"MEET – JOIN – CONNECT! Digital International Youth Work – A methodology" offers an overview of the pedagogical and methodological approaches that are suitable for digital formats.

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MEET – JOIN – CONNECT! Digital Interna- tional Youth Work – A methodology offers an overview of the pedagogical and methodo- logical approaches that are suitable for digital formats. The first two contributions in part 1, by Dr Niels Brüggen and Franziska Koschei ( JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Educa- tion) , offer an introduction to the fundamen- tals of Digital International Youth Work. Digital International Youth Work, a sub-field of Digital Youth Work, is a combination of the pedagogi- cal aspects of media education and those of In- ternational Youth Work. Contribution number two outlines general issues in connection with digital settings. This is followed by a methodo- logical examination of group dynamics in dig- ital exchanges by Christoph Schneider-Laris. The fourth contribution, by Bettina Wissing of IJAB’s Language Unit, centres around language and communication in digital settings. Part 2 of the publication is dedicated to hands- on examples of Digital International Youth Work. Readers, including experts and team leaders, are invited to read through these tried-and-tested methods and diagrams to gain a rapid overview of what has previously worked in which settings. The bibliography and list of further resources at the end of the publication offer useful tips and information on methodologies and tools for Digital Interna- tional Youth Work. The checklist in the annex summarises the most important aspects to be considered when planning and implementing digital formats.

Allowing individuals to interact across borders, getting to know new people, exploring new cul- tures, exchanging views and developing inter- cultural skills and an open view of the world together – all this is made possible thanks to International Youth Work. And yet something has shifted in recent years. International Youth Work is no longer an exclusively offline domain; rather, it has begun to benefit from the digital transformation. Digital formats have become commonplace, with digital elements now a fix- ture in International Youth Work activities. The experiences made and insights gained during the process of digitalisation have shown that digital tools deliver real added value to learn- ing mobility programmes. They make it easier to involve young people more in programme design, they enable organisations to reach out to new target groups, and they allow partici- pants to get to know each other even before they travel to an on-site activity. Yet how can digital elements be integrated into Internation - al Youth Work activities in a purposeful way? What methodological aspects and challenges have to be considered? In 2021 and 2022, IJAB and JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Education teamed up with specialist and funding agencies for In- ternational Youth Work on a research project known as Internationale . In 2020, IJAB published MEET – JOIN – CON- NECT! Digital tools for international youth work practitioners , a brochure highlighting the many ways digital tools can be used in this field. This publication builds on that foun- dation – it is a compilation of the pedagogical and methodological expertise acquired by or- ganisations that work in this area, as well as of the insights gained while implementing digital formats such as the DIY² Lab event series and the international BarCamps known as Digital Transformer Days .


Table of contents



Fundamentals of Digital International Youth Work

5 6

Digital Youth Work: The Background

Dr. Niels Brüggen, Franziska Koschei | JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Education

The Digitalisation of International Youth Work


Dr. Niels Brüggen, Franziska Koschei | JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Education

Group Dynamics in Digital Exchanges


Christoph Schneider-Laris | Freelance coach, including for the German-Polish Youth Office

Language and Communication in Digital International Youth Work


Bettina Wissing | Language Unit - IJAB

Digital Exchanges in Practice


Virtual Workcamps – Opportunities and Challenges of Digital and Hybrid Formats in Non-Profit Volunteering Janina Hansmeier, Christoph Meder, Lukas Wurtinger | IBG – Internationale Begegnung in Gemeinschaftsdiensten e.V.


A Bilateral Franco–German Child Exchange Anne-Laure Leroy | Blossin Youth Education Centre


“Dream Your Future – Zukunftsträume“ – A Multilateral Hybrid Youth Exchange


Elena Neu | IJAB

Site-oriented Bilateral Youth Exchanges: The Living Labs


Natali Petala-Weber | IJAB

List of Methods


Checklist: Planning and Implementing Digital Formats


Bibliography and Further Information



Fundamentals of Digital International Youth Work

Digital Youth Work: The Background Dr. Niels Brüggen, Franziska Koschei | JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Education

Regarding the use of digital media in youth work for educational purposes, several concepts and approaches exist. To learn how to integrate digital media effectively in International Youth Work, it makes sense to first obtain an overview. This chapter hopes to help clear up any ambiguity over the many terms and concepts that are used in the context of youth work with and through digital media, and to provide some useful background information. It also covers the fields of media education and smart youth work in the context of digital youth work.

