Social media for social inclusion of youth at risk: Conference Day 1

Today and tomorrow I have the opportunity to attend the international INCLUSO conference on social media for e-Inclusion of youth at risk organized in Leuven. Youth at risk is of course a very wide term and is used for youngsters who live for example in poverty, came in touch with the law,… But more importantly for my thesis also people with disabilities like dyslexia, autism, Down syndrome,… Therefore my coordinator invited me to go and I also thought it would be really interesting to gather idea’s for my thesis, check out existing applications and thoughts of experts in the field.

For more information on the conference in general you can surf to the incluso website:

Now what have I learned from day 1 at the conference. I must admit I was kind of nervous because it was my first time at a conference and did not really know what to expect. There were at least 120 participants from 14 different countries but everyone was friendly and very social. Had some really nice conversations with interesting people.

The most important part were of course the presentations. Before lunch there were three big topics.

  1. The first one was presented by Miguel Gonzalez Sancho Bodero of the European Commission about the EU views on ICT driven initiatives for youth at risk. This presentation gave a good idea on how important this topic is. They talked about how relevant ICT is for youth. These days the social aspect of ICT is very important and necessary to fully participate in the society.
  2. The second topic was about INCLUSO self (fun side note, the presenter (Wouter Van den Bosch) used the iPad -his notes- in combination with a laptop -the ppt-. Could work for a teacher too perhaps for the thesis…). This presentation was mostly about how important social networks are these days to retrieve information. Instead of searching for information it is now more pushed to you. Again the problem though is that not all of us are on board. Those that could benefit most lack the access, the digital divide. At the end of his presentation the presenter gave a very important tip: Get in touch with the youngster, they will tell you what to do. This is one of the fundamental aspects in CHI, you need to know what the user wants and the only way to find out is to talk and test with them. Another important aspect he talked about is the privacy and ethical issues that come with these social networks. If for example I would integrate a social network in my thesis application, I’ll have to make sure that it is secure enough so others won’t be able to take abuse of the youngster at risk.
  3. The third and last topic before lunch was “Experiences from the INCLUSO pilots Scotland, Belgium, Austria and Poland”. I won’t go into detail for every pilot but some things were really interesting for my thesis. The first thing was not in the presentation itself but more in the way they presented it. They used voting software with voting devices, but the people with an iOS device or BlackBerry were able to download the application “Response” which is also great for in a class environment. It shows you the question and answers on the screen, so you just have to press the answer instead of pressing the number corresponding an answer on the presentation screen. For people with a mental disability this can for example be changed into symbols. After the voting you were able to see a graph with the percentages which you can always view again in the history.

Another useful thing for my thesis was used in both the pilot in Scotland and Poland, it is called Ning and is a software tool that allows you to create your own social network. They used it because facebook for example can be really confusing for some people and with Ning you are able to create a simpler version with just the features you want it to have. For example make more use of symbols instead of just text for the thesis or perhaps make it easy to let the social tool speak words out loud.

Then it was time for lunch, here I had the chance to talk to some people about my thesis and their work. It was really nice to hear that most people really see a lot of potential in the iPad as a device that will change the way people will learn things.

After the lunch the lunch there was first a presentation from Childfocus about the risks and opportunities of social media which is indeed an important aspect to keep in mind. After this presentation there were 4 presentations about the experiences from Replay, ComeIn, Umsic and Hands.

The most interesting one for my thesis was the project Hands. It is a project for autistic youth. The idea is that autistic people feel safe at school and at home but everything else is danger for them. For this reason they created a mobile platform for helping them with taking the bus, shopping, taking medicines,… They used social stories, step by step guides for daily routines. The teacher has an application that is connected to a database. The teacher can then personalize content of the individual devices of the autistic youngsters and register his or hers activities. (more info) The researchers say that thanks to this device the autistic youngster even created friendships.

Then we came to the last part of day 1 of the conference. Here we had to choose which track to follow (both tracks had different topics). I chose track 1 with the first presentation being about “Identifying young people at risk of learning exclusion: evidence from the educational system in England”. This was mostly a presentation with a lot of numbers, interesting but less useful for thesis. The second presentation was “Offline youngsters and the digital divide, or Revisiting the concept of ‘Digital Natives’ “. This one was quite shocking, it showed that 16% of the youth in Europe has (almost) no access to the internet. The strange thing is that it does not necessarily have to be in families living in poverty but sometimes rich families forbid their kids.

So this was my report of day one. Conclusion, it was all really interesting and I found some new idea’s for my thesis. Hopefully tomorrow will be of the same succes!

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