Visualising social networks: Twittering Cory Doctorow’s talk


When Cory Doctorow talked at the Open University today, the audience in the room was supplemented by a more widespread group who were watching the live webcast.
Throughout his talk, the extended audience was discussing, reacting to, reporting and referencing what was said. By the end of the session, Cory was responding to a question that had been passed by a group of students to their tutor, who had Twittered it to someone in the room, who asked the question of Cory and then Twittered the answer back
down the line.
Twitter added extra levels of complexity and richness to the experience. Cory gave a very interesting talk – but none of the quotes in the image above are taken directly from his talk – they are all relayed through Twitter. The Twitter network around his talk related Cory’s words to their own lives and interests, establishing new links between people and reinforcing re-existing links.
I’m not saying that, as individuals, we were all ‘on task’ all the time. We were chatting, and checking the news headlines, and virtually waving to each other. There was a fair amount of discussion of Cory’s headphones – what type of headphones were they, and what was the significance of him wearing them. But, as a group, we were paying attention throughout – following up references and reporting back to the group, noting down key ideas, picking up on interesting connections. As a chatting, shifting, amorphous group we engaged with Cory’s talk and extended it into our experience and into our lives.
We can do that because we’re grown-ups and, in many cases, doing that sort of thing is considered part of our jobs. Even so, it doesn’t come easy. We can take in our laptops, but we have to be warned to use them quietly. The extended audience can only share the experience because everyone in the room has tacitly agreed to give up some of their privacy and have their image broadcast on the web at random moments.
Most students (especially school students) wouldn’t even have the option. How do we move to enabling, and trusting, them to benefit from using social networks in this way?

By Rebecca Ferguson

About Rebecca

I am a research fellow at The Open University. My research interests focus on how people learn together online and in blended environments, and I have studied blogs, online conference and interaction in both Second Life and Teen Second Life.
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