Objectives of Digital Youth Work Note that digital youth work has the same objectives and is based on the same set of values as youth work per se (see Brüggen/Rösch 2022, p. 21.; European Commission 2018, p. 6.; YouthLink Scotland, no page no.). Youth work and international youth work are regulated by Book 8 (the Child and Youth Services Act) of Germany’s Social Code and operate according to the rules and regulations governing child and youth services. One of the key prin- ciples of child and youth services is that all young people have a right to assistance and support as they grow into adults and become independent, community-minded in- dividuals. Against this backdrop, the youth services field is responsible for supporting young people’s personal and social development and helping them avoid or re- duce disadvantages (see section 1 of Book Eight of the Social Code). 1 In other words, the overarching objective is to assist young people in their development. They are assisted in making their own choices, participating fully in society and embracing civic engagement. The support services in question are aligned with the interests of young people and are shaped and designed according to their input (see section 11 of Book Eight of the Social Code). Thanks to the use of technologies, digital youth work can help to improve access to support services and align them even more closely with young people’s needs. Digital youth work also pursues objectives that relate directly to young people’s needs as regards digital trans- formation. Specifically, it seeks to empower young peo- ple in the following areas:

» To engage actively and creatively with a digital society

» To assess the risks of digitalisation and in turn, become able to make well-informed choices

» To assume control over their digital identity

» To express their opinions using digital tools

» To explore new tools for networking, collaboration and community engagement.

(see YouthLink Scotland et al. 2019, no page no.).

Digital youth work and media education One of the objectives mentioned above – giving young people opportunities to participate effectively in a soci- ety marked by digitalisation – is a declared goal of digi- tal youth work and media education alike. Accordingly, many media education approaches that involve young people working with digital media can be seen as valid approaches for digital youth work, too. That said, digital youth work also extends into areas that reach beyond the traditional domain of media ed- ucation (see Brüggen/Rösch 2022, p. 21). Besides the teaching of media skills, other relevant aspects include digital infrastructure (that is, software applications for educators), organisational development, and contin- ued professional development for experts using digital tools. This is reflected in key European publications such as the Conclusions of the Council on Digital Youth Work (13935/19), the recommendations of the European Com-

1 Additional fundamental principles and tasks of youth work are detailed here: blob/94106/40b8c4734ba05dad4639ca34908ca367/kinder-und-jugendhilfegesetz-sgb-viii-data.pdf. Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth (2020).


What are the Outcomes of Digital Youth Work? Youth Work is Relevant and Responsive

• Youth work and youth policies are proactive and give due consideration to technological development and digitalisation, and they identify the positive and negative impacts of digitalisation on society, including on youth work practices and services • Youth work services are more accessible and relevant for young people, including reaching those who may be geographically and socially isolated • Youth workers have an agile and critical mindset towards digital technology, and have competences to deliver quality youth work • Increased collaboration and international global networks and networking

Digital and media skills Many publications on digital youth work, especially in- ternational ones, use the term “digital skills”. While their interpretation of the term reflects many aspects of the media competence model commonly used in Germany, they focus largely on training- and qualification-related aspects (e.g. the ability to use digital tools) rather than engage in a critical reflection of said tools (see Brüggen/ Rösch 2022, p. 17). This is mirrored in the requirements placed on experts, who are expected to be proficient enough in the use of digital media so they can use them to design activities for young people. Reflections on digi- tal transformation and what it may mean for young peo- ple’s lives are not given nearly as great an emphasis. That notwithstanding, the recommendations of the European Commission expert group on digitalisation and youth do make reference to this (European Commission 2018). Types of digital youth work Digital media can be applied in digital youth work in var- ious ways, as illustrated by the following diagram, which is an excerpt from the aforementioned guidelines for digital (child and) youth work of the European Commis- sion expert group: “As Kate (youth worker) tells us, no idea is too outrageous. She always tries to encourage us to think out of the box.” Shannon, Ireland

mission expert group on digitalisation and youth (Euro- pean Commission 2018) and the guidelines for digital (child and) youth work that were developed as part of a pan-European cooperation project (YouthLink Scotland et al. 2019). Smart youth work Smart youth work differs from digital youth work in that it has a specific focus on the development of software applications for child and youth work. Examples include digital tools that assist experts in documenting their work, or game-based media education apps in whose development experts were involved. One of the objec- tives of smart youth work is to create tailor-made pro- grammes that meet the needs of a range of child and youth work stakeholders. A key document in this regard is the Council of the European Union’s conclusions on smart youth work (2017/C 418/02), where it is explicitly stated that “development of smart youth work should be built upon the active engagement of young people them- selves, allowing them to best contribute their already ex- isting digital competences“. Young People are 2 • Engaged and empowered, active and creative in digital society • Developing digital, STEAM 3 and media literacy skills • Confident, resilient and optimistic for the future • Able to manage personal, social and formal relationships in the digital era • Considering the risks of digitalisation, making informed and reasoned decisions, and taking control of their digital identity

