COVID19 changed many plans for the project but still project partners managed to gather young people both online and face to face.
Doing activities online was, as for all the other organisations working with young people, very challenging, but for the project partners this challenge was also seen as an opportunity to innovate, explore new tools and approaches, and most importantly, what “works” for young people.
This meant adaptations of different aspects of the events that were planned to be organised face to face:
Usually, sessions in non-formal education last for 90 min with 4 sessions a day. In the online setting, this is very difficult to maintain due to shorter time span of participants as well as difficulty to focus for such a long time, mostly passively sitting in front of the screen. BNY adaptations meant: shorter sessions, while still achieving the goals set and not more than 2 sessions a day.
The black screen of “videos off” can be scary for any trainer, facilitator or speaker who rightfully wonder if anyone is following. Carefully chosen methods, limited duration, planned questions or interactions with participants and feeling the pulse of the group and readiness to adapt were some of the approaches BNY partners and educators used to ensure participants want to join next time too.
Gamification is a well known approach in non-formal education, but brings different possibilities in the online setting through the use of different tools that ensure that the participants are engaged throughout the activities. In BNY, a specifically successful tool was Gather.Town which successfully complemented the classic Zoom sessions. Participants created their own avatars, walked through the rooms facilitators specifically created for the occasion and gathered in different places, by fulfilling the tasks or simply…chatting about different topics.
About the activities implemented
The idea behind the BNY project was to empower young people and youth workers at the local level and then bring them together to exchange their experiences and learn from each other at the European level.
First activity planned was training for youth workers on how to reach out to disadvantaged young people, initially planned to be held in Parnu, Estonia. Due to COVID19, the training was held online.
Several months after, an online youth exchange, not planned by the project, was organised online with 50 young people participating. The main reasons for organising it was to keep the groups together as most of them have reached the point of loosing the motivation to participate in a project where they can’t meet their peers from other countries.
Once the vaccines roll-out started, BNY partners started planning a face to face youth exchange bravely organised by MC BIT in September 2021, in Metlika Slovenia.
Second youth exchange where young people from 10 countries gave contribution to the outreach strategy and recommendations happened in March 2022, in Thessaloniki, Greece hosted by United Societies of Balkans.
The project was closed with a dissemination event in Brussels, Belgium, hosted by YEU.
Below, you will find the most interesting aspects from the methodological perspective of the events implemented:
- How to approach a training course for youth workers online
- How to make an online youth exchange interactive
- How to incorporate learning badges to your programme
How to approach a training course for youth workers online
This online training was the first learning activity of the project for youth workers with already some experience in working in local communities. The main aim was to set the baseline and scope of the work for the next parts. It gathered 20 youth workers and youth leaders from the different communities (2 per country), to build their competences on how to reach out to different disadvantaged groups, and how to empower the disadvantaged youngsters to become the community leaders. This training additionally provided space for them to further share practices and analyze which approaches would be the most impactful in their communities.
Each organization developed local actions which where planned to be, afterwards, implemented on local level in order to reach out to disadvantaged young people. Youth workers were working jointly with the leaders of the groups to understand and to identify what were the narratives, analyze which ones were hatful or spread a discriminatory message, and they created a vision on what would they want to see as a change.
This event took place online form the 15th of May till the 22th of June 2020. On each of the 7 days of the training took place 2 sessions which lasted for 1,5h. After each of the days, participants were obliged to prepare homework for the next day of the training. All sessions were conducted on Zoom platform due to COVID-19.
Methodology of work was based fully on non-formal education and one of the bases for the work was manual of the Council of Europe – We Can! About tackling and deconstructing narratives in communities.
How to make an online youth exchange interactive
During the implementation of previous activities, and given the deteriorating situation with the COVID-19 pandemic, YEU and partners created a proposal for an online youth exchange. The idea of the activity was to further empower young people involved at the local level, and give them the opportunity to get to know and share previous experiences.
Original proposed idea was that the youth exchange will gather 50 people from the 10 partner countries (5 participants per country). It provided space for each of the local teams developed in previous activities to get together, share their identified hateful narratives, and work together on building each other’s competences on how to tackle them, and share practices on how to create alternative narratives.
As the original idea for the implementation of this activity was not feasible, it was decided to adapt the exchange to the situation. At that moment, November 2020, most countries have restricted the movements of their inhabitants, so partners decided to use new technologies to implement this event by providing to young people the opportunity to share their experiences, to tell their personal stories, and to hear the stories and experiences of others. The idea was to create group cohesion, and strengthen the foundations for continuing to work on the problems they face in their communities.
Aim of this Youth exchange was to provide space for each of the local teams developed in previous activities to get together, share their identified hateful narratives, and work together on building each other’s competences on how to tackle them.
- At least 10 hateful narratives identified and presented
- Up to 50 young people empowered to act on tackling the hateful narratives
- Up to 10 local processes on tackling and changing hateful narratives will be implemented.
Needs addressed by the activity:
- For participants to meet each other;
- For participants/groups to present hateful narratives they are tackling;
- For participants/group to better understand narratives;
- For participants to came up with ideas for activities in groups;
- For participants to plan activities for next three months.
Youth exchange was based on the basics of non-formal education. Since it did not happen in one place (offline), certain modifications in the methodology itself were made in order to adapt it to the current situation.
Methodologically, it was a combination of online tools that enabled participants to contact, communicate and serve to bring them closer in the online world. In order to overcome the barriers of classic Zoom sessions, and make the exchange more interesting, we paid special attention to gamification. In this way, using interactive tools, we enabled participants to learn more interestingly and share experiences.
The workshops were adapted to the online environment in order to keep the format of the youth exchange as close as possible to the initial one - exchange of ideas, thoughts and knowledge. Since one of the most important segments of youth exchanges is the exchange of experiences between participants, the focus remained on this segment. In order for the participants to have enough time to finalise their daily duties (school or work), the format of the exchange was adapted to take place in eight sessions, within 20 days. This provided enough space for participants to adjust their daily chores and attend the workshops.
The complete exchange was created and implemented in an online environment, taking into account the epidemiological situation. This has created a lot of obstacles, but also opportunities to create a new approach. In the preparation of the event itself, great attention was paid to creating a secure online space that would allow as many participants as possible to take an active role in the exchange. This was done in several ways, first by avoiding using classic tools to create an online environment, such as Zoom.
Instead, facilitators used other tools such as gather.town, mentimeter, as well as various types of visual presentations. Through eight days of exchange, participants at different stages had the opportunity to present their experiences, as well as to exchange experiences, and together come up with ideas about potential solutions to the problems they face.
Since most of the participants had no experience in online educational programs, apart from formal education, it was of great importance to acquaint the participants with the way they will work. At the very beginning of the exchange, facilitators made great efforts to get the participants interested in the exchange, and have them acquainted with tools such as Kahoot, mentimeter and Gather.town. Creating custom maps and games in gather.town, participants had the opportunity to get to know each other better, which gave them the opportunity to reduce fear of the online environment in which the exchange took place.
As for the participants themselves, they adapted very quickly to the implementation of the exchange however, certain issues arose already at the first session when it became clear that it is very difficult to use two tools in parallel – Zoom and gather.town as the latter one is quite demanding for the devices used. Those using the computer adapted much faster than those that used the mobile phones.