This is the second episode of a series of posts offering reflections, ideas and tools for moving youth work activities online, in an effective and meaningful way. You can find the first episode here, episode 3 and episode 4 here clicking on their names.
If you want to be sure to never miss a post in future, you may want to subscribe to this blog and get automatic updates.

In the first episode we defined online activities as mostly visual activities, and tried to explain how to improve the visual experience of participants.

We also wrote about timing of online activities, which should be lasting not more than 2 hours, and still including breaks to stand up, walk around, rest your eyes from the screen, drink some water etc.

We gave some hints on what kind of visual activities could be organized, from drawing together to putting all participants positions’ on a shared map, to using shared whiteboards, to playing with backgrounds and participants’ aspects.

We also introduced the idea of working in an asyncronous way, even if we did not use this quite technical word: in simple terms, since we do not want to keep participants staring in a screen too much, we should consider giving them tasks they can fulfill later alone, while being disconnected, to connect again later and share the results of their work.

We underlined the importance of check in and check out moments for participants, even more in a setting where physical presences and interactions are not present, and so the sharing of emotions could be more difficult. Now we can start from here to go further, focusing on the core of every non formal learning session, be it offline or online:


Indeed, this situation of being together while not being present can be a real source of stress and fatigue for our brains, because reading non verbal language is surely more difficult, because watching some faces in some small rectangles on the screen is surely different from watching, hearing, smelling, touching bodies in a physical space all around me, and probably most of all, because this is always the same screen, so for our eys and brain, it is the same space where everything else is happening.

online youth work : screens
more of the same? Interaction can make a difference

So it is up to us to make it different, from the many work meetings happening there, from the school lessons happening there and so on. Allowing more interaction, more ownership of this space-that-doesn’t-exist is the key – together with understanding the rules of the place and bending them to your needs.

For instance, a partecipatory visual approach can be used to collect feedback from participants, using interaction to cover more complex topics or questions. Many digital tools offering this in a plenary, while being sitting there all together, have become quite popular in the last years (let’s name Mentimeter , just to make sure everybody understands what I am referring to).

While being online, we could then bring back this feeling of being all sitting there together, simply using these same tools, and sharing the screen with the main questions with all participants, that then will answer from wherever they are.

online youth work : sitting together
Let’s sit together and set the internet on fire! πŸ˜‰

We can tackle this issue of being together without our bodies… by bringing our bodies in the game too πŸ™‚ . So every kind of choreography, syncronized movement, etc to be executed during a videocall could be another step in the direction of making participants feel they are sharing something.

You can also make it an asyncronous task, and ask everybody to send you a video of some short ballet while they are all singing the same song – then edit everything, mixing the parts together and having a brand new musical videoclip to stream on your shared screen next time. This use of lip-sync videos can be a possible alternative to lipdub activities while in lockdown, and if someone is shy or privacy-concerned, they can wear a mask, or disguise themselves in some way. If you are crazy enough, and have good video editing skills, the result can be as good as the one by the trainers of the IYWT Guild:

In general, seeing the common results of something that everyone is doing alone, far from others, helps to foster even more the feeling of sharing a common effort and a common aim, if not really a common space.

If you want to make it even more playful, for instance while working with younger target groups, you can make a quiz game and create a little competition around it. In this case, tools like Kahoot will provide you with an almost ready-to-go platform, but your creativity is anyway needed in shaping the different questions and to put some appealing images close to them. It’s still a job for Superman youth workers, in the end! πŸ™‚

Another common practice that we have been using forever is splitting the big group in smaller ones, to allow more interaction while discussing or creating something together. This is even more relevant when you are online and, not having physical limitations, you can easily end up having 50 or 100 participants to your activities. Some platforms, like Zoom or BigBlueButton / Greenlight allow the use of different rooms, so this can be another reason to adopt a platform or another.

I would say that a maximum number of participants would anyway be needed and set, but on the other side, going for smaller groups in these situations is the only full functional system to allow deeper interaction among participants, even more if numbers are big.

So far we have been proposing ways to move online some activities and methodologies which have been used offline for ages. Anyway it is not possible to fully recreate your offline session while online, and it would be even pointless: you should take advantage of the environment you act in, and this environment being the internet, there is plenty more you could do!

online youth work : netflix party?
There is even a Chrome extension for Netflix parties. Will it last?

