EDN Docs in Thessaloniki Masterclass - “Documentary Media for Local Citizens”



EDN Docs in Thessaloniki Masterclass

Documentary Media for Local Citizens

How are education and media literacy shaping today and how will they change in the near future? In which ways do younger audiences get access to the new media? Which initiatives build a stronger sense of digital citizenship for future generations? These are the issues discussed in the European Documentary Network (EDN) masterclass held on Tuesday 5 March 2019 at Pavlos Zannas theater, as part of the 21st Thessaloniki Documentary Festival.

Paulina Tervo, Co-CEO of the subscription-based educational digital platform Lyfta, shared valuable insights that can help reach new audiences via education. The masterclass forms part of Docs in Thessaloniki Pitching Forum 2019, co-organized by the European Documentary Network (EDN) and the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, and supported by the the EU program Creative Europe MEDIA. 

Lyfta is a digital platform where teachers and pupils can access documentary media matched with curriculum-based lesson plans. Lyfta, which supports teachers in tackling complex themes and global topics in the classroom, is currently used by over 100,000 pupils in over 350 schools in the UK, Finland and the US. EDN aims to assist in promoting documentary to a new audience and by new means. Given that education is one of the main pillars that give shape to European reality, Lyfta seems to be an ideal medium to promote and use documentary in education.

“Our world is rapidly changing”, Paulina Tervo said. Chilrdren are rapidly changing too, as she added, with regard to their perceptive capability, their relation with technology and their awareness about social, cultural and environmental issues. However, educational system does not follow up, due to various reasons, as she noted. Stressing the need for new ideas and a different kind of support to teachers and pupils alike, Mrs Tervo expressed the view that the real stories told in documentaries can be used as a powerful educational tool.

Based on important neuroscientific research showing that narration, observation and interaction have a huge impact on cognitive ability, she explained how the idea for Lyfta was born. It all started from a small village in Ethiopia.  A model village founded by people who wished to help others escape oppression, illiteracy, poverty. I visited it in my attempt to shoot a documentary, but soon enough I found out that I wanted something more. I wanted to create a new experience for the viewer, plunge them into this reality. Thus we started to make an interactive 360 project, where the viewer can interact with the audiovisual environment, getting in contact with the place and the people of this small community”, Mrs Tervo explained.

This experiment transformed into a successful project when the complete and uncommon documentary was screened for little kids. From then on, Lyfta has been successful in creating 360-degree educational audiovisual environments, offering elementary schoolers the opportunity to explore different cultures and habits, sharpen their perceptive capability and acquire skills which will help their smooth inclusion to a community far from prejudice and stereotypes. Mrs Tervo noted that technology -the use of a computer or a tablet- is just a tool through which educational process will grow and bear fruits. She also made mention to Lyfta’s educational approach; as she said, the educational program is formed in direct collaboration with teachers, based on the famous Finland model which sees education through a more holistic and phenomenological prism, not splitting it into distinctive modules. “The platform is cross-thematic, since it contains educational subjects ranging from religion and philosophy to art”, she said. Lyfta is accompanied by a guide for teachers, initiating them to the novel educational process and informing them as for the way they will present the content to pupils and the method for assessing their performances.

Paulina Tervo was asked how this platform transforms a documentary into an educational tool and explained the process. “First of all, you have to know who you are addressing to. Then you define the problems, or the issues you want to deal with, as well as the context in which you will propose a solution. You create in collaboration with teachers, whom you will “teach” as well so they can be able to recognize the privileges of an interactive project like this one. Consequently, you start using it, first as a pilot project, analyzing the results”. As she noted, “Having received results and data from British schools which have adopted this education system, we can say comments are more than encouraging. Pupils feel that in this way they can explore the world and contact places and people more directly, while teachers admit that pupils’ interest has increased sharply. In many cases, attitude changes have been observed, since pupils get familiar with diversity and multiculturalism”.

Asked about how someone can collaborate with Lyfta, Mrs Tervo replied that there has been a call to filmmakers for short documentaries (3-7 minutes), and 12 out of 100 proposed have already been selected. “We can also accept films that meet the following criteria we have defined as to content: have a strong people-centered character; associate with human values as defined by the UN; have characters we can visit again to make 360-degree videos; and of course, have a story which can be screened for a 7-12 year old audience. On its part, Lyfta will only have the educational rights to this documentary; the filmmaker can screen it and make the best of it any way they like. We will then take this “package” to schools and present it to teachers, who will have to pay an annual fee to have access to and use the content”.

What is the benefit of collaborating with Lyfta? As Mrs Tervo said, Lyfta is a unique educational platform of this kind, with excellent perspectives, aiming at being able to host an interactive story from every country in the world by 2022. As she underlined, “filmmakers can this way build an income which will help them complete a bigger project. At the same time, they can broaden their creative horizons in areas such 360-degree photography, and thus manage to reach a bigger audience”. Let’s not forget the social impact of this project, which contributes significantly in education and the formation of a new educational reality with the aim of making our world a better place for all, but mainly for children.

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