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DIGITAL YOUTH WORK

Purpose of the guideline

The digital landscape is evolving at an unprecedented pace, fundamentally altering the way young people communicate, learn, and engage with the world around them. This shift presents both opportunities and challenges for youth work. Our guideline aims to navigate these waters by providing some practical advice, effective strategies, and insightful best practices for engaging youth in digital spaces.

This document is structured to offer a holistic understanding of digital youth work, encompassing everything from the ethical considerations of online engagement to the nitty-gritty of choosing the right digital tools and platforms. Whether you are looking to design digital youth programs, build online communities, or create interactive and engaging content, this guideline is here to assist you.

Target audience

The primary audience for this guideline are youth workers, who play a crucial role in shaping the experiences of young people in digital spaces. Whether you are just beginning to incorporate digital elements into your youth work or looking to enhance your existing online programs, this guideline offers valuable insights and actionable strategies.

Additionally, this resource is beneficial for:

  • Educators and Teachers: Who are seeking to engage with students and youth in meaningful ways outside the traditional classroom setting.
  • NGO Staff: Particularly those involved in program design, implementation, and community engagement.
  • Community Leaders and Volunteers: Who are increasingly finding themselves in positions where digital engagement with youth is essential.
  • Policy Makers and Advocates: Who are interested in understanding the landscape of digital youth work to inform policy and advocacy work.

 

By the end of this guideline, you will have gained a better understanding of the nuances of digital youth work, equipped with the knowledge and tools to effectively engage and support young people in digital environments.

Creativity for Digital Communities

This guideline was created in the scope of “Creativity for digital communities” project. The project gave us an opportunity to bring together youth workers from 4 countries and enabled them to share the digital youth work best practices with each other. During various activities, this guide was created to help other youth workers make improvements to their own online activities. You can read more about the project here.

Note: This guideline is one of the first ones that was added to our platform. There can be some technical issues and minor errors in the content. Please use the feedback from to let us know if you encounter any issues. Any additional feedback is also welcome because it helps us make further improvements to our materials. All guidelines are reviewed and updated after 6 months.

The project was supported by the Estonian Erasmus+ and European Solidarity Corps Agency through the Erasmus + program! ❤

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission Erasmus+ programme. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Definition and scope

Digital youth work refers to the practice of using digital tools and environments to create, enhance, and deliver youth work services. This includes a wide range of activities, from online mentoring and education to social media engagement and digital project work. The scope of digital youth work is not limited to just interacting with young people through digital platforms; it also encompasses the use of digital technology in planning, implementing, evaluating, and improving youth work practices.

This approach recognizes the integral role that technology plays in the lives of young people. It seeks to meet them where they are — in the digital realm — and engage with them in a space that is both familiar and relevant to their daily experiences.

This document is structured to offer a holistic understanding of digital youth work, encompassing everything from the ethical considerations of online engagement to the nitty-gritty of choosing the right digital tools and platforms. Whether you are looking to design digital youth programs, build online communities, or create interactive and engaging content, this guideline is here to assist you.

Importance in the Current Era

The importance of digital youth work has been amplified in recent years for several reasons:

  1. Digital Natives: Today’s youth are digital natives, having grown up with technology at their fingertips. Digital youth work allows practitioners to speak their language and engage with them on their terms.

  2. Accessibility and Reach: Digital platforms provide an opportunity to reach a broader and more diverse group of young people, including those who may not have access to traditional, in-person youth services due to geographical, social, or economic barriers.

  3. Flexibility and Adaptability: Digital tools offer incredible flexibility, allowing youth work to be tailored to the specific needs and interests of different groups of young people.

  4. Skill Development: Engaging with youth in a digital context helps them develop essential skills for the modern world, such as digital literacy, critical thinking, and online communication.

  5. Safe Spaces: For some young people, online environments can be safer and more comfortable spaces to express themselves, explore identities, and seek support.

  6. Global Connectivity: Digital platforms enable connections beyond local communities, fostering global awareness and cultural exchange among young people.

In understanding digital youth work, it’s important to recognize that it’s not about replacing traditional face-to-face interaction but about complementing and enhancing it. This approach helps in creating a more inclusive, accessible, and responsive youth work practice that resonates with the current generation.

As we move forward, embracing the possibilities of digital youth work is crucial in staying relevant and effective in our mission to support and empower young people. In the following sections, we will explore the principles, tools, and strategies necessary to excel in this dynamic field.

 

Effective digital youth work requires the right set of tools and platforms. This section provides an overview of various types of digital resources and platforms that can be utilized to engage young people effectively and safely.