Just to keep the examples on the visual plan, you can watch a movie together hosting a Netflix party (tough I would question how legal these are…), or you could engage your participants to choose on youtube and then share a short clip of video referring to what you are discussing, using the screen sharing feature that most platforms have; you can send your participants to some online meme-creation tool and ask them to come back with some fresh out-of-the-print meme to comment a specific situation you are talking about, and then maybe share the images on a board for even more interaction with the rest of the group, and so on.

Special request: musical interaction

After being triggered by a mysterious English ukulele player and non formal education trainer based in Strasbourg (didn’t we already write that quizzes can improve engagement online?), the DJ I was in another life spent a night on the… electronic fronteer πŸ™‚ to explore interaction done trough doing music together in an online youth work session, too.

This is still an early collection of results, and this chapter will maybe sound a bit technical, so you may want to skip it, if you are not interested in working with youngsters and music – which anyway has always been a big part of youth work in many centers, clubs etc.

can we play together?
the local youth club band can have some serious troubles in playing together in these times…

First of all, we should take into account that the internet has not been designed for being in sync – so here we are touching one of the physical borders of being online, and this makes things even more intriguing for me.

Real-time collaboration in doing music online from a distance seems still quite difficult to achieve, and so tools and platforms that offer free or inexpensive experiences in this field are still very few – but you could anyway try and see what is possible.
It would probably work better if your conferencing platform could allow some minimal audio syncing (as in Zoom screen sharing features) while you all are connected.

You could start with the nice music experiments in the Google Chrome Music Lab – beware, they only work on Chrome browsers; I would personally recommend the Melody Maker, and another nice one to try could be Patatap.
From here, you can go all the way up to any sort of online drum machines or beatmakers – which would be great especially for youngsters into hiphop or electronic music – but alway missing the key feature of realtime collaboration of distant players. You could anyway use them for asyncronous activities, so have a look at this list.

A step in the right direction is the DAW (digital audio workstation) called Soundtrap, owned by Spotify – the schools extended free test version (120 days) would be interesting to understand if this is working for you: it allows collaboration (possibly realtime too) in mixing and composing songs made either by beats and patterns, and musical tracks created by voices and actual instruments.

Endlesss on iPhone. A desktop version for MacOS and Windows is coming on Kickstarter.

So far, and as far as I (and Mark πŸ˜€ ) know, the only working attempt providing the needed realtime collaboration is Endlesss : it is an iOS only app, using the undisputably better technology for dealing with music latency, timing, etc built in every Apple device since many years.
This could be a good choice for any possible online youth work session, but iPhones / iPads are needed, and they can be quite expensive. This raises many questions about being inclusive while doing online youth work, which will be discussed in next episodes.

A desktop version for Mac and Windows will be crowdfunded, but anyway if you know of something else allowing realtime collaboration in jamming / making music on more accessible platforms, please let us know in the comments!

Bonus track: Digital youth work interaction

While designing online youth work with interaction in mind, existing digital youth work experiences and practices would come handy, and there are already many toolkits and repositories to browse for more examples; the use of digital tools in non formal education has been an area of interest and research for many people for many years already, so a lot of materials, tools, training courses, and even the result of the work of an EC expert group have been developed during the years.

Not all of them will work out of the box in an online-only environment, but some of them, for instance the world famous πŸ™‚ #BrianTheOnion, could be easily adapted – read more about it from page 23 of this publication.

online youth work  : Brian The Onion
Of course Brian The Onion is supporting environmental movements

Some repositories, as the one provided on the website, have already been adapted to the covid19 lockdown situation, and can provide you with ready-to-go ideas and solutions. Others, like the Finnish organization Verke website, allow you to download lots of publications in pdf and to request actual copies of them, to be sent you by mail. The Austrian e-zine LogBook often have articles and special issues about digital youth work, like this one for instance, and also the magazine of the EU – CoE youth partnership, Coyote, had a special number on this topic.

It is also worth to have a look to the full collections of Salto Toolbox and the Educational Tools Portal for more tools and best practices.

Now what about the king of online interaction? Videogames! We will discuss them in the next episode.

Please share in the comments if you feel something is missing, or if you know some killer app or best practice that could be useful to expand our horizons. Thank you!

First episode of the series: click here.

Next episodes of this series about online youth work will be dealing with: even more Interaction (videogames!) Inclusion – Hosting – Conclusions.

If you want to be sure not to miss a post ever in future, you may want to subscribe to this blog and get automatic updates.