Supporting participation as a project coordinator means – among its other dimensions – encouraging lifelong learning and empowering educators to engage in international projects. Our teachers feel more empowered to engage in international projects, having overcome the barrier of not speaking English fluently. Now, with increased confidence in their language skills, they can fully participate and share in our common European heritage, educational values and cultural experiences.
After the pandemic highlighted the need for digital education, a Balkan initiative aimed to improve the technological abilities of teachers and students. It triggered a shift to digital learning, creating a community where ‘digital natives’ could maximise their learning potential. The project’s sustainable results included new school clubs and a strengthened digital mentorship programme, and it enriched student experiences with practical skills and cultural exchanges.
Participation signifies active engagement at every stage of the project, ensuring broad involvement across the school. It’s about achieving visible and sustainable outcomes that have a lasting impact and can serve as a foundation for future initiatives.
Bojana Nikić Vujić, the project coordinator, shares her insights on initiating and leading this innovative digital education project.
Could you describe your background as the project initiator and how the project began?
I’m a teacher and also act as an educational advisor, so I spend my time with both students and fellow teachers. After the COVID pandemic, we saw the need for more online teaching methods. This made us start a project to improve the abilities of teachers and students. We began by looking at the Balkan region because, about 30 years ago, we had similar school systems. But as each country changed, each developed its own way of teaching. However, many certain elements still remain shared. We thought we could learn from each other to improve education in all of our countries thanks to the project partners from Serbia, North Macedonia, Croatia and Slovenia.
I strongly believe in the principle of lifelong learning. Technology is now integral to our daily lives, and our students are essentially ‘digital natives’. As educators, it’s vital we update our teaching methods to include this. Using technology effectively has many benefits, especially in catering to the diverse ways students learn today. This evolution in learning styles is a key reason I’ve embraced technology in education.
The motivation of other partners was similar to our school. For example, Valerija from Slovenia is an English teacher who mainly teaches students aged 11 to 14. In the last ten years, as kids started using more technology, she saw them becoming less interested in usual school lessons. They now see lots of fast and exciting things online, like posts on TikTok, which contrast with the traditional pace of classroom education. This project presented an opportunity for her school to explore bridging this gap.
Had the schools involved in this project previously explored the use of technology?
Actually, all of the partner schools had prior experience with technology, which this project could further develop. For instance, Valerija, whom I mentioned earlier, works at a school in Slovenia that is notably advanced in technology adoption compared to many other primary schools in the country.
Their school administration had long recognised the benefits of technology. As a result