unlike V–R does skew young in percentage terms. This could be because younger students, who are most likely to be in years one and two of undergraduate programmes, have not yet developed strong independent learner-identities and are still engaging in a mode which they developed at school. Commonly schools do not encourage Resident modes of engagement online in institutional contexts as this presents duty-of-care risks and, more significantly, schools operate with an abundance of face-to-face time and therefore ‘presence’ will default to the physical (White and Wild, 2014). In effect, younger students are not likely to hold an expectation that the institution will engage with them in a Resident mode and are likely to need pedagogical scaffolding before they see the potential value of this even if they are very active in the Personal/Resident quadrant.


This genre skews older individuals and significantly towards teaching staff rather than students. This is likely to be because these staff members have been in these roles since the emergence of the social Web and online platforms which encourage social presence. Given this even though they have no activity in the Personal/Resident quadrant the nature of their professional role requires them to become, to a certain extent, Institutionally Resident. This may well be a reflection of an overall trend towards more Resident forms of engagement via institutionally provided platforms.


This genre represents such a small percentage of the maps that it’s not possible to draw themes out with any confidence. It seems extremely unlikely that these participants didn’t use any institutional platforms in a Visitor mode and it’s questionable how valid this genre is. It’s probably the case that these participants simply didn’t map anything in the Institutional/Visitor quadrant because this mode didn’t seem relevant to them or because they are so normalised to certain practices that they forgot to map them.


Here we see maps with no Resident activity. These maps skew towards the Arts and Humanities and STEM disciplines which are traditionally thought to attract less extroverted students (Wright, et al., 2014). This is perhaps a lazy generalisation though as, while slightly less prevalent than the other discipline areas, there is significant representation of Arts and Humanities and STEM in the Social-Engaged genre.


Given that only four maps fell into this genre it is not sensible to discuss the ratios within the data for this template.



4. Discussion and conclusions

4.1. Method

Although we have suggested above that this project bore similarities to a qualitative research project, its purpose was far more one of offering a fuller and richer picture of people’s activity than it was of establishing a solid and grounded set of research conclusions. Few expected and fundamental research methods [6] were adhered to. Rather, the mapping exercise was a way in which greater qualitative and informal data could be gathered in order to shed light on practice. During the course of the mapping exercise with participants it became obvious that there was a benefit to the activity that we had not anticipated. Team members talked to each other as they were working on their individual maps. And in so doing, new insights began to emerge relating not only to their own practice, but also to what the significance of this might be in their wider institutional context: perhaps their disciplinary team, the Head of Faculty or School, or the Pro Vice Chancellor with responsibility for Learning and Teaching. In many ways, these conversations provided as much information regarding our interest in how individuals were bridging the gap between the institutional provision of digital learning and the culture of the wider Web than the maps did. As a result, we consider that any subsequent mapping activities could usefully be accompanied, and enriched, by annotations on the maps, or interviews alongside the maps. In so doing, a much more detailed understanding of modes, behaviours, motivations and practices would emerge.

At the same time, the mapping activity was an attempt on our part to shift the mapping away from ‘individuals with discourse’ towards a means of analysing larger behaviour trends. It is this analysis which is offered in the previous section. Others have appropriated the mapping process in various ways either by changing the context of the vertical axis (Clay, 2016; Albion, et al., 2016) by modifying the notion of Visitors and Residents to better map whole departments or institutions for senior managers (Phipps, 2015) or by layering maps to highlight patterns of engagement across particular groups, for example librarians and library users (Connaway and Harvey, 2016).

4.2. Significance

Since the inception of the Visitors and Residents idea around 2009 the Web and digital technology has come to play a crucial part in work, learning and civil society. While much of what we see online is an extension or amplification of non-digital ways-of-being this amplification has a significant influence on, amongst other things, ease of access, speed of dissemination and how we manage our identities and relate to each other. The near ubiquity of access in many countries has modified professional roles and is changing the nature of learning and employment. Yet, as researchers we have struggled to keep up with and make sense of the digital and its implications. We are caught off guard by apparent paradigm shifts in business, knowledge construction, journalism and politics in digital domains. We are wary of big data, government snooping and the doublespeak of Silicon Valley multinationals but question our own agency within the super complexity of the online environment.