Communication Tools

  1. Social Media Platforms (e.g., Instagram, TikTok, Facebook): Great for reaching a wide audience, sharing content, and fostering community engagement. Tailor your use to the platform’s specific audience and strengths.

  2. Messaging Apps (e.g., WhatsApp, Telegram, Discord): Ideal for direct messaging, group conversations, and creating community channels. Discord deserves an entire section on its own because it’s so much more than a communication tool.

  3. Video Conferencing Tools (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Meet): Useful for hosting live discussions, workshops, or webinars. Great for hosting workshops!

  4. Email Platforms: Although slower, email remains a valuable tool for newsletters, formal communications, and sending resources.

Content Creation and Management

  1. Graphic Design Tools (e.g., Canva, Adobe Photoshop): Create visually appealing graphics, flyers, infographics, and social media posts.

  2. Video Editing Software (e.g., Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro): Produce high-quality video content for tutorials, stories, or promotional materials.

  3. Content Management Systems (e.g., WordPress, Joomla): Essential for maintaining an informative, up-to-date website.

  4. Learning Management Systems (LMS) (e.g., Moodle, Blackboard): Host and track educational content and courses.

Engagement and Interaction

  1. Interactive Platforms (e.g., Kahoot!, Quizizz): Engage young people through quizzes and interactive learning experiences.

  2. Project Management Tools (e.g., Trello, Asana): Organize and manage projects, events, or campaigns with teams of young people.

  3. Blogging Platforms (e.g., Medium, Blogger): Encourage young people to express themselves through writing and share their stories.

  4. Online Community Forums (e.g., Reddit, Discourse): Facilitate discussions on various topics, allowing young people to connect and share ideas.

Step 1

Understanding Your Audience

  1. Conduct Surveys and Research: Gather information about the interests, needs, and digital habits of your target audience.

  2. Identify Key Issues: Focus on topics and issues that are relevant and meaningful to the young people you are engaging with.

  3. Age Appropriateness: Tailor the content and complexity of your programs to suit the age group you are targeting.

Step 2

Setting Clear Objectives

  1. Define Specific Goals: What do you want to achieve with your program? Goals can range from skill development, awareness on specific issues, to providing a supportive community.

  2. Measurable Outcomes: Establish clear, measurable outcomes to evaluate the success of your program.

Step 3

Choosing the Right Tools and Platforms

  1. Match Tools with Objectives: Select digital tools and platforms that align with your program’s objectives and are popular with your target demographic.

  2. Ensure Accessibility: Make sure the tools you choose are accessible to all participants, considering factors like internet requirements and platform ease of use.

Step 4

Engaging Content Creation

  1. Diverse Formats: Use a mix of videos, text, interactive media, and live sessions to cater to different learning styles and preferences.

  2. Collaborative Contributions: Encourage young people to contribute content or ideas, fostering a sense of ownership and participation.

  3. Culturally Relevant and Inclusive: Ensure your content is inclusive and respectful of cultural differences.

Step 5

Interactive and Collaborative Elements

  1. Real-Time Engagement: Incorporate live Q&A sessions, webinars, or group discussions.

  2. Interactive Challenges and Projects: Engage participants in hands-on projects, challenges, or competitions.

  3. Peer-to-Peer Interaction: Facilitate opportunities for young people to interact, collaborate, and learn from each other.

Step 6

Monitoring and Feedback

  1. Continuous Evaluation: Regularly assess the effectiveness of the program through surveys, analytics, and direct feedback.

  2. Adapt and Evolve: Be prepared to adapt your program based on feedback and changing needs or trends.

  3. Safety and Support: Monitor interactions to ensure a safe environment and provide support where needed.

Step 6

Promotion and Outreach

  1. Continuous Evaluation: Regularly assess the effectiveness of the program through surveys, analytics, and direct feedback.

  2. Adapt and Evolve: Be prepared to adapt your program based on feedback and changing needs or trends.

  3. Safety and Support: Monitor interactions to ensure a safe environment and provide support where needed.

Create interactive and engaging content

  • Use Multimedia: Incorporate a mix of text, images, videos, and audio to keep content dynamic and engaging.
  • Interactive Elements: Add quizzes, polls, and interactive games to increase participation and make learning fun.
  • Storytelling: Utilize storytelling techniques to make your content more relatable and memorable.

Foster a community environment

  • Online Forums and Groups: Create platforms like Facebook groups or Discord servers where young people can safely interact, share ideas, and support each other.
  • Peer-to-Peer Activities: Encourage activities that require collaboration or competition among peers, like online challenges or group projects.
  • Mentorship Opportunities: Pair up younger participants with more experienced ones for mentorship and guidance.

