Blog Susan Eriksson 25.03.2020

Susan Eriksson

I work as a researcher in Juvenia Centre of Youth Research and Development in South Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences. Basic areas of expertise are youth services, professionalism, well-being and marginalization.

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Digitalization in Teaching Youth Work

Digitalization is a vast cultural and societal change that has affected most spheres of lives of young people. In Finland solely, most of the young have access to digital environments by using their own digital devices. Using internet and digital applications has changed profoundly their daily life practices, communication and free time activities.

Digital environments and cultures of young people have posed a challenge on youth work practices. Youth workers have had to react rapidly to it by improving their digital skills in order to adopt new ways to communicate with young people as well as develop different digital activities to meet their needs. Change of youth work into digital forms and practices has also set demands to vocational teaching of youth work field and forced teachers to meet similar challenges posed by digitalization of young people´s lives.

The study focuses on exploring, how digitalization relates to teaching youth work field in Finnish vocational universities and vocational institutions. Research data consists of theme interviews of five (5) teachers, who are responsible of teaching digital contents of youth work in their institution, and eight (8) curriculums of youth work field in different institutions. The teachers share their opinions on how teaching currently meets the needs of digitalization of youth work and what would be essential in improving teaching in both personal and collective level in the particular working culture. Interview data together with information provided in curricula shed light on how digitalization of youth work influences teaching.

The data reveals that digital contents of youth work mix with digital teaching methods. These issues overlap constantly in interview speech, and it indicates that teaching itself is in turbulent stage in digital development. Digital tools and methods, such as use of online applications are technically important and relevant for students to learn in order to know how to use them in their future work with young people. Digital contents of youth work, such as chat-work in youth support services appear as basic area of expertise in digital youth work, and it intertwines with demand to develop necessary skills to encounter young people. Thirdly, media education appears most significant field of knowledge needed in fieldwork with the young, and its theoretical basis is important to teach.

These focuses on teaching reflect the current digitalized world especially experienced by young people, and they are in line with the ethical aims of youth work to provide them qualified support. Professional ethics relating to skills to encounter young people and skills to do it particularly in digital environments serve as ethical and moral justification to develop digitalized teaching contents and teaching methods.

Another significant fact in the process of digitalization in teaching is that working cultures at the universities and schools are not yet fully prepared to the change. There are many teachers, who still think that digitalization is not of their concern. As a result, those teachers, who are enthusiastic to develop digital teaching, often face resistance. It indicates that digitalization has been a rapid change in different workplaces and there are still negotiations and disputes on its relevance and contribution in particular professional fields. Professional struggle on what is the core of expertise and knowledge is going on in respect of digitalization.

These research results provide knowledge on what is the state of digitalization in contemporary teaching in youth work field, and how it relates to professional demands in youth work and lives of young people. It shows that the state of digitalization in different fields of culture and society is turbulent but still not morally justified in all spheres.

Susan Eriksson