This kind of lists tend not to age very well, so probably next year there could be many more possible additions to be done, and maybe something should be already deleted instead – but meanwhile, this should be enough to help you out, and it should be your minimum tool box content in these strange times.
Before starting, some notes worth being repeated once again.
First of all: this is not all about the platforms. Platforms and tools listed here are useful instruments to achieve your aims, but you should first define these aims.
Please do remember this, and focus on your target groups, their learning in your activities, your possible ways to engage new participants, etc. and then, only later, think about what you could use to achieve what you planned.
These times are, more than ever, a chance to experiment, evaluate the results and learn from them – as nobody really knows where we are going. Please be transparent about this with your target groups / users / participants: we are trying and learning, let’s do it together. For this same reason, now more than ever, you should worry about always having a strong feedback system to understand what really worked and how it could be improved, and what did not work at all, and why.
That said, let’s start with the list!
How to meet our groups
The first challenge when working online with a group, is to find a reliable platform to meet and host activities which can be effective. But there is something else you should also worry about: how many people in your sessions? How long will they last? Will they be plenary only, or would it make sense to have smaller workgroups in a certain moment?
All these questions need answer, and my personal recipe would be: groups of 20 participants, for no more than 1,5 / 2 hours, with one or two small breaks to stand up, walk around, drink some water etc, and possibly allowing rooms for smaller groups, for discussions, moments of groupwork etc
Since many of you already did quite some experiences with different videoconferencing systems, we will try to underline pros and cons for every listed tools, so that you will be able to make your choice with a wider knowledge. In case a tool offers free and paid versions, this will be specified only when free version limitations allow anyway a decent use for activities with a group.
Pros: free; open source; good encryption; web based so very easy to use (you only share a link); mobile-ready with apps for all platforms;
Cons: no rooms; if you do not have enough tech skills to install it on your own server, you will use a public version relying on public servers made available for free (for instance, by Universities) so connection quality can be very variable; not very safe, not having a system to identify and track participants;
Pros: very easy to use (you only share a link); mobile-ready with apps for all platforms; allows rooms for groupwork; very good connection quality on average;
Cons: paid (free version only allows 40 mins meetings); not very good encryption; having become a de-facto standard in this period, hosting meetings without paying good attention at link distribution and participants identification / tracking, may expose you to “zoom bombing”: unwanted participants who will possibly disturb your activity.
Pros: free; good encryption; mobile-ready with apps for all platforms; good connection quality on average;
Cons: no rooms; works better with Google Chrome browser allowing extensions and more functions.
Many more videocall and videoconferencing tools could be listed here.
How to keep in touch and do activities with our groups
Let’s agree on what we mean here: working with your groups can be done in a number of ways, even simply standing together in a video call with some tasks or activities facilitated by you, which should hopefully be able to engage participants and stimulate their learning. This alone could be done in a million different ways, for instance by drawing, writing, playing, etc. together.
But this is the internet, and it never sleeps, so you should consider what we call asynchronous platforms, to keep in touch even when not being all together in the same moment: in this case you would assign some tasks, and your group would work on those and fulfill them before the next meeting. There is also a need for keeping in touch and discuss without always meeting online, so we should also identify platforms to help us in this – or simpy use instant messaging systems (Whatsapp, Telegram, Signal…) if they work for you. Since these may be less known platforms, here you will find a few lines of description too.
born as a forum and connection platform for gamers communities, more and more experiments are being done to use this tool as a meeting place for youth work online.
Pros: free; already used by some youngsters; mobile-ready with apps for all platforms; embeds audio and video conferencing tools;
Cons: not known by many people; interface may take some time to be mastered;
one of the most used tools in the communities of the startups ecosystem, now being adopted by youth workers to keep in touch with their group while designing / discussing.
Pros: free; mobile-ready with apps for all platforms; embeds video conferencing tools; can be connected with a wide choice of other digital tools (ie Drive, Trello, etc.);
Cons: the free version has a maximum number of messages which could be reached in case of big groups; not so user-friendly for younger kids.
Whatever platform you will use, you will want to have some kind of board to take notes, draw or write something, stick virtual post-it to it and so on, during your activities. Here are some online whiteboards that we can recommend, out of hundreds of different services available:
How to use the boards will depend on how you desig your activities, but it is generally good to use them to collect ideas and feedbacks. The same could be achieved with other visual tools, like Mentimeter, or you can play a shared quiz on Kahoot. All these work best when the presenter shares the screen with participants, so make sure to do it.
Bonus track: for some getting to know each other activities, Google Maps offers the feature called My Maps (in Maps menu -> Your Places -> Maps) to share a map and, for instance, ask everybody to show where they are connecting from.
How to reach out
Now you have quite some tools and ideas for working with your group. But what if you do not have a group? How to reach out and get youth to be interested in what you do?
Doing this online will be tough: your competitors can be much bigger than you, and way more expert in offering engaging online experiences. So… why not learning from them? For instance, videogames being a huge attraction for youngsters, you could consider organizing some tournaments or events dealing with them. Even if you don’t do shooters, there are many other games that you could use – even without multiplayer features, you can simply play them with different groups in a videocall. One for all: Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes !
As you would print and hand out your flyer “in the right spots”, consider spending some money to advertise a post with good and engaging information about what you propose on social media like Instagram, which allow you to do it. You could also use Facebook, but you will not be able to reach so many youngsters in there. Anyway, to know where “the right spots” are… ask youngsters themselves!
In any case, try to provide clear, engaging and up-to-date online information about your organization, what activities you offer, how to reach you etc., and encourage happy users / participants to spread the voice!
by Michele Di Paola (2020)
Michele Di Paola is a youth worker and trainer with many years of experience in designing activities and trainings about digital and smart youth work. He blogs at www.dipaola.me
Title © JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash
all others © Domagoj Morić
Video © Domagoj Morić