Regular and consistent communication

  • Consistent Schedule: Maintain a regular schedule for posting content or hosting live sessions to build a routine and expectation.
  • Prompt Responses: Quickly respond to comments, messages, and emails to keep the conversation going and make participants feel heard.
  • Newsletters and Updates: Send out regular updates or newsletters to keep participants informed and engaged.

Personalize the experience

  • Tailored Content: Customize content based on the interests and feedback of your audience.
  • Recognition: Acknowledge participants’ contributions, achievements, or milestones publicly to make them feel valued.
  • Individual Check-Ins: Occasionally check in with participants individually to foster a deeper connection.

Utilize gamification techniques

  • Badges and Rewards: Implement a system of digital badges or rewards for completing tasks or participating in activities.
  • Progress Tracking: Allow participants to track their progress through levels or achievements.
  • Competitive Elements: Include leaderboards or contests to create a friendly competitive environment.

Utilize gamification techniques

  • Language Options: Offer content in multiple languages if dealing with a diverse group.
  • Accessible Design: Ensure that all digital content is accessible, including alt-text for images and captions for videos.
  • Inclusive Content: Be mindful of cultural sensitivities and strive to represent diverse perspectives in your content.

Feedback loops and adaptation

  • Surveys and Feedback Forms: Regularly gather feedback to understand what works and what doesn’t.
  • Adapt and Evolve: Be willing to change and adapt your strategies based on the feedback and changing digital trends.

Offer real-world connections

  • Tie-In Activities: Encourage activities that connect digital experiences with real-world actions or learning.
  • Community Projects: Involve participants in digital campaigns or projects that have tangible community impacts.

It’s completely normal that carious challenges and problems will arise in your digital youth work journey. Here are some of the most common issues that we’ve identified based on the survey results from more than 130 youth workers.

Problem 1

Digital divide and accessibility

Not all young people have equal access to digital devices or reliable internet connections.

Potential solutions:

  • Low-Bandwidth Options: Provide materials that are accessible with low bandwidth, such as text-based resources or downloadable content.
  • Partnerships with Community Centers: Collaborate with local community centers or libraries to provide access to digital devices and internet.
  • Hybrid Programs: Offer a blend of digital and offline activities to ensure inclusivity.

Problem 2

Maintaining engagement

Keeping young people consistently engaged in a digital environment can be difficult.

Solutions:

  • Interactive Content: Use interactive elements like polls, quizzes, and games.
  • Regular Updates and Check-ins: Maintain a steady flow of communication and regular check-ins with participants.
  • Feedback Implementation: Actively incorporate participant feedback to keep the programs relevant and engaging.

Problem 3

Online safety and privacy

Ensuring the safety and privacy of young people online is a significant concern.

Solutions:

  • Digital Safety Workshops: Educate participants about online safety, cyberbullying, and data privacy.
  • Safe Digital Platforms: Use secure and moderated platforms for any online interaction.
  • Regular Monitoring: Implement a system for regular monitoring of online activities and platforms used.

Problem 4

Tech literacy of staff

Youth workers may have varying levels of comfort and skill with digital tools and platforms.

Solutions:

  • Regular Training: Offer ongoing training sessions for staff to improve digital skills.
  • Peer Learning: Encourage a culture of peer-to-peer learning and support among staff.
  • Hire or Partner with Tech Experts: Consider hiring technical experts or partnering with tech organizations for support.

Problem 5

Measuring impact

It can be challenging to measure the impact and effectiveness of digital youth programs.

Solutions:

  • Clear Metrics: Establish clear metrics and goals at the beginning of each program.
  • Regular Surveys and Feedback: Use surveys and feedback forms to gather participant perspectives.
  • Data Analysis Tools: Utilize analytics tools to track engagement and participation levels.

Problem 6

Keeping up with digital trends

The digital landscape is constantly evolving, making it hard to stay current.

Potential solutions:

  • Continuous Learning: Stay informed about new digital trends and tools through webinars, workshops, and industry publications.
  • Youth Input: Regularly seek input from young people about their current digital preferences and habits.
  • Innovation Spaces: Create spaces or opportunities for experimenting with new digital approaches or tools.

Terraria

Terraria is an engaging sandbox adventure game that offers a unique blend of creativity, exploration, and combat. In this 2D world, players are tasked with shaping their own landscapes, crafting items, and battling various creatures. The aim? To uncover secrets, defeat powerful bosses, and thrive in a world limited only by one’s imagination.

Youth workers should consider playing Terraria with the young people they work with for several reasons. Firstly, it encourages teamwork and collaboration as players can join forces to overcome challenges and build impressive structures. Secondly, it fosters problem-solving skills through resource management and strategic combat. Additionally, Terraria sparks creativity, allowing players to design intricate worlds. Lastly, it provides a safe and immersive digital environment for social interaction and personal growth.

