Art of Listening

By | January 29, 2011

Two weeks ago, if you asked me my opinion about synchronous learning tools I would probably roll my eyes and scrunch my nose as if smelling something very distasteful. Ugh, Elluminate needs Java, it’s a tech support headache. Students like flexibility and it’s a bit narcissitic of the prof to think that all the learning must happen through them.  Yeah, I know it has its uses but I’m not a fan.

I *am* a fan of listening to music while I work, though. So when Grant Potter set up a distributed, freeform, collective radio station from his DropBox account, I tuned in.

Listening to a bunch of shared mp3s is not much different than sharing the iTunes library of the other folks in my wifi-network-node in the other offices near mine. But ds106 radio is so much more than that.

Yes, I am thoroughly impressed with Grant’s technical prowess to get this up in running so quickly. Yes, I am equally impressed with Jim Groom’s apparent “cult of personality” that manages to mobilize so many people to start contributing in so many varied and interesting ways. But alone that wasn’t what jilted my brain on the issue of synchronous learning.

It happened when I heard live streaming voices- singing, talking laughing, discussing- woven into crafted sets of mp3s.

This moved the file-sharing experience beyond a file-listening experience into a file-listening-AND-sharing experience. With Twitter, I could see people REACT to what they were hearing. And I was hearing the same thing at the same time. I laughed out loud more than once. From people I had never met. People from all over the globe. There were more goosebumps.

It felt familiar. It made me nostalgic. At first it was like one of those wild forbidden boonie bush parties I used to go to in high school. It was fun. There were people I knew and there were strangers too. There was music and conversation. I thought of each of the people listening at any given moment- sharing that experience- that “happening” as Grant quotes @mikhailg. I was struck that I wanted to draw how I felt about it.

I googled “campfire” and found a reference image I liked. Then I imported it into SketchBookPro on the iPad. I created new layers and drew over top. I added headphones and earbuds to connote that we were together ‘virtually’. We were connected through sound.

Campfire listening:
Digital Storytelling

The next day I realized it was more than around the campfire. It was also akin to the early days of radio when the family would sit around and listen to stories together. Now my family never did this, but I’ve read a lot of books and watched enough films that I feel I have authentic nostalgia about the golden days of radio.

So, off I went to and browsed the radio programs from the thirties: mysteries, super heroes, thrillers. I googled “fifties family room radio” and found a picture I liked and did the same as with the fire: imported into SketchBookPro, created new layers and drew over top. This time I used the stats info with the different media players to further elaborate that the family in the room were only together virtually.

Fifties Living Room-style listening:
digital Radio Living Room

Some technical notes: Rachel Smith is my iPad drawing hero. She recommends using your finger to draw but I cannot for the life of me get a decent line with my sausage fingers. I use a stylus my Director purchased for my Associate Director (that I immediately “borrowed”). He bought her another one.

Aside: Yes, I know  that “wimpy iPads” aren’t allowed but I suck at following rules. I am not an iPad enthusiast, although I will admit it is extremely fun to draw with (even though partially tracing is kind of cheating).

Final aside: yes, there is a white elephant in the room and it is copyright. I will save that for another post.

8 thoughts on “Art of Listening

  1. Alan Levine

    Wow, those are great images- I like the graphic style. As a suggestion, it is worth sharing maybe how you created these (software? photographed?)

    Some context or even background on your inspiration would make it more interesting.

  2. Giulia Forsythe

    Hey, thanks for the feedback. I posted these at 3am thinking no one would actually see them. ds106 has really opened a new world for me in that I’ve gotten comments from real people (compared to the polite spammers – ‘rawr, love ur site!’) . I will edit the post to fill in the details 🙂

  3. Grant

    Great work Giulia – I absolutely love the campfire image. Looking forward to seeing your sketches over the coming months and reading about your process.

  4. Tom Fullerton

    You’ve captured much of my thinking from my morning listening to ds106radio. My mom and brother and I did sit together listening to the radio: music, political reporting, radio dramas. We didn’t have a tv (still don’t).

    Radio for me has always been about storytelling, about bringing me together with family and connecting me with the outside world, which I suppose is why this experience resonates so strongly with me.

    Thank you for sharing your reflection and your drawings.

  5. Brian

    I think your characterization of what makes #ds106 radio compelling, a “file-listening-AND-sharing experience” is very astute. And yes, that sketch is fantastic.

  6. Rachel Smith

    What a beautiful experience, story, and pair of sketches! I’ve only been on the fringes of #ds106, listening occasionally and following the Twitter stream and talking to the participants (well, one, mostly). Your campfire and family-radio comparisons are very apt.

    As for the wimpy iPads, I’m cheering you for the way you are employing yours as a creative tool to add something new to the world. And there’s nothing wrong with using a stylus 🙂

  7. Giulia Post author

    Wow! My iPad drawing hero just posted on my blog!

    The internet has the ability to instantly put respected professionals on a pedestal while simultaneously make them so accessible.

    Thanks for the feedback. I hope we can hear you on the ds106 radio some day soon, it will compensate for not getting to meet you at Northern Voice 11. (As per your advice, I did manage to make the case at the university to go- so thanks for that too!)

  8. Pingback: How DS106 Changed My Life |

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