• Expressing their voice and demonstrating social commitment via digital means • Accessing new opportunities to network, collaborate and participate in society Examples of Digital Youth Work Practice 4

Fig. 1: How digital media can be used in Digital Youth Work. Source: loads/2019/09/european-guidelines-for-digital-youth-work-web.pdf. 2 Based on Scotland’s Youth Work Outcomes, YouthLink Scotland 2016 3 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEM is also commonly used) 4 has 36 short film examples


The Digitalisation of International Youth Work Dr. Niels Brüggen, Franziska Koschei | JFF – Institute for Media Research and Media Education

How is digitalisation changing International Youth Work? Before answering that question, it is a good idea to call to mind the goals and particularities of International Youth Work. The following section describes, against the back- drop of the digital transformation, the goals of Interna- tional Youth Work and what characterises International Youth Work as compared with Youth Work. The goals of International Youth Work International Youth Work pursues the general goals of Youth Work as defined in section 11 of Book Eight of Germany’s Social Code while at the same time aiming to achieve the substantive goals of cross-border exchanges and encounters. In particular, international exchanges and cross-border encounters aim to contribute to » teaching intercultural skills, providing international learning opportunities and promoting an awareness of global interdependencies,

When developing a methodology of Digital Internation- al Youth Work, particularities can be pinpointed on the basis of a modified version of the model proposed by Kutscher et al. (2015). This model has established itself in the field of social work when it comes to observing me- diatisation and digitalisation processes; it focuses on the triad comprising addressees, experts (both staff and vol- unteer) and the organisation. Factors and variables can be defined in relation to these three groups and their relationship to one another to create a methodology of Digital International Youth Work. What is characteristic of International Youth Work is that at least two of the three interact (see Fig. 2). When designing online, blended or hybrid Digital Inter- national Youth Work formats, the focus can be placed on various design aspects in line with Fig. 2. However, additional questions arise in relation to digital formats when it comes to achieving the aforementioned goals and facilitating meaningful youth exchanges.

» fostering tolerance and diversity-sensitive attitudes in a diverse society,

Examples of these include » in relation to young people:

» critically engaging with a shared history and reconciliation,

› What skills do young people already have that enable them to use digital media?

» strengthening European integration and peace in Europe and the world.

› How can these skills be put to specific use?

› Which digital services (apps and software) do young people use in which countries to communi- cate, including informally?

As an aid to achieving the goals of International Youth Work in the long run, quality criteria for International Youth Work and the relevant indicators were drawn up back in 2004 (see Quality Standards and Indicators for International Youth Work, IJAB 2004). These quality cri- teria now need to be reassessed and updated in light of the digitalisation of International Youth Work. Account needs to be taken of the particularities of Digital Interna- tional Youth Work, which are presented in the following.


» in relation to experts:

» in relation to partner organisations:

› What skills and experience do experts have when it comes to designing and implementing digital formats? › What roles are needed when implementing digital formats? What support can other experts provide in which context?

› Do organisations have any specific rules (e.g. not using certain services, regarding the use of social media) that need to be observed when designing digital formats? › What binding legal requirements (e.g. regarding data protection, data processing and consent) apply in the participating countries? › How can the “host principle” be interpreted and implemented in digital exchanges? And should it even be?

› How are these roles divided up in the educational teams?

These aspects can often influence common issues that arise at the planning stage, for instance as regards daily schedules.

