Defining digital youth work European conference – #DDYW – in Oulu, Finland

I spent a few days for #DDYW in Oulu, Finland, in what looked like a paradise to me.

Not for the amazing nature, for the peaceful silence, for the birch trees on the sea shores, for the bright light of the North still shining and struggling with Autumn coming (and yes, winter is coming as well, we all know about it).

It was paradise because I spent few days talking about and practicing what I care most: digital youth work.

I met people interested in the same topic, already active on the same topic, doing amazing things on the same topic; I shared what I do, I learnt a lot, got a lot of super interesting contacts, and most of all, grown a hope in the possibility of some change, some update in how we shape education on/with digital media and technologies.

Just a word on… the word: youth work is the super-wide range of practices, methods, interventions, services, proposals, activities etc which are used working with youngsters outside school. And if you know me even just al little bit, you know that I should add: and we all hope that sooner or later school will learn something from this.

The conference

The #DDYW conference was organized by CIMO Finland and funded by Erasmus+ programme (…and what has ever Europe done for us? well, a lot, guys – just look around and seize some opportunity, there is plenty of!). A bunch of Finnish youth workers and some other colleagues from different European Countries, about 30 in total, spent 3 full days discussing, listening to and proposing models, approaches, experiences, sharing ideas for activities and projects to come, and someone had even time for some sauna. Not me unfortunately, I had stitches for a little surgery on my shoulder and doctors said they don’t go along very well with saunas…

I was very happy to meet almost the full team of my fellow trainers in Dig-It Up! 2015 there (Dig-It Up! being the training course we designed exactly to train youth workers on mixing digital tools with everyday youth work, open air activities etc). Even one of the participants was there, Nadine, from Luxembourg, who meanwhile has become the person in charge of Luxembourg first public makerspace. Well, this is having an impact with a training course… 😉

The contents

The conference was not really designed using non-formal education standards, as it should be in this kind of Erasmus+ – funded activities, and this disappointed me a bit – well, being a conference I was not expecting group games and active methods in every session, but a wider space devoted to sharing participants’ knowledge and experience would have been really valuable.

Only a couple of 45 mins rounds were devoted to sharing best practices, and Dig-It Up! Brian The Onion activity was selected and presented in that slot. If you are wondering what it is, I can tell you that this is a simple storytelling game using instagram pictures and hashtag to tell the story of a day in the life of Brian, which is… an onion, painted and disguised as a person. We designed it for Dig-It Up! and, well, looks like it is still effective!

Some of the keynotes were honestly a bit boring and not that much rich in contents, but others were just brilliant, especially the ones dealing with video games in youth work, and possible eParticipation platforms.

Another part that I really followed with a lot of interest was the debate on defining digital youth work at European level, which gave name to #DDYW itself.

Everybody interested in digital education and literacy should surely read and discuss the summary of digital youth work defined by Verke, the organization (officially part of Helsinki municipality offices) in charge of training youth workers all over Finland about digital youth work, in number of 2000 per year. The very existence of a public body like Verke is something amazing in my eyes, and once you get to know their work, it’s even more! They told me the last guide they published was something like How to organize a lan-party in your youth centre. Someone would say: 92 minutes of applause – and big-up Suvi and the whole crew! I think at the average youth worker in Italy, and I wonder if they even know what a lan-party is.

Verke is also involved in a book that I have received one year ago by another Dig-It Up! participant, Panu: the Game Educators’ Handbook. Since we all know that the world is a mezzanine, this should not impress anyone, but, wow what a synchronicity! And what a link to talk about the other great learning in #DDYW : gaming.

If you read this blog, you should know that gaming is one of the main ingredients here. We often talk about videogames, gamification etc.

So you can imagine what a pleasure to discover the work (and the very existence) of GameOverHate: a brilliant NGO born in Austria and working in Germany, where Martin faces super heavy themes like abuse, hate speeches, sexual assaults and works to prevent their spread in the gaming communities. I attended their presentation and discovered a simple way to use single-player video games as a tool for socializing: just do as we did when we were 13 in my parents’ house, and play all together, give hints, support who’s playing in that moment, discuss strategies and the whole game together, and so on. If we mastered the original Karateka on an old Apple II at these times, everything is possible! And by the way, we experienced the method playing FEZ, which is a tiny little game I love, especially after having seen the documentary (also) on its development.

A keynote I followed with great interest was the one about eSports. This is serious stuff all over, now, and it is really time to consider it worth of attention by the world of (non-formal) education, as they do in Finland where, more than elsewhere, they seemed to have learned something, for instance, from events like DreamHack. While the average youth worker in my Country is still asking to him/herself whether gaming could be admitted in a youth centre, they are developing methodologies and approach to include it in the proper way, and use it as an education and youth protagonism tool. Amazing!

Dopo #DDYW

As I said, I would really have enjoyed more interaction and sharing between participants, because I learnt the most in this sharing. While I was going home, I couldn’t stop thinking at the incredible opportunities that we are wasting, feeding this stupid division between digital and youth work and keeping it alive in our brain. And it is not, as many told me once I got back, because Finland’s geography is difficult and they need to be online to be connected with someone else. It’s because we witnessed one of the most radical changes ever in humankind history, and we cannot pretend we haven’t seen it. So new training courses are coming, new concepts are being developed in these weeks, a new coderdojo is just born in my city (that’s a scoop… :D) and new plans to work in schools and with teachers are being written down. Born ready!

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