Let’s MixUp “Bursting the bubble”

Social media are part of everyday life. They give access to the world instantly, are used to keep in touch with family and friends and allow us to present ourselves the way we like. They also give us more of the same! The algorithms behind these attractive platforms follow our every move and lead us into a funnel of information to draw us in more and more. Without realising it we end up in a bubble in which our access to information is predetermined and our horizon is limited.

Young people are especially vulnerable as they are still trying to find their way around the world and are in need of recognition by their peers. As part of an Erasmus Plus KA2 project, partners in four countries have developed a platform called MixUp that gives young people the opportunity to chat with peers in other countries with very different views. So how does it work and what are the results? On entering the platform students are asked to give their opinion on several statements related to themes young people find important, such as discrimination/racism, freedom of speech and gender equality. A student is then matched with a student in another participating country who has a different opinion on these statements. Through a chat function with automatic translation students can communicate anonymously about the issues they find important. Anonymity is crucial to give students the confidence to communicate freely. A chat lasts about five minutes before students are asked to switch to another conversation. A whole session with students from different countries can last up up to an hour. So does MixUp burst the bubble? Yes and no. During the development of the tool the partners from Romania, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands organised seven tests including a big session on Europe Day in which, in total, over 500 students exchanged 17,000 chat messages and were involved in 2,400 conversations. These tests were carefully monitored by the University of Utrecht, Social Studies, through questionnaires, focus groups and teacher feedback. Students find the opportunity to chat with peers in another country very engaging. They said that they learned much about the situation of young people in another country. Most chats started at a very general level about personal life, education systems and country. Some ended there while others moved to the themes at hand. A student commented: ‘At the beginning we talked about sports, Verstappen… so it is not possible to discuss topics right away. It is necessary to know the partner first.’ The bubble however did not burst. These changes do not happen overnight. Some conversations do not go further than hobbies or football, others enforce stereotypes and even those that go further into the topics do not always lead to a different viewpoint. It is not the intention of the tool to do that. It gives a brief insight into a world that is similar and different at the same time. For example a Dutch student said: ‘I do now know more about how things are like in Italy. I did learn that. Because you really share each other’s experience. I also really asked: how are things at school, what do you do at school, what do I do at school? That is also something. I think that is also part of citizenship education.’ The testing also showed that a MixUp session can be further enhanced by careful preparation by teachers and by putting the results of the session in a wider context. The partnership has therefore, as part of the MixUp handbook, developed preparation and follow up lessons around the main themes. So what has MixUp given us? First of all, it does open up minds and encourages students to discuss serious topics with peers in other countries. By giving control to the students, they feel free to question and share, leading them to open conversation in a way that feels comfortable for them. It also shows that with careful preparation and follow up, it can be a useful addition to citizenship education in VET. Finally, it also turns out to be a simple and easy to use tool of Internationalisation @ Home, by giving students a first tentative taste of international flair. A taste that many students would like more of. So Let’s MixUp!


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