Digital Transformation in International Youth Work





Young People

Young People

Young People

Young People





Fig. 2: The specific constellation relating to digital transformation in International Youth Work (Brüggen/Koschei, after Kutscher/ Ley/Seelmeyer 2015)


Digital transformation in International Youth Work: Opportunities and challenges

The change process described in the above can have an influence on project design in International Youth Work. The following table compares the result- ing opportunities and challenges for extracurricular activities. 2



Fewer obstacles to participation Using digital media enables certain obstacles to participation to be eliminated. They include limited time and financial resources, mobility limitations on account of a disability or travel restrictions, difficult political situation, restric- tions owing to residence status or lack of a visa. Digital meetings can also provide a safe space in which young people can get to know each other virtually in a familiar setting (e.g. at home). So- cial interactions can be difficult for some young people, especially if they take place in unfamiliar surroundings like a foreign country. Insights into individual lifestyles On the other hand, participating in an exchange from the comfort of one’s own home provides low-threshold insights into participants’ individ- ual lifeworlds. Without having to go anywhere, participants can gain an insight into the every- day life of the other young people taking part – or even of a national group – in real time, so without any great time lag. This can range from a live tour of someone’s apartment during an online session to a preproduced follow-me- around video in which participants record a day in their life on camera. Compared to on-site exchanges, online settings provide a “neutral” country-independent place and the opportunity to focus on new and diverse, culture-independ- ent differences and commonalities.

New obstacles to participation Using online tools can create new obstacles to participation and new forms of discrimination. The discrimination of young people who have no or only low-performing devices at their disposal is one example. Other aspects, such as an unsta- ble internet connection or lack of private space can mean that young people are unable to take part in projects with digital elements or that they (have to) eventually drop out. One solution is to choose a hybrid format in which young people can sit in the same room as other participants and the team leader (see the paragraph headed “Formats” on page 12). This ensures that all the participants have equal access to activities. More obstacles to intercultural exchanges Immersing yourself in other lifeworlds and, in particular, getting to know other cultures can be difficult in an online setting and so needs to be carefully structured. It may be useful to show videos or play audio recordings produced by participants in which they introduce their country/town/city. Joint online cooking events in which participants cook typical local dishes or watch a local film together can mitigate the challenges involved. Such events also provide an opportunity for informal exchanges between young people. Informal exchanges like these are particularly good at helping young people make friends in an online setting, which can often feel quite impersonal. IJAB details how Digital Language Animation can promote intercultural exchange in its handbook on Language Animation in Online Youth Meetings . 3

2 This section is based on an expert report published in 2021 entitled Veränderungen und Handlungsbedarfe angesichts des digitalen Wandels Internationaler Jugendarbeit, which uses current discourses to systematise opportunities and challenges for youth exchanges, workcamps and the challenges of the transformation process relating to International Youth Work (Brüggen et al. 2021). The results of an article that was also published in 2021 entitled Digitaler Wandel – Veränderungen und Handlungsbedarfe für die Internationale Jugendarbeit were likewise drawn on (Koschei/Brüggen 2021). 3 See also p. 18 re communication in online ex- changes.




New communication channels Certain online functions can, however, facilitate certain communication processes. For example, interpreting functions on videoconferencing platforms enable simultaneous interpretation into/out of various languages, and speech-to- text interpretation can be provided for hear- ing-impaired participants. Young people can also use translation services throughout a project. Messenger services enable young people to stay in contact at the start of a project, between two project phases or once a project finish- es. However, you need to be aware of privacy issues when using commercial providers such as WhatsApp. Acquisition of media literacy Digital projects give young people the opportu- nity to learn how to use online tools. By familiar- ising themselves with new devices and tools and using them independently in digital projects, they can acquire technical know-how. Besides, digital projects give young people the opportu- nity to reflect on their own media consumption, challenge media structures or cooperate on creating media products. Greater scope for participation Online tools also open up new opportunities for participation for young people. For instance, digital elements included before the start of a project mean they are involved in organising activities. This can include, for example, digi- tal preparatory sessions in which the project structure and individual items can be prepared together with participants. These sessions can also be used to choose the online tools that are to be used. When young people take on tasks in a project using the tools they have themselves suggested, this can help to incorporate and ac- tivate those skills they have learned elsewhere. Being involved in designing a project can boost young people’s feeling of self-efficacy and mo- tivate them to participate. Also, involving young people at an early stage helps to ensure that an activity is designed so that it reflects their own reality.

