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University of Oxford and OCLC Research collaborate to study digital ‘residents’ and ‘visitors’ in the transition between high school and university

DUBLIN, Ohio, March 31, 2011—University of Oxford and OCLC Research are collaborating in a six-month JISC-funded study, which is part of a larger three-year longitudinal project to investigate the theory of digital residents and visitors with students in the transitional educational stage, the time between late-stage secondary or high school and the first year of university.

Titled “Visitors and Residents: What Motivates Engagement with the Digital Information Environment?” the pilot phase of this collaborative international project began in January and will continue through the middle of 2011. Project directors are Mr. David White, Co-Manager (Development), Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL), part of the University of Oxford, and Dr. Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Senior Research Scientist at OCLC. Dr. Donna Lanclos, Library Ethnographer at the J. Murrey Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will conduct data collection and analysis efforts in the United States.

“This is timely research which will move forward our understanding of how learners engage with the Web,” said Mr. White. “It is especially exciting to be part of a trans-Atlantic partnership which allows us to compare students’ digital learning strategies in different cultural contexts.”

Digital residents spend a portion of their lives online, using the Web to develop an identity and maintain relationships. They tend to use the Web in many aspects of their lives, including as a venue for conducting their social life. In contrast, digital visitors use the Web as a tool for achieving specific goals as needs arise. They do not develop an online identity nor participate in online culture in the same way, or to the same extent, that digital residents do.

“We are very excited about collaborating with the University of Oxford and JISC, with support from UNC Charlotte’s J. Murrey Atkins Library, to learn more about beginning researchers’ motivations for engagement with both the physical and online information environments,” said Dr. Connaway. “This is a great opportunity to identify how educational services and systems can attract and sustain a possible new group of lifelong learners.”

Commenting on his organization’s decision to support this project, JISC program manager Ben Showers said: “Students and researchers are changing how they use technology at a tremendous pace, but at the moment we don’t fully understand their expectations and motivations for using specific technologies and online spaces. We’ve funded this pilot phase of a larger study to help demystify the picture, building on previous JISC investment in this area. By looking at a group in transition—those students who are between school or college and university—we’ll be able to help universities understand how their freshers [i.e., first-year students] were working when they started their courses and what the university can do to support their digital literacy during their studies. Universities can then use this information to make sure they are delivering the right digital learning resources and strategies to help retain and attract students.”

“I am delighted to be working on behalf of Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte as a partner-researcher with colleagues at OCLC and Oxford University,” said Dr. Lanclos. “The research we conduct among high school seniors and first-year university students will help fill a significant gap in our knowledge about how the current generation of college students approaches information.”

The Web page for “Visitors and Residents: What Motivates Engagement with the Digital Information Environment?” is available at

JISC is a UK organization supporting the innovative use of digital technologies in UK colleges and universities. It is hoped that this pilot project will support the development of a larger longitudinal study that would examine students and scholars in different stages of the educational lifecycle. More about JISC is at

The concepts of digital residents and digital visitors used in this study are described in more detail on the TALL blog: Technology-Assisted Lifelong Learning (TALL) is an e-learning research and development team based at the University of Oxford’s Department for Continuing Education. Established in 1996, TALL specializes in developing high quality online courses for the Higher Education sector.

UNC Charlotte is the fourth-largest institution in the University of North Carolina system. Its J. Murrey Atkins Library is the core of the university’s vast research and academic initiatives, serving over 25,000 students, 930 full-time faculty and the greater Charlotte community. The library currently houses over 1.087 million volumes and approximately 47,000 unique print and electronic serial subscriptions. Research support in every subject and/or classroom area is readily available by subject specialist research librarians. More information is available at

OCLC is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization. More than 72,000 libraries in 170 countries have used OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend, preserve and manage library materials. OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the world’s largest online database for discovery of library resources. OCLC Research investigates trends in technology and library practice and identifies technological advances that enhance library services. More about OCLC is at

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