This blog was written by Mary McKaskill, Practice Development Manager. In it, she outlines the intentions behind creating a set of resources to support evaluation and learning for online youth work.
We’re pleased to announce that over the coming months, we will be producing resources to support learning, evaluation, and continuous improvement for online youth work.
The first thing to look out for is Asking Good Questions: Online Youth Work. This will be similar to our existing Asking Good Questions Guidebook with the lines of enquiry focussed specifically on online youth work. In June, July, and August, we’ll explore each of the questions in a series we’re calling Questions in Focus. For each of the six questions in our approach to evaluation, we’ll publish a short video of key messages, and an accompanying blog about how the questions can be applied to learning and evaluation of online youth work, mindful of the context in which we are currently working.
We hope that these resources will be helpful as youth organisations and practitioners are making rapid adaptations to their offers for young people. We recognise that for many, this move online has been in response to a global crisis, rather than out of choice. The context of the pandemic has brought a sense of urgency to this work; however, online youth work will not always be delivered in the reactive mode we are all in at the moment. It is likely that online youth work will be a more prevalent mode of delivery than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence, our intention with these resources is to frame the lines of enquiry for understanding quality and outcomes of youth work online for the longer term.
Our work will build on the existing work that is already taking place, which can take place online or in face-to-face settings. In digital youth work, there is often a clear objective of supporting young people’s digital literacy: “the ability to use information technology for both information sharing and information creation practices” (Pawluczuk, et al. 2019). There can also be an expectation that youth workers facilitating the activity will have some degree of specialist digital skill, such as coding or graphic design, and at least some working knowledge of social media platforms that young people use. Existing resources to support digital youth work include the website Digital Youth Work, which acts as a hub of resources and guidance for delivering digital youth work on and offline, safely, creatively, and while withholding the guiding principles of youth work.
By nature of using digital technologies to create ‘spaces’ to engage with young people, online youth work is a form of a digital youth work, and our specific focus is on the quality of online environments and interactions between young people and youth workers to support social and emotional learning (SEL). As such, our quality framework and tools will support staff practices that support SEL and attend to relationships with young people, not youth workers’ digital expertise beyond what's required to host the session or digital literacy outcomes for young people.
Digital literacy skills may be developed through taking part in online youth work (e.g. setting up and arriving at a Zoom meeting), but in many cases digital literacy won’t be the aim of the session. Offline, transportation skills may be developed as a young person travels from home or school to a youth club, but I wouldn’t expect ‘improved ability to travel independently’ to be one of the youth club’s aims or outcomes on their Theory of Change (unless activities were designed to intentionally support young people with this skill).
We expect and hope that youth workers bring the same thoughtfulness and intentionality to their relational practices with young people online that they do in in-person settings so that these interactions aren’t merely the ‘least bad mode of engagement while maintaining social distancing’, but rather avowedly positive experiences for young people. By framing our own lines of enquiry and focus for developing these resources on that intentionality and commitment to high-quality youth work practice, what we create over the coming months and the subsequent learning from their use will have lasting relevance for the youth sector and youth workers.
With that in mind, in addition to Asking Good Questions: Online Youth Work, we will be working with our regional partners and expert youth workers to develop tools to respond to the six questions in our framework for online youth work. These tools will include a high-level Theory of Change for online youth work, a quality framework, and a short set of standard feedback questions. We will shortly be launching an online version of the Adult Rating of Youth Behaviour, an observational tool to support practitioners to reflect on young people’s social and emotional skills in online interactions. These frameworks and data collection tools will be designed to support practice online which is uniquely youth work, rather than other forms of support for young people which range from ‘checking in’ to targeted therapeutic interventions.
All of this only has meaning if it is used. While we won’t be setting any formal expectation that evaluation data against a shared framework be collected and shared with us over the coming months, we do want to hear from you if you are applying any of this to your work. We welcome your thoughtful feedback and collaboration: email@example.com.
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