More difficult communication Communication can likewise be an issue in an online setting. Different first languages and language skills, difficulty recognising facial expressions and gestures and technical glitches all play a role in this. The contribution by Bettina Wissing on p. 18 contains contains a detailed description of which aspects of the online set- ting are important in relation to communication and what needs to be borne in mind to ensure communication is as effective as possible. Need for additional preparation Projects that use online tools lead to partici- pants having to prepare in entirely new ways. Besides knowledge about a country, media-re- lated preparation will be necessary to ensure young people can take part in a specific setting. This can, for instance, mean that some partici- pants will need to be provided with the neces- sary devices. In addition, you need to make sure that participants have the necessary skills to use the tools used. Reduced commitment Digital projects may prove a challenge as re- gards participants’ commitment. Long intervals between online sessions, everyday commit- ments and time differences can mean they do not stick to agreements and keep appointments. The possibility of switching off one’s camera and muting one’s microphone during an online meeting means participants may take part less actively in online sessions, or not at all. This problem can be mitigated when designing an online meeting. Individuals speaking for long stretches at a time, not enough breaks or op- portunities for participants to interact should be avoided, as these things can have a negative impact on young people’s motivation to actively participate. Instead, you need to plan short, in- teractive and varied formats that facilitate active exchange between participants both during an online session and between individual sessions. It may also be useful to draw up a netiquette to- gether with the young people detailing the rules you all want to stick to throughout a project.


Design options for Digital International Youth Work: An overview Zoom, BigBlueButton or something entirely different? A day, a week or several months? There are numerous ways to design digital projects depending on the project goal, available resources and funding guidelines. This section provides an overview of how to design digital projects in terms of format, project term, use of digital elements, devices, online tools and composition of the educational team. Formats: online, hybrid, blended Digital projects follow different formats depending on how their online and offline phases are structured. A distinction can be drawn between online, hybrid and blended formats. This distinction should be regarded as a suggested definition that serves to roughly categorise projects. The three terms are used differently in the cur- rent debate. Online In online-only formats the entire exchange takes place virtually. That means that all the participants communi- cate with each other online. They take part individually in these online sessions using their own device or partic- ipate using various digital tools. Example: All the participants in the partner countries take part in a project individually on their own devices and at various locations. Hybrid In hybrid formats, online and offline activities take place simultaneously, for instance when one youth group is lo- cated in one place and another joins the session virtually from another location. When individual participants in a group take part online while the rest of the group is on site, this is also described as a hybrid format. Example: Youth group A is in a youth centre in country A; youth group B is in a conference centre in country B. The two groups are linked up online, each group using its own device. Blended In blended formats, online and offline phases alternate. The online phases can be incorporated into the project structure in various ways, that is either in parallel, at the start or at the end. The term “blended format” was coined in analogy with the term “blended learning”. The term “blended” was originally used in the drinks and to- bacco industry when different types of coffee or tobacco, for instance, were mixed together to produce a new, bet- ter product (see Stecher et al. 2019, p. 21.)

Example: A project involving two partner countries starts with an online phase in which all the participants take part virtually and individually. The next phase is of- fline, that is, all the participants meet in person in one of the two partner countries. However, some projects cannot be assigned to any of the above three categories as they contain a mix of dif- ferent formats. They can involve a national, in-person session at the start during which the two country groups link up online during certain phases. After that both country groups attend an in-person session. As a result, the project has hybrid elements (in-person sessions with the partner group linked up online) and blended ele- ments (an online phase at the start and an offline phase at the end). Project duration Using digital elements in International Youth Work can sometimes change the duration of a project. Here, too, there are multiple ways to design the project. Short one- day online formats are one option, as are digital projects lasting several weeks or months. The options available for designing the sessions within a project lasting sever- al weeks or months can also vary from one long online meeting per month to short daily meetings over a period of two weeks, for example. One thing to remember is that processes can often take longer in an online set- ting, on account of technical delays, for instance, having to explain the technical equipment being used or other dynamics in group processes. In contrast to offline set- tings, it is more difficult to fill any idle time that may arise by having an informal discussion. This, in turn, can neg- atively impact both participants’ motivation and various group dynamic processes, such as how participants per- ceive the group building process. Account needs to be taken of this during a digital project’s conception phase. Approaches to offline sessions cannot be transferred wholesale to online settings. Instead, digital projects should be designed as such from the start by taking aspects specific to the online setting into account. That can, for instance, mean that online sessions need to be shorter than offline sessions and include online-specific, interactive methods that help create a more relaxed at- mosphere (see the contribution on Group Dynamics in Digital Exchanges).


Use of digital elements The section on formats (p. 7) describes how digital ele- ments can be used as a tool, activity or content. In the context of International Youth Work, that can mean the following: » Tool: a youth exchange takes place on a specific vid- eoconferencing platform so as to be able to include those who are unable to travel.

