Block 1. Week 5. Learning: Listening on Twitter

It’s widely recognised that conversation makes a difference to learning. Historically –- especially in Socrates, Plato and Rousseau — the kinds of conversation that make a difference to the learning process are assumed to be between teacher and student [Friesen 2020]. Much contemporary work on learning emphasises this too [Laurillard, 2013: 71]. In particular, acts of speaking or redescribing are considered critically important [Laurillard, 2013]. But listening is as important to learning as speaking and, significantly, when we are speaking, we are not listening. Genuine conversation requires listeners as well as speakers.

Crawford [2009] develops the concept of listening as a metaphor for paying attention online. In some quarters, it is still fashionable to cast listeners derogatively as lurkers – supposed non-participants who ‘prefer to inhabit the margins of debates, rarely or never contributing in public’ or as ‘freeloaders who leech the energy of online communities without offering anything in return’. [Crawford, 2009:527]. But, as Crawford argues, this inhibits our understanding of online spaces. Expanding on her point: if everybody is chattering and nobody is listening, then what is the point in saying anything? Chattering is not the same thing as communication and conversation. Without listeners, we have neither; there is only emoting into the void.

This data visualisation aims to represent the things I paid close attention to on Twitter online from Monday to Friday. It could be used to demonstrate one way to use Twitter to learn: focus on what a small number of people are posting in a given week; read and reflect on one or two things they tweet or retweet that fit with your interests; don’t worry about everything else flying by on your feed; avoid doom-scrolling.

I found it tricky to represent paying attention and listening visually. I ruled out lots of things: ear shapes – too literal-minded; sea shells – too flat and lacked the dynamism suggestive of a receptive activity involving paying active attention to what is being said. In the end, I’ve run with a sonic mode of visualisation to suit the metaphor of listening. I’ve kept it simple: it’s not possible to listen to everyone on all topics at once, after all. The clefs represent people. Kate Crawford is a blue treble clef and that’s Huw Davies as a pink one. The visualisation’s sense of movement tries to convey to what Crawford calls ‘the more dynamic process of online attention’ [2009: 527]. The act of selective and careful listening is not passive. Being selectively receptive and attentive to what other people tweet is one way of learning on Twitter. Finally, this visualisation contains one error: one of the key signatures is not quite right. I decided not to change that mistake because, as Kitchin [2021:39] notes, data are often still published even when those producing them are fully aware that they contain flaws. I’ll leave you to work out which key signature I’m talking about — assuming, of course, that you are in the relatively privileged position of being able to read music in the first place.

1 thought on “Block 1. Week 5. Learning: Listening on Twitter

  1. This is a really excellent visualisation of ‘selective and careful listening’ to particular accounts on Twitter. The ‘major’ and ‘minor’ tones seem to be a really interesting way of distinguishing Twitter ‘voices’, and what they tend to convey on that platform – I suppose one might find this kind of visualisation useful in terms of deciding who to follow on Twitter.

    Overall, I think you make a good case for acknowledging the importance of listening as an active and crucial part of learning, which is so often overlooked by methods that seem to view being ‘active’ as exclusively those behaviours which ‘produce data’ within software platforms.

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