One of the key challenges is that our emergent digital practices are rarely visible or understood beyond the boundaries of those directly involved in our immediate networks and research approaches tend to swing between the macro and the micro. The Visitors and Residents mapping does, in part, make our online lives and motivations visible in a form which can be reflected upon and discussed with a human, rather than techno-centric, focus. It operates on a miso level, contextualising the motivations of individuals and groups within socioeconomic or institutional frames. This qualitative approach is especially important as the digital continues to erode the physical and temporal demarcation of roles and practices. However, the maps are difficult to interpret in of themselves, highlighting only broad trends, which while helpful, especially for countering widely held assumptions, do not uncover the whole picture. In this paper, we have been careful to point out that the mapping data was not collected for research purposes and would have benefited from additional interventions such as asking participants to annotate their maps or capturing the discussions and reflections engendered by the maps. Nevertheless, we believe that the mapping can be a useful instrument and can be used as part of a larger method and has been used as part of research projects [7], dissertation research and other levels of study.

Whether the mapping is used as a research instrument or as part of learner or staff development programmes it is an effective way to encourage individuals and groups to explore and share how they engage online. Recourses that support the mapping process are available online (Lanclos, 2016; White, 2014, 2013, 2010) and, as mentioned, the process is continually being appropriated and developed for different scenarios. The first Visitors and Residents research project was predicated on interviews, some of which were expressed as maps and the following HEA project, which produced the data for this paper, was based on maps without follow up interviews. We are confident that a project which combined the two methods in some form would lead to rich and relevant findings and deepen our understanding of how we as individuals, and groups, engage online. End of article


About the authors

David S. White is Head of Digital Learning at the University of the Arts London.
E-mail: david [at] daveowhite [dot] com

Alison Le Cornu is a self-employed consultant in academic practice working in staff and educational development in the higher education sector.
E-mail: alison [at] alisonlecornu [dot] co [dot] uk



The authors would like to thank the colleagues listed below for their invaluable engagement with and contributions to this paper.

Dr. Erica Morris for advice on the statistical analysis and presentation of the data. Dr. Charlotte Webb for initial data analysis.



1. Although we are aware of similarities between the Visitor mode of engagement and Belenky, et al.’s (1997) Separate Way of Knowing, and the Resident mode of engagement and Belenky, et al.’s Connected Way of Knowing, and similarly of resonances with hierarchical and networked forms of learning, as discussed in Siemens (2006).

2. White, et al., 2009, p. 9.

3. White, et al., 2009, p. 10.

4. As highlighted by Bennett, et al., 2008, inter alia.

5. An idea mooted by Helen Beetham in discussions around student and staff digital capabilities.

6. Such as making provision for an imbalance of power between researchers and participants, or ensuring that the make-up of the sample was appropriate for the purposes of the enquiry.

7. For example Connaway, 2016, inter alia as well as Druce and Howden, 2017.



Peter Albion, Amanda Heffernan and David Jones, 2016. “Mapping the digital practices of teacher educators: Implications for teacher education in changing digital landscapes,” SITE 2016, at, accessed 15 February 2017.

Mary Field Belenky, Blythe McVicker Clinchy, Nancy Rule Goldberger and Jill Mattuck Tarule, 1997. Women’s ways of knowing: The development of self, voice, and mind. Tenth anniversary edition. New York: Basic Books.

Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin, 2008. “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence,” British Journal of Educational Technology, volume 39, number 5, pp. 775–786.
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Editorial history

Received 3 April 2017; revised 3 July 2017; accepted 8 July 2017.

Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Using ‘Visitors and Residents’ to visualise digital practices
by David S. White and Alison Le Cornu.
First Monday, Volume 22, Number 8 - 7 August 2017