Online tools A wide range of tools is available for use in digital youth projects. The most frequently used ones include video- conferencing tools, digital pinboards and collaborative writing tools. An overview of the digital tools that are available for International Youth Work is provided in IJAB’s brochure MEET – JOIN – CONNECT! Digital tools for in- ternational youth work practitioners. 5 The online platform ( com- bines various tools under one roof and enables not only preparations for an exchange and follow-up work but also entire exchange projects to be conducted online. Educational purpose trumps tool: When selecting and using a tool attention should be paid to ensuring that the tool serves goal achievement. The educational pur- pose and the chosen method determine which tools are to be used. Less is often more. Also, remember that the participating countries may have privacy rules that apply to the tools being used, and the tools used should match participants’ lifeworlds as closely as possible. National and international preparatory meetings should be used to brainstorm and discuss the wishes and preferences as regards digital tools of the young people taking part. Composition of educational teams What skills are needed in teams that run digital projects in International Youth Work? As a general rule, the same as those that are important in offline International Youth Work projects. Additional skills are needed, though, when conducting digital projects, that is technical skills, specific moderation skills and digital methodology/peda- gogy skills. In principle, team members need to be open to engaging with digital technologies in connection with those pedagogical issues that arise (see “agile mindset” in European Commission 2018). Having a positive atti- tude is the foundation on which the skills needed to use digital tools in educational work can be built and rein- forced by means of specific training courses.

» Activity: media such as films or podcasts are pro- duced in the course of a project.

» Content: young people collaborate on issues such as data protection or other media-related issues.

Devices The devices young people use to take part in a project’s online phases can also vary from project to project. Many projects apply the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) approach where participants use or bring along their own devices. 4 There are several advantages to this. First, it saves on the costs, time and effort involved in organis- ing a project. Second, participants do not need an intro- duction to using specific devices because they work with the ones they are already familiar with. This also makes sense from the point of view of sustainability because it means no new devices have to be bought unless abso- lutely necessary. At the same time, though, there are disadvantages to using one’s own device. For example, there is a high risk that participants will be distracted because they may be tempted to use the apps and programs (mes- sengers, games, etc.) they use privately or to start doing something else during an online session. The BYOD ap- proach can also disadvantage those young people who do not have the necessary equipment to take part in a project. Different operating systems and software ver- sions on privately used devices can pose a challenge for team leaders. Certain programs used in a project may not work properly on certain devices. In these cases it can be helpful to check with participants before the pro- ject starts what hardware and software they use (devic- es, operating system and software versions). Doing this makes it possible to tailor the digital methods applied to the equipment available to participants, although it should be borne in mind that this can be a time-consum- ing and laborious process.

4 Other definitions and concepts around the BYOD approach can be found, for instance, in BYOD – Start in die nächste Gener- ation (in German), the final report produced by a research team following a pilot project in which online tools were used in a school context (Kammerl et al. 2016). 5 IJAB – International Youth Service of the Federal Republic of Germany (2020): nect-1.


Roles within the team Project teams involved in digital projects should be as diverse as possible in terms of their composition. Suffi- cient resources thus need to be budgeted for. The vari- ous roles in an educational team involved in digital pro- jects can include the following:

» teaching content/inputs,

» chat monitoring.

The roles do not need to be fixed for the entire project term, but can, for example, differ from session to ses- sion. However, it is important to coordinate and make a note of these roles ahead of each session so that work is divided up evenly among the experts and none of them ends up with too heavy a workload. Since these roles can quickly overlap in a digital setting, it is recommended that project teams agree in writing who is responsible for what and which tasks. Participants can also take on various roles and responsibilities in digital exchanges de- pending on their interests and skills set, thus enabling them to contribute more to shaping a project.

» moderation,

» technical organisation/support (e.g. setting up break- out rooms, using external tools, assisting when prob- lems arise with cameras and microphones, setting up the digital environment),

» Language Animation and/or translation & interpreting,

Group Dynamics in Digital Exchanges Christoph Schneider-Laris | Freelance coach, including for the German-Polish Youth Office

In International Youth Work, the term “group dynamics” describes how group processes develop across the various phases of an exchange. Generally speaking, there are five phases in an international youth exchange (although these cannot be adopted like for like in digital formats): the getting-to-know-you phase, the orientation phase, the creative phase, the dif - ferentiation phase and, finally, the saying-goodbye phase. Experts working in a digital setting face the major challenge of having to find new ways of Identifying and handling group dynam - ic processes and phases. 6

