Fahrten Ferne Abenteuer

Abenteuerzentrum Berlin

15.2.2021

How to carry out digital Erasmus+ projects: 10 tips for a successful and fun project week!

By Rebecca Baumeister, Youth Leader and Organizer, Germany

When I say “Erasmus+ youth exchange”, what is the first image that pops into your head?

If you’re like me, it’s probably a big group of international young people sitting together and laughing, working together, and going on exciting adventures. Well, our recent digital project week could not have been more different. And in some ways, it could not have captured the Erasmus+ spirit better.

Here’s the story:

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in spring 2020, our organisation “FFA Abenteuerzentrum Berlin” had just started planning the first week for our three-part project “Activate your strengths through art”. The project is all about helping young people to get to know their strengths and be able to use them for their future career plans, as well as boosting their mental health.

All of our partners were prepared and ready to go. Then travelbans hit and we had to postpone the week. We found a new date in October 2020, but had to cancel that one, as well as all of our countries, were now in a high-risk status.

We had the choice: to keep postponing the project week until the COVID-19 pandemic allowed us to travel again ... or to try something different.

As a youth organisation focused mainly on outdoor activities, the thought of changing “Activate your strengths” into an online format was scary at first. Through Erasmus+ Facebook groups, we researched other organisations who had successfully completed digital projects and received some very helpful tips: to shorten the amount of activities per day dramatically, to change methods as often as possible, and to expect much less engagement from our participants.

With a deep breath and fingers crossed, our partners and us decided to take the leap of faith. In December 2020, 30 participants from Greece, Spain, Ukraine, Germany, and Romania turned on their cameras and joined us on Zoom.

Instead of welcoming our participants in one of the large Mongolian yurts of our adventure center, we got to know each other through speed dating on Zoom and games of Kahoot. Instead of sleepily starting the day together at breakfast, each of us worked on a creative mental health task and shared the results on Slack. Instead of creating posters in the sunshine, we did online research tasks and shared our results on Padlet.

It was different –but successful! We kept our afternoon sessions at a short and intense 4 hours, including breaks. (And yes, after some technical training, everybody worked pretty well in the Zoom format, with most of the cameras on.) We learned about our character strengths and how we can use them to succeed in our studies and careers. We researched the current job markets of the EU and what challenges and chances they provide.

Surprisingly, the most popular workshops of the week focused on the participants’ individual mental health and research on common mental health disorders. Many participants stated how much they appreciated learning about mental health and ways to support it, especially during stressful times. In a follow-up questionnaire six weeks after the projects, many participants wrote they had started doing regular mental health check-ins in their daily routine and felt more confident and aware of their unique strengths and skills.

99% of participants would take part in a digital Erasmus+ format again.

As organisers, this project week made us realise how needed Erasmus+ formats are, especially in such times of isolation, stress and worry. We saw participants thriving on togetherness and discussions, creating new friendships and partnerships –and it didn’t matter whether it was digital or in person.

Erasmus+ projects can provide opportunities to grow and connect, even in a digital format. Young people need to keep developing their skillsets and build their self-confidence, especially in times where many are losing their jobs or looking into a very uncertain future after graduation their university courses.

We want to encourage all youth organisations to take this leap of faith and create digital formats for young people until we can be together in person again. It is not as scary as you think!

And in case you need some help getting started, here are our 11 top tips for your first digital project week:

1. Use online tools that encourage different communication styles and help you stay organised

e.g. Zoom for face-to-face discussions and Slack for sharing photos and writing tasks with different channels for different topics

2. Regularly switch up methods and group sizes

to keep discussions fresh and energy levels high

3. Regularly switch up methods and group sizes

to keep discussions fresh and energy levels high

4. Always expect your sessions to take longer than planned

(e.g. technical reasons, more discussion time needed) and be prepared to shorten your program if needed and not making your participants stay longer

5. Encourage participants and youth leaders to contribute to the sessions

with their own knowledge and interests – participants really enjoy learning from a variety of people!

6. Add some research tasks to your project week,

7. Add individual tasks the participants can do offline,

e.g. some creative morning tasks, so they can connect to the project topics throughout the day without needing to be online

8. Create strong feedback culture

by regularly checking in with participants’ energy levels and motivation, e.g. through polls on Zoom and national reflection groups

9. Give your participants more time to form connections and get into working mode,

e.g. by adding teambuilding exercises every day and extending small group discussion time via Zoom by 5-10 minutes

10. Expect your participants to be less focused on the project week than during in-person formats.

Many will be working and studying from home at the same time and they might feel overwhelmed by the workload, even if your project is only four hours long.

11. Create space for social time and reflection,

especially if your project is happening during a lockdown. Participants may be feeling lonely and demotivated and will thrive off game nights and activities that help them boost their mental health.

Let’s challenge ourselves and support young people in these difficult times!

Digital Youth Exchange (Part 1)

Have any thoughts on this? Let us carry the discussion over to our Instagram or Facebook.

This project was financed by Erasmus+ and supported by the German National Agency (JUGEND für Europa).