How to


Covid-19 and open youth work

challenging, but also innovative?


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Good communication is about having a good toolset of different methods. In my opinion – the larger the repertoire you have at hand, of methods, Techniques, and formats, the greater the chance that you will be able to hit well in terms of what message you want to convey. This applies whether you are selling a project, presenting an annual report, or, as in my case, disseminating Youth Work Norway’s participation methodology named Ungdomsledelse (Youth Empowerment) in an effective, engaging, and educational way.

In Ungdomsledelse, we discuss methods for building relationships with and among young people, facilitating youth as a resource and creating relevant offers. The course emphasizes reflection, dialogue and working in groups, to achieve a common understanding of key concepts in youth work and to learn from each other’s experiences. Tools and methods from the course are intended to be used further with colleagues and with the youth at the youth club, and to support the youth worker to be working more systematically with participation in their everyday work.

Zoom has now been my second home since the fall of 2020. With this, I also saw a great opportunity. With minimal effort, I could suddenly reach an entire country, through just a few keystrokes!

When we got hit by Covid-19, we saw a field that had to change its operation overnight. Many of our members had to close their doors temporarily and over several periods in the last year. We saw a big increase in the creation of digital youth clubs online, and the field was forced to think creatively about their own working methods. Renewal is actually a strength in our field. A shock digitalisation has created enormous development in digital youth work, led to discussions about innovation, and about the future of youth work in Norway and in Europe. At the same time, both Youth Work Norway and the field are clear that this is not the «new normal». The foundation of all youth work lies in the relations, and in the meetings between people.

The situation of many of our members led to a great need of, and an increased desire for professional input. Several of our members were put in home offices, and we wanted to be able to offer a good alternative to both exchange of experience, inspiration and professional input. After all our physical courses in Ungdomsledelse were cancelled when the pandemic occurred, we used the time to digitize our course. Zoom has now been my second home since the fall of 2020. With this, I also saw a great opportunity. With minimal effort, I could suddenly reach an entire country, through just a few keystrokes! I would therefore argue that even when Covid-19 is under control, this is something I will continue to do as a complementary alternative to physical training courses.

Digital integration – how to do it?

How can one facilitate a safe learning arena, with reflection, experience of working in groups and unity via Zoom? The key, I think, is to create good opportunities for interaction here as well.

Most people are familiar with “break-out rooms”, a functionality that allows you to put small groups together in your own rooms so that they can, for example, discuss a given topic. My experience with using break-out rooms is twofold. Either it works really well, the participants join in, turn on the camera, discuss and share their thoughts. Or it works quite poorly, for example because the participants log out completely. If it is to work, there must be a level of trust within the group. I don’t start the course with group assignments, instead, I will gradually build up to it, with introductions, simple icebreakers (like waving to the camera), and interactive presentations.

Another effective way to create interaction is to use the Mentimeter tool. Here, the participants get the opportunity to contribute actively along the way through their mobile phones, and you can get a very interesting look at input, thoughts, and opinions among the audience. I personally use Mentimeter actively and love how much information and input I can get from inviting the audience into my presentation as active contributors to the content we are talking about

Word clouds, Multiple choice, Scales, and Open-ended questions can be used as both icebreakers/energizers, and to make it easier for participants to have an opinion during a discussion in plenary. And for the ease of the eye, I always do the whole presentation in Mentimeter, as I find it distracting for both my participants, and me to switch between different presentations during the course.

During the course, I think it is important to make sure that all participants keep up with the presentation. I cannot stress enough how important it is to take breaks. Do not skip breaks! I take at least two breaks on a 3-hour course, ten minutes each. I encourage participants to turn off the camera, stretch their legs and move away from the screen. I share a clearly marked break poster, but I am available in the chat.

I am also very clear that participants can provide input and ask questions during and throughout the course. Both in the chat, but also by taking the floor. This stimulates spontaneous discussions, and there is a lot of good exchange of experience here. At the same time, I also make sure to do so-called check-ins during long presentations. “Do you agree with this research?” “What do you think is important here?”. An art break after asking questions to the plenary, about 15 seconds long, means that participants often speak. If no one answers, I move on with the presentation. To ensure the safety of the participants in the course, I do not address individuals directly, unless we have clarified in advance that it is ok to do so.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to take breaks. Do not skip breaks!

Camera off or on?

It is a well-known experience for many of us that many participants are largely reluctant to turn on the camera. Some argue that teachers and lecturers should demand that the camera be turned on, while others argue that the participant’s fear of being involuntarily photographed or otherwise hung out should be respected. I think that regardless of point of view, it is about something essential in any learning situation; how can I, as a facilitator, contribute to creating the psychological security required for all participants to have a good experience?

I always say that the camera on or off is voluntary. This is not the same as saying I do not want to see any faces. It is more about giving the individual a freedom to decide for themselves what it takes to have the best possible learning experience with me. I have come to the conclusion that it is not my need to see the participants that should be in focus, but rather the participant’s self-determined starting point for the best possible learning. As a lecturer, I do not have to think about compulsory attendance, my participants have chosen to sign up for the course themselves. I am clear on this to those who participate, and thus expect them to make a well-founded choice. In my courses most of the participants turn their camera on.

5 tips and advice for succeeding in creating good digital interaction

Based on my experiences during this pandemic, I have come up with five tips on how to successfully create good digital interactions

1. Know your audience. Who is the recipient? Do they know each other? Are they confident in each other? Adjust the degree of, and especially, the form of interaction according to who you have in front of you in the digital space.

2. Be aware of the needs you are trying to meet. Distinguish between your need to see the participants, and real learning needs. It is entirely possible to create empathy without interaction as well, but then with other means.

3. Vary which channels for interaction you choose. Participants are often comfortable with different levels of participation, and therefore a mix of Mentimeter (anonymous), chat, and live discussions in plenary or break-out rooms will work well.

4. Do not forget that your participants may be super interested in what you say even if they look a little tired. We can all recognize that long meetings and on-screen teaching can make us a little tired. Therefore, do not let yourself be affected if you experience a lack of smile on the screen.

5. Look into the camera as much as you can. Be aware of which screen (if several) you have the presentation on, feel free to choose the screen where the camera is located. If you participate in a webinar, it is much better for the lecturer to “look at you”, than for you to sit and watch the lecturer from the side.

And if you are really nervous; place your entire manuscript beneath the camera, and no one will ever know 😉

by Linn Hattvang, Ungdom og Fritid

Linn is Kurskoordinator Ungdomsledelse (Course coordinator Youth management)

Photos in order of appearance © Sergey Zolkin, Duy Pham, Elena Koycheva, Sigmund on Unsplash


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