Diane Ackerman's quote "Play is our brain's favourite way of learning" worked as a guideline for the development and implementation of our training course project Reinforcing Games as an Educational Tool for Social Change within ERASMUS+.
In this fully-funded Training, 27 youth workers from Austria (x6), Armenia (x3), Croatia (x5), Estonia (x3), Georgia (x6) and Ukraine (x4) came together for 8 days, from the 4th to the 11th of February 2022 to dive into the world of Gamification and innovative learning and creative teaching. The training course focused mainly on educational games to teach the participants about the concepts, tools and techniques needed for the design of board games with educational dimensions to promote social values in local contexts.
The participants explored how games, in particular board games, can address a wide range of social topics in a very accessible way and in a short span of time, as a game can help us to actively process new and complex information and also find creative and innovative solutions and ideas for initiatives to tackle the social problems at hand
The day to start the actual training in the city of Rustavi, in Georgia had finally come on the 4th of February 2022 after a long time of preparation. Everyone was super excited to meet the other participants, curious about the upcoming days and what will be learned in a very diverse, multicultural and European atmosphere, and last but definitely not least, to discover the beautiful country of Georgia, and its culture. (To spoil in advance: Discovering the Georgian cuisine was a delicious experience).
The first days were very engaging and gave the participants the chance to meet each other while introducing them to how board games can be used as educational tools to tackle community issues such as social exclusion and youth radicalisation. Participants explored the values of board games, their creative strategies and the importance of participatory and inclusive approaches, as well as the essential aspects of board games' creation. The topics of social exclusion and youth radicalisation were discussed and reflected upon through the comparison and contrast of the different approaches in the involved countries (Austria, Armenia, Croatia, Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine) in tackling inclusion-based issues, with a particular focus on youth issues. The topics of inclusion and de-radicalisation were especially crucial due to the painful impact of the covid pandemic which exacerbated these social phenomena.
As part of the learning experience, multicultural activities and intercultural tasks were integral parts of the program to enhance informal learning in a diverse environment. Participants had the chance to enjoy different foods and drinks from the other countries, while learning about country-specific cultures, in particular customs and traditions around topics such as humour, festivities, hospitality, and rituals.
The sessions of the following days consisted of the major principles and mechanisms, concepts, tools and techniques needed for designing educational social board games. The knowledge intake was enhanced by playing and testing different board games. Although the days were long and fully packed, the joy of the process was maintained and we had a great barbecue night, where everyone got to try more traditional Georgian food like different types of Khachapuri, which we enjoyed a lot!
During the next days, the participants were able to put their theoretical knowledge into practice: the game development process had finally started with the aim of developing a set of educational board games to be used in the youth work field. Groups of around 5 participants each were formed, based on the social phenomenon they wanted to approach and raise awareness about. This process included choosing a target group, identifying the needs and issues, and understanding the background and the context. The procedure was intense, but the participants were prepared for the challenges that can occur while developing games, as they had been made aware of these in advance, so we were pleased to see the dedication and continued motivation!
After the game developing phase, the testing phase was entered, where the participants could figure out how to refine and eventually modify parts of their games in case some improvements had to be made. The piloting was significantly effective! In the end, the newly developed games were then finally played and feedback was given. The newly created games tackled the following topics: Social Inclusion, Bullying, Intercultural Dialogue, Democratic Participation, Political Engagement, and S.T.E.M.
We all came together one last time to review the learning outcomes, recall expectations and get a chance to reflect on the week that had passed so fast but had provided so much content and joy. The participants also exchanged ideas of future cooperation with one another in their specific work fields. Last, but not least, local follow-up initiatives were discussed in the different country groups. These future action plans which are connected to the training were implemented in the following months to deepen the learning outcomes, spread the knowledge and maximize the sustainable impact.
The Austrian team organized three follow-up events that brought together 32 young fellows who were first introduced to the ERASMUS+ programme, this project, its training and the outcomes. These 32 young fellows got the chance to discover two of the games that were designed during the training, in addition to a third game that was developed after the training. The team was able to test some of the games and received feedback that has been adopted afterwards. The majority of the 32 young fellows also expressed their interest in further exploring the field of board games as an educational tool, and they are eager to participate in similar training and develop and test their games as well.
The Armenian team arranged three different follow-up events. These events brought together 40 young people who learned about the techniques of creating board games on existing table games and other materials. Also, the process of creating such games for educational purposes was simply explained. By explaining to the young people the importance of this kind of play in the educational process, the team tried to prove to the attendees that education is not just formal, but also an active and interesting process. All three events played some of the newly designed board games with the attendees and also collected feedback and further recommendations that were shared with all.
The Croatian team organized several follow-up events in the cities of Rijeka and Opatija. The team gathered 20 attendees in their local activities in NGOs and also university where they played three of the newly designed games. Remarkably, one of the new games became part of the "Youth Work Ethics" course at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Rijeka. Also, the team has further developed one of the other games and will participate with it in the 10th International Competition on Educational Games taking place in Lisbon in October 2022. The efforts of the team are still being made to promote social inclusion and respect for human diversity through games, which are excellent tools for achieving this goal.
The Estonian team organized a trial event of the game "I'MPOSSIBLE" with 6 members of the student council of Tallinn Tynysmae Science school. The attendees had no problems during the playing process. The game occurred to be fun, interesting, easy to understand and what's most important - educational. Players learned new facts and interesting information about discrimination and inclusion while playing this game. Afterwards, there was a debriefing, in the process of which players gave some feedback and had time to think about what influence this game had on them.
The Georgian team organized a compact follow-up event in which 10 of their fellow youth workers attended. The event started with a presentation about the benefits of board games, and the process of developing such games for educational purposes. The attendees got to know about the whole process of the training, how it started, what challenges were there but also the solutions, and the path to the end and final product. Then the team played one of the newly designed games, Cultural Travel, with the participants which opened doors for further critical discussions about culture, identity, and sense of belonging. This event concluded with a round of feedback about the game.
Overall, this project was very successful on several levels. Many games were designed, many friendships were built, and a greater result and sustainable impact were reached. Besides the 27 participants from the training course activity, more than 100 others were directly reached through the follow-up events organized by the participants.
"I liked how the training was planned, we did not start making games right away: We had good introduction and played already existing games. So it was not overwhelming for participants who have not done anything like this before. The balance between energizers and actual learning parts was quite fair. It was not overwhelming or annoying." - A participant review.
"I’ve never been to such projects before. This also was my first Erasmus+ experience and to be honest in the beginning I didn’t have any specific expectations because I never realized the importance of games for inclusion. Personally, this training was very productive for me, and I gained so much information. The schedule was perfectly distributed, used methods and team building activities were so unique. Overall, I am highly satisfied and I’d love to attend it over and over again." - A participant review.
This international project was successfully realised thanks to the generous support of the Austrian National Agency Oead of the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union.
The project with implemented with the following partners:
Armenia: GYUMRI YOUTH INITIATIVE CENTRE NGO
Croatia: Medunarodna udruga mladih EUTOPIA
Estonia: MITTETULUNDUSUHING SHOKKIN GROUP
Georgia: YOUTH ASSOCIATION DRONI
Ukraine: CENTER FOR EUROINITIATIVES
More project details are on the ERASMUS+ results platform in its Project Card.
Role of EMOTiC in this project: Main Coordinator and Beneficiary.