Visitor or classroom resident?

The success and sustainability of innovative online learning solutions rely on the capacity to engage learners in a continuous way, over a course period or over a school year. More committed learners means more interactions, more knowledge.

How do you measure commitment? Commitment can be both quantitative (number of hours spent, number of videos watched, number of interactions…) and qualitative (intensity of interaction, quality of contribution to dialogue…).

Is it easy to commit online? You first need to be at ease with a digital environment. In the words of Prensky, author of ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’; these digital natives, i.e. those who are entirely at ease within a digital environment, are the most likely to engage.

However, as made clear in an article by White and le Cornu, the main issue is not so much in being a digital native or not but in being an online resident or a mere visitor.

“Visitors are anonymous, their activity invisible and see the Web as primarily a set of tools. (…) Residents on the contrary see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work.”

The metaphor of place will be crucial for the future of online learning. Danah Boyd, in her book ‘It’s Complicated’, insists on how social media has become an important public space where teens can gather and socialise broadly with peers. She explains how social media has enabled youth to participate in and help create what she calls networked publics.

David Weinberger, author of ‘Too Big to Know’, argues that a network of people connected in discussion and argument know more than the sum of what the individual knows. This means that the value of a network will grow in an exponential way.

How do we apply these concepts to the classroom? For a teacher using online learning tools, success will depend on his/her capacity to commit students as ‘residents’ and not ‘visitors’, which means creating a network of connected people: a networked public.

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