ONL 191 Topic 1

Reflections on Digital Literacy and Online Participation.

My journey into the world of online communities started with a dial up modem and bulletin board system (BBS) communities and chat forums on CompuServe, Prodigy, and AOL. As the Internet took off, I abandoned the modem and embraced broadband with its media rich environment of social media, massive multiplayer online gaming, streaming media, and being able to meet people and stay in touch with interactive video. Today we have Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Tumblr, Skype, WhatsApp, Instagram, SnapChat, and Facebook – to name just a few – where we can be entertained, socialize, learn, and develop our careers. But in an ever evolving world, which of these will still be popular five years from now? Will they even be around ten years from now – or will they be a distant memory from yesterday? Change in the world of the Internet comes fast and today’s netizens need to keep up.
Digitally Literate

In this ever changing and evolving world of the Internet, there is much discourse on digital literacy, the digital divide, and how people present different aspects of themselves to others in different online communities. In this world, how do we see ourselves? How do we want others to see us? Are younger people more literate than older people? How comfortable are we with technology? How much do we worry about privacy? My thoughts tend towards seeing digital literacy as a contextual issue driven by personal motivation. I find myself changing my behavior and “role” depending on the website I am on at any given moment as I switch between different aspects of my life: Work, University, Career, Entertainment, Socializing, Hobbies… and more. But at the same time, I have concerns on privacy and what aspects of my life that I leave behind not to mention how comfortable I am (or not, as the case may be) in different venues.

The past two weeks our ONL 191 community explored these concepts and I came away with two things that I really like:

  • First, our journey on the Internet is a continuum between being a visitor on one end and a resident on the other end with situational context determining where we find ourselves along this continuum and what role we project to others.
  • Second, our comfort level in opening ourselves up online and the context in which we decide how to engage and participate online with others.
In many respects, I think digital literacy and how we relate to technology follows the traditional Innovation Adoption Curve that we learn in economics. In the early stages, techies get interested, but in order to gain more people, the service needs to appeal to a wider audience. The difference with Internet services is the challenge to get more people engaged: the user interface needs to be friendly, the user experience needs to be engaging, there needs to content that interests the user, and it helps if their is already a critical mass of other users to attract and retain users – after all, a community needs members. For a service to remain viable, it also needs to continuously reinvent itself or find itself left behind (and it helps to avoid controversy).

Creepy Treehouse

I want to delve into the second topic first since it helps set the stage for the first…

We were introduced to the concept of the “Creepy Treehouse” which was coined by Martin Weller as a digital space where authority figures are viewed as invading younger people’s privacy. This concept can extend to other contexts as well such as a teacher requiring course participants to post an introduction and picture on the course forum – how do the participants feel about this? Are they comfortable with these requirements? It’s not just privacy that is important, it is how we can feel about being pressured to do things that we are not comfortable with or having people engage with us that we are not comfortable with. This context is similar to how people choose to engage with the Internet in different roles which brings us to the next concept – when are we a visitor and when are we a resident? When we create communities on the Internet – especially for captive audiences such as students and employees – we need to keep in mind participant comfort level, ensure ethical application of the technology, respect privacy, and respect the concerns that people have regarding their participation.

Am I a Visitor or a Resident?

Who defines what a visitor is? What a resident is? Is it me? Is it you? Is it somebody else? David White [1] introduces the topic by going back to the original concept that people who grew up with online technology as being natives and those that came into it later as being immigrants (native language versus second language argument). This quickly came to represent older (immigrant) versus younger (native) users – but this approach is problematic since it fails to provide a foundation, which is based on learning principles and theory and not knowledge and comfort with technology.
Age is not a significant factor in using technology effectively in education.

White proposes “a different model on describing our relationship with the web that is neither based on age nor technical skill but rather on our motivation to engage. A simple continuum of motive engagement that can be used to map our use of services and platforms online and how and why we use these services and platforms to reveal underling approaches and attitudes, which helps us support and engage with the people we work with.” [1] This is a continuum since people will tend to shift between being a visitor or a resident based on the context of what they are doing. White concludes Our participation in this continuum between being a visitor or a resident is linked to our identity, our persona and is influenced by context.

The Visitor 
White defines visitor mode as: At this end of the continuum, we see the web as a collection of tools that are useful for getting a particular job doneAn online search or paying bills online is an example of visitor behavior. In visitor mode, we leave behind no social trace of ourselves online. [1]
 The Resident

White defines the resident mode as: A series of spaces or places where we choose to be present with other people and living a portion of our lives online. This mode of engagement does leave a social trace – one that remains after we go offline. Examples include having a profile posted on a social media website and expressing opinions in peoples’ blog posts, commenting on videos, and may even have their own blog or post their own pictures or videos that they created themselves online. [1]
Resident or Visitor?

The idea of a continuum with residence on one end and visitor on the other end where context defines how we engage with technology appeals to me. I find myself at various stages in the continuum throughout the day based on contexts such as participating in a course, collaborating with colleagues, visiting different forums to keep up with what is going on, checking out the latest news, shopping online, and staying in touch with family and friends – many of whom are in other countries on other continents. In some instances I lean strongly towards being either a visitor or a resident while in others I fall somewhere in between. Welcome to the continuum!


  1. White, David: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPOG3iThmRI&feature=youtu.be

Image Credits


T1 Reflecting on Online Participation and Digital Literacies