By DARREN TIMOTHY
For as long as Leaderonomics has been running, we have organised leadership camps for youths. Leaders are made, not born, and adolescence offers many growth opportunities not just on a personal level, but for leadership as well. It is a most curious time, one of testing boundaries and an expanding awareness of the world at large. With this also comes temptation, and the first tests of character.
Youth camps offer us a chance to guide them along this journey, and we’ve always considered it a privilege.
On 18th March, 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Malaysian government announced a national Movement Control Order that mandated the ceasing of all physical gatherings. Schools and universities were closed and students were sent home indefinitely. Our youth programmes were put on hiatus. The Youth Team was not surprised, but it was still a bitter pill to have to swallow. But did we?
Call us idealistic, but we didn’t want to take our medicine just yet.
Riding the wave of digitisation, and after much deliberation, we concluded that the time was ripe for a digital youth camp.
A shift in mindset
The idea of a digital youth camp may sound foreign to some. Conventional wisdom dictates that camps are a strictly physical experience.
However, understand that much of that sentiment comes from our own biases. Because most of us are only familiar with physical camps, that’s just how we believe things should be. Our emotional attachments to the past can lead to a distrust of new ways of doing things. This can work to our detriment, as youth are constantly happy to prove.
Those who disagree are welcome to send an angry note via carrier pigeon.
This must be emphasised, because we did not want to look at a digital youth camp as a consolation prize, or a poor imitation of their physical counterpart. Just as webinars have emerged to replace traditional classrooms, digital camps are a natural step to meet the demands of a future that has been accelerated considerably.
Not a crutch, but an opportunity
Our goal remained the same: empower youth at this most crucial juncture in their lives. The difference was the medium of delivery. And so the Youth Team was tasked with designing the first-ever Leaderonomics Digital Youth Camp.
Instead of asking ‘what must we cut during the conversion’, we asked ourselves how we could digitally replicate a component, and what added value could we provide using the technologies available.
This meant deconstructing the concept of a camp, making it digital-friendly, and then re-assembling the parts into one cohesive and unforgettable experience just as all camps are meant to be. When worded that way, it sounds almost easy, doesn’t it?
We needed a new ‘campsite’
The Leaderonomics Digital Learning Team had been operating Leaderonomics Academy – a Learning Management System (LMS) – for some time. As can often happen, it had flown under our radar as we never really had a need for it. That was until now of course. After exploring its functions further, we concluded that it offered everything we needed to run our maiden digital camp.
Our first trial run went as well as one might expect – ‘could be better’, as our ever encouraging Youth Head Connie would say. Rome was not built overnight, and the same could be said for us. We went back to the drawing block and geared up for our next demo.
All in all, we performed more than 25 different trial runs across multiple elements of the platform. We had to be sure we knew the platform inside-out and could solve any issue that might arise. Realistically, we were not aiming for perfection, but to solidify the platform delivery to be on par with our content in order to create the highest degree of impact.
Make no mistake, we were not aiming for a webinar but a more interactive and immersive experience – one that could sustain the attention of highly active minds for extended periods of time. A key component of the platform that allowed this was the Live Module function, which acts as a digital classroom, complete with real-time video interaction.
Through this, campers can see their trainers live and interact with them, and vice versa. This ensures constant engagement throughout the session. The module also features an interactive personal ‘whiteboard’. Picture a slide with all the trainer’s notes that allows you to add your own points and insights.
As we had hoped, this blend of personalised learning and classroom interactivity was very well received by our campers. Across the board, we had very encouraging feedback from them.
The team breathed a sigh of relief when we saw what the campers thought of the Digital Youth Camp.
Campers can also download the slides and notes they have jotted down throughout the session. At physical camps, you would most likely have to compare notes with peers in case you missed out any part of the session. Here, the platform allows you to relive the session in its entirety.
On the back-end, through a comprehensive analytics system, we can track session attendance, the duration of camper engagement during sessions as well as those who have viewed the recordings.
This data is very valuable in terms of tracking the progress of each camper, ensuring that they are on the same page as their peers. On our end, it also serves as a feedback mechanism for how well we deliver our digital camp experience.
To ensure that our first week kicked off without a hitch, we slotted a demo day into our camp structure which served as an ice-breaking session before the official launch. It also allowed campers to familiarise themselves with the system. This allowed us to aid those in need of assistance from the get-go to ensure that when it officially started, everyone was on board.