Group dynamic processes in digital exchanges It’s OK if things take a bit longer Since you need to make sure to include informal time in digital exchanges, shared digital project time will end up being shorter. Sharing a meal and breaks, evening activi- ties and time spent physically in the same room are not au- tomatically part of an activity, but may have to be planned in addition. And three digital days are not the same as three in-person days. Both the content and structure of an in-person exchange are hard to transfer wholesale to an online project. In addition, shared screen time has its limits in terms of participants’ attention span. A week-long exchange with several hours of screen time every day can be tough. Participants and team leaders need a change of pace and activities that get them up off their seats and

moving around. A rule of thumb to apply to digital for- mats is that you should start a new activity around every 15 minutes. For example, an interactive whole-group ac- tivity can be followed by a 15-minute input block and then pair work. Try experimenting with what works for a group and suits a particular activity. If you’re planning to have several hours of screen time, then it is recommended that you do this on a maximum of only two or three consecu- tive days. To kick off with, it is good to plan shorter units of around two hours. That means less planning time, a lower thresh- old to participation and less risk of people dropping out. It gives participants the opportunity to spend time together, to talk and try things out, which can lead to them coming up with ideas for subsequent units.

6 Regarding group dynamics online, see also various IJAB documents on the DIY2 Labs entitled Online group dynamics using the 5 Rhythms (available at and Group dynamics online (available at


Pick up on details Group dynamics has a lot to do with picking up on the group atmosphere. How are my participants responding to an activity? How well does a particular task suit their needs? What are they interested in right now and how well can I get them to focus on that? In digital exchanges participants should mute their microphone while they are listening to instructions or when only one person is speaking. Otherwise, there is too high a risk of them be- ing distracted by background noise. In a digital setting you won’t pick up on those things you normally would in a seminar room. Reactions, comments, follow-up ques- tions are more difficult online. Instead, you should fo- cus on people’s facial expressions, give clear and simple instructions, be prepared for non-verbal responses and address participants directly. A few pointers on how to better identify group dynamic processes are provided in the following. Identifying and handling group dynamic processes in online settings Group dynamic phases in online exchanges The various group dynamic phases are typically not as clear-cut in online exchanges as they are in in-person ex- changes. They also need significantly more support, es- pecially at the start. Besides, there is no informal time as described in the above, or it becomes part of the online programme, meaning there is less group time. Still, us- ing the right methods and planning a varied programme can lead to a surprising amount of interaction in a short space of time. Compared to spending several days trav- elling to an offline meeting, the threshold to taking part in an online exchange is much lower, which makes it easier for participants to drop in. There are also tools that can be used in online exchanges to get the group working creatively and not just listening passively. Here are a few: Breakout rooms Dividing up the group into small rooms with two or more people or even small groups of three to five people cre- ates an opportunity for a lot of interaction in a short space of time. It is one of the most effective tools for creating virtual contact between participants and should form part of each whole-group unit. Participants can be assigned to the breakout rooms at random or by the team leader, or else they can themselves choose which breakout room to join. After the end of the allotted time, everyone returns to the main room. This is an ideal situ- ation for team leaders because groups can be divided up quickly and brought back quickly with a specific amount of interaction on a specific topic in the interim. After this the level of interaction within the group is greatly im- proved. The inherent nature of breakout rooms creates an atmosphere of trust without the team leader being present and “controlling” the situation. Participants are

more ready to talk about personal things that they may not wish to reveal to the whole group. Schedule opportunities for feedback

Anyone who runs online exchanges will quickly notice that it makes sense to regularly get some feedback on the mood in the group or tasks assigned, because you tend to be talking to yourself a lot of the time while the others are on mute. And so you need to actively ask for feedback, for instance by planning time for everyone to comment. In smaller groups of up to 25 feedback can be done verbally. Here’s an idea: let the last person to speak nominate the next person to give feedback. This cuts the gap between two people speaking, creates a vir- tual circle and generates more interaction. Other mod- eration tools make more sense in bigger groups, such as an online pinboard, whiteboard, Padlet, Mentimeter, etc. The group then produces something everyone can see and further comment on. Incorporate variety As quickly as you can tune in to an online session you can tune out again. That’s the very definition of “low-thresh- old”. In every online unit there are most likely going to be some who are a little reticent to join in at the start, are slow to switch on their camera, have technical issues or are passive in some other way. Team leaders should focus on those who are actively participating and help those who need support. It is best to divide up roles in the team. You need to provide a varied programme to stop participants dropping out. Those who keep their microphone on mute all the time after joining an online meeting are likely to be tempted to quickly finish read- ing an email or look something up online. You therefore need to keep participants’ attention after giving them a brief introduction by explaining the programme to them and giving them the opportunity to get involved. A vari- ety of units that elicit a response or comments from the group are a good way of doing that. An energiser activi- ty also works wonders. Team leaders may want to think about how to incorporate a longer online creative work phase – and doing what – so that they can give the group an interesting task during the creative phase. There are lots of options that can be used in an online format, for example taking photos or making videos and anima- tions. Participants will come up with their own good ide- as, too. A small group can also complete a task in person and then present it later online. Discover new scenarios In the spring of 2020 most of us had not yet taken part in many video conferences. Since then we have all ex- perimented with various things, taken part in various online meetings and possibly even organised some our-