Don’t Starve Together

“Don’t Starve Together” is a multiplayer survival game where players are transported to a mysterious, wild world. The primary goal is to survive as long as possible by managing hunger, health, and sanity levels. Players gather resources, craft tools, build structures, and explore an ever-changing, randomly generated environment filled with strange creatures and unknown dangers. The game fosters teamwork and collaboration, as players must work together to gather resources, share knowledge, and strategize survival tactics.

For youth workers, this game offers a unique opportunity to engage with young people in a fun, interactive setting. It encourages communication, problem-solving, and cooperative planning, essential skills for personal and social development. The game’s challenging nature helps in building resilience and adaptability among players. Furthermore, its whimsical art style and imaginative setting stimulate creativity, making it a captivating experience that can bridge the gap between youth workers and young people, fostering a sense of unity and mutual understanding.

Minecraft

Minecraft, a classic sandbox game, empowers players to explore, build, and survive in a blocky, pixelated world. This game encourages creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork as participants collaborate to construct impressive structures and navigate diverse landscapes. Minecraft provides a virtual canvas for self-expression, making it an ideal platform for youth workers to facilitate engaging activities that nurture collaboration, critical thinking, and imaginative exploration.

Jackbox Party Pack 7 (Quiplash)

Quiplash, a part of Jackbox Party Pack 7, is a hilarious and interactive party game that challenges players to create witty responses to quirky prompts. With its focus on humor and creativity, Quiplash is an excellent tool for promoting laughter, bonding, and quick thinking. Youth workers can utilize this game to encourage participants to express themselves in a lighthearted setting, fostering a positive and enjoyable digital environment.

Among Us

Among Us, a multiplayer online game, challenges players to work collaboratively while identifying impostors among their crew. Set in a space-themed environment, participants engage in discussions, make crucial decisions, and complete tasks. This game promotes effective communication, critical thinking, and social deduction skills. Its accessible gameplay and emphasis on communication make Among Us an excellent choice for youth workers aiming to enhance group dynamics, trust-building, and problem-solving within a digital context.

Human Fall Flat

Human: Fall Flat is a whimsical physics-based puzzle and exploration game that encourages creativity and problem-solving. Players control customizable characters as they navigate surreal landscapes, solving puzzles and overcoming challenges. This game fosters critical thinking, coordination, and adaptability. Youth workers can use Human: Fall Flat to engage young people in a lighthearted and imaginative digital environment, where collaboration and creative problem-solving take center stage.

skribbl.io

skribbl.io is an online drawing and guessing game where players create imaginative drawings based on given prompts, while others attempt to guess the word. This fun and light-hearted game encourage creativity, communication, and quick thinking. As players engage in lively rounds of doodling and guessing, skribbl.io fosters a relaxed and entertaining environment that promotes social interaction and creative expression among participants.

Overcooked! 2

Overcooked! 2 is a chaotic cooperative cooking game that challenges players to work together in fast-paced kitchens. With its quirky challenges and emphasis on communication, this game promotes teamwork, coordination, and time management. Youth workers can use Overcooked! 2 to facilitate engaging activities that require participants to collaborate closely, enhancing their ability to communicate effectively, make quick decisions, and work efficiently as a team.

Raft

Raft is a cooperative survival game set on an endless ocean where players work together to build and expand their raft while fending off threats. This game encourages collaboration, resource management, and creativity as players navigate the challenges of the open sea. Youth workers can utilize Raft to engage young people in team-building activities that promote strategic thinking, communication, and adaptability in a unique and immersive digital environment.

Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley is a delightful farm life simulation game. Players inherit a run-down farm in the idyllic Stardew Valley, left behind by their late grandfather. The game offers a serene escape as you cultivate crops, raise animals, mine for resources, and build relationships with the quirky townsfolk. Its pixel art style and soothing soundtrack create an enchanting atmosphere. Up to four players can collaborate in this cozy world, whether locally or online.
I short, Stardew Valley fosters peaceful and casual gameplay as well as exploration, such as mining or foraging. Giving many elements for players to bond over. Perfect for youth workers who want an easy and relaxing experience with participants.

Valheim

Valheim is an exploration and survival game. The game is set in a procedurally generated world inspired by Norse mythology, where players take on the role of a Viking warrior who must survive in a dangerous wilderness filled with mythical creatures and other dangers. 
An excellent choice for its cooperative gameplay, norse mythology theme and positive community, Valheim is perfect for those youth workers who want to pull people in to the viking mystique!

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