Seventeen-year-old Nur Anis from Negeri Sembilan had particularly encouraging feedback about our choice of platform:
Ok, we’re flexing a little. But I’d like to think we’ve earned it. The campers actually wanted the trainers to check if they were doing their homework.
Raising the game on content and delivery
All in all, we came up with 13 content modules for a digital youth camp. This included digitising aspects of many of our current leadership and self-discovery modules, as well as incorporating new and exciting ones to the mix.
With geographical distance no longer a limiting factor, we could leverage on trainers outside Kuala Lumpur to boost our offerings. our first digital camp had 23 youths from six different states in Malaysia. Previous years involved hours of travel time to gather at the campsite. Now, gathering at our digital ‘campsite’ takes a grand total of zero hours. Moving forward, this would also be a great opportunity to gather campers from distant locations where previously the cost would have been too high.
At the click of a button, our 23 campers across six states could connect online
Additionally, depending on their age range and personal preferences, we could now deliver a custom-made experience for every group of campers based on the direction of clients and needs of the participants.
One example would be our pilot digital youth camp in which we were able to design a programme based on the campers’ and client’s profile. As such we had the opportunity to introduce several new modules that were more technologically geared, and which we knew the youths would naturally gravitate towards. Unsurprisingly, our highest-rated module was videography.
Eighteen-year-old Irfan Qureshi Mohamad Aslam said that he learnt many functional skills such as web development, AR Snapchat filters and video editing. He was also grateful for the sessions on professional working life that included resume writing, dealing with interviews and designing a LinkedIn profile.
Our trainers and facilitators also made a seamless transition to online delivery, and we could not be more grateful to them for the effort they put into upskilling themselves.
Maintaining the heart and soul of camps
Another indispensable aspect of any camp is its ability to facilitate bonding between campers. At our physical camps, campers could have direct group discussions and work together to solve problems. Though the physical closeness could not be emulated, we could still integrate elements of group-work into the camp activities.
To our relief, our analytics showed high levels of discussion and collaboration between group members. Campers took the initiative to form groups using other means of communication such as Google Hangouts, WhatsApp and Telegram. Trust the youth to one-up us dinosaurs when it came to using technology. We couldn’t have been prouder.
Shin Ying Kee from Selangor shared how the camp improved her teamwork abilities:
At a time when digital communication has become increasingly important, it is heartening to see youth developing soft skills such as adaptability and resourcefulness. If you consider it carefully, virtual communication often requires more effort and care in order to get the point across, hence it really boosted the campers communication skills and awareness across the board..
The campers’ excitement at the prospect of Team Challenges and competitions was evident, and I was particularly touched when one of the teams mentioned having collaborated for over eight hours on one of the projects, a testament to their teamwork and willpower to succeed.
According to post-camp surveys, campers found the sessions improved their ability to collaborate.
We even managed to pull off a virtual dinner and talent night which was, as expected, a great bonding experience amongst the campers. This has always been a highly anticipated session that campers look forward to.
With everyone in costumes, group videos playing throughout, and interactive virtual games galore, you start to realise that the physical barrier does nothing to stop campers from truly living in the moment with their peers. Yes, we were in the midst of a pandemic, but the most contagious thing that night was laughter.
For future programmes, campers will even have facilitators available to journey with and mentor them along the way.
This not only gives them a baseline on role models, but opens avenues for constructive and honest feedback sessions as well as reflections to further improve themselves as individuals and within a group setting. This also boosts the concept of shared-journeys as campers forge deeper and more meaningful connections with their teammates under the guidance of an experienced facilitator.
A new norm
In all this, I was privileged to have been entrusted with the role of camp coordinator and trainer, kicking-off the camp with our leadership and self-discovery modules. This also saw me handling the day-to-day setup and running of the camp in terms of setting up the sessions, and liaising with trainers and students.
I am truly humbled that I was able to play a part in revamping how we deliver camp experiences to future leaders everywhere. My sincere gratitude to the Digital Learning and Youth teams for tirelessly driving this initiative forward, our own Leaderonomers who came in as trainers, and to our clients and sponsors who saw its value and believed in us. And my biggest thanks goes to the campers who poured their hearts out and gave it their all to make the digital youth camp a success.
See Also: To Sum-it Up: M.A.D. Youth Summit 2020