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Fostering a common European identity

As Europe's borders melt away, one of the decisive aspects for a successful European Union will be the intercommunication of its citizens. With a platform offering technical infrastructure and content suited to teachers and students' needs, IST project YOUNGNET is contributing to EU integration by encouraging the notion of a common European identity among young people.

YOUNGNET Community System,It is the belief of the YOUNGNET consortium that in today's connected world, the traditional four walls of the classroom have to be left behind in order to learn more about different places and other cultures. One problem facing pupils at the end of their school careers, according to project leader Jörg Boy, is that while foreign language learning and regional studies taught in school play a very important role in creating a level of European feeling, pupils often face considerable difficulties when they are requested to prove their skills in a foreign language. Additionally, their general knowledge of the respective country is rather limited. These difficulties, he says, are mainly due to the fact that traditional foreign language teaching has long since reached its limits because of both a lack of resources and creativity on the part of the schools/teachers, and a lack of comprehension and willingness to really adapt a new language on the part of the pupils. "At present, in many cases insufficient language learning methods in Europe lead to a severe lack of foreign language skills. Therefore, what Europe currently faces is, on the one hand, a high percentage of its population that only speak their mother tongue, and on the other hand, a small bilingual or multilingual elite. Here, by offering young people the chance to have a permanent possibility to communicate in a foreign language, YOUNGNET can certainly make a fruitful contribution in terms of enhancing European intercommunication," he says. ,The contribution comes in the form of an interactive community system for collaborative work and communication over country borders. The system supports new forms of teaching and individual learning with new media, enabling schools to create a team-orientated, international working area. Stressing the importance of combining synchronous (occurring at the same time) and asynchronous (not occurring at the same time) communication processes as well as providing learning specific applications and structured information to fully utilise ICT-supported learning processes, the aim of the YOUNGNET project is to provide a platform that enables complete support for the use in school. The technical platform,Technically, the YOUNGNET Community System is a platform for international communication and information exchange enabling personalised access to contents as well as influence over the community. The YOUNGNET Community System provides numerous options to the users where they can communicate and enjoy themselves whether at school or at home. It is a virtual meeting place for young people to meet and make friends in foreign countries, which also provides: public areas for communication and chat; informal information on day-to-day life exchanged across borders via text, audio and also virtual communication; and designated areas only accessible to specific user groups (e.g. teachers can discuss new projects in their own forum; all students and teachers have a personal virtual home where he/she can invite others to play and communicate). From the beginning of the YOUNGNET project the objective has been to provide a powerful learning management system that works as a basis and a hub for the YOUNGNET Community System. The YOUNGNET Community System is an application of the Hyperwave eLearning Suite (eLS), which was extensively adjusted to the needs of schools, teachers and students during the course of the project. The customised eLS provides the YOUNGNET system with the necessary asynchronous communication and administration features, and other applications that are linked to it. In order to offer fascinating 'edutainment' features additional tools for synchronous communication and collaboration were integrated: an audio component for Internet communication; a 2D-environment for gaming; and a 3D-environment for navigating and gaming - all in a multi-user environment. Designed for use in school, the YOUNGNET contents are compact, didactic, ready-prepared Internet projects based on specific topics. At the centre of YOUNGNET's content development is the link between learning, playing, meeting, exchanging ideas and working together on curriculum relevant topics. Through this, YOUNGNET makes intercultural exchange possible, deepens knowledge and leads to a better understanding of different European cultures. The topics developed from these relationships are mainly structured around the areas of language learning, geography and different cultures and ways of life in Europe. Special benefits for disabled and remote children,YOUNGNET offers special benefits especially for disabled children and kids living in remote areas. "Here, the community can enable kids to get in contact with each other and join in common events, an advantage they could not fall back upon in their real lives. Here, a very important feature of YOUNGNET is the possibility of making real-time communication. Hitherto, current online community solutions often offer only asynchronous communication features. By means of real-time applications, YOUNGNET becomes a real alternative to communication via telephone, offering additional visual features that may be of high importance to the target group," Boy explains. Future of YOUNGNET,Although the project ended in March 2003, the goal of the cooperative partnership is to find sponsors or partners that will cover the costs of continuing the system. Together with the income from schools' subscription-fees, the funding received from sponsors would reduce the running costs of the system for schools or, ideally, would cover them. In return for the expenditure of the founders and sponsors, the YOUNGNET Community System offers marketing and advertising opportunities. Currently the project is in contact with the Ministries of Education in UK and the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg, both of which have expressed interest in sponsoring the YOUNGNET community. It is also planned to localise the YOUNGNET Community System in other European markets such as France, Italy and Spain, and to target the primary school sector as a long-term strategy. Source: Based on information from YOUNGNET ,The IST Results service gives you online news and analysis on the emerging results from Information Society Technologies research. The service reports on prototype products and services ready for commercialisation as well as work in progress and interim results with significant potential for exploitation.