Discuss scheduling and implementation issues together and invite participants to submit ideas = new opportunities for participation

When do digital elements work particularly well? Plan a getting-to-know-each-other session before the online session Before the digital push brought on by COVID lockdowns, preparing exchanges mainly involved making arrange- ments for individual groups that then met for the first time in person. Although several tools were available for making contact before the first meeting, only few organ- isations made use of them. Now, the first meeting in a digital setting is easy to prepare, with a low entry thresh- old, thus enabling participants to get to know each other beforehand, to pass on information to each other and increase their level of participation. Issues around im- plementation and the programme can be discussed and ideas brainstormed with participants – a new means of getting them involved. Discussing these things after- wards in the project team delivers quick feedback and creates short decision routes. That can have a positive impact on the preparatory phase. Participants will then look forward even more to the first in-person meeting and get the sense that the exchange itself lasts longer. In summary, digital settings are an interesting option es- pecially at the start of a project and during the getting- to-know-you phase. Anyone who knows how challenging the first orientation meeting can be in a big group will value the available on- line options. Whether you have 20, 30 or 40 participants, you can divide them up into small groups at the click of your mouse and bring them back again punctually. A great alternative for group leaders who need to raise their voice to be heard in a seminar room or have to go in search of their participants in different rooms in an educational establishment. Can you join us for a while? People who organise exchanges want participants to meet other interesting people. And so they sometimes invite along experts and other speakers to talk about specific topics. If these have to travel a long way, you will usually have to do a cost-benefit analysis first. That is no longer necessary in a digital setting, because speakers can join an exchange for a shorter period of time, either as part of an online or a hybrid format. There are no journey times. This creates more – also international – possibilities. We are still in the process of learning what other options are available for enhancing online exchanges and what new opportunities they open up. From the practical point of view, online exchanges have great po- tential in terms of the preparatory and fol- low-up phases, meaning that the exchange itself can be experienced and shaped even more intensively.

selves. It is important to keep reminding our- selves that we learn and discover new opportuni- ties together. And it is a process where things can occasionally go wrong. We try things out and get to ex-

periment. By visualising the schedule for participants – a good idea even in shorter sessions – you both create structure and give them information. What’s the plan, and in what order will things be happening? When is what method planned, when will there be time to share insights and take a break? Where are we right now? This provides orientation and helps participants focus their attention better. Online exchanges add an entirely new element to youth exchanges in that the participants’ physical environment takes the place of a shared seminar room. You can dis- cover how to use this new context if you are sensitive to the situation. Participants can show each other objects in their room and find out more about each other and get talking. You could make a fun game of finding ob- jects of a particular colour, begin with a particular letter or are weird in some way. This gets participants up and moving and helps them find out interesting things about the others and their languages. One such method is de- scribed on p. 17. Plan time for informal chats Planning formal and less formal time poses a particu- lar challenge for group dynamics. During an in-person meeting we take breaks, which provide an ideal op- portunity for spontaneous interaction between partici- pants. During a break the team leader can be planning the following units. Contact between participants is not automatically established here either, but at least it is much easier to do so. During an online meeting, shared time ends when the video conference ends. Alternative- ly, you could try sharing a “break”, perhaps structuring it a little, for example by suggesting topic-related breakout rooms that participants can move freely between. An- other option is to use a pad to which participants can upload interesting information and photos. Social me- dia (e.g. Instagram, WhatsApp, Signal) can also facilitate networking by enabling participants to keep each other up to date. It is important to be aware of the option of planning informal time so as to use its potential and get participants involved. Team leaders should check – in-

cluding with participants – what suits the group and what can help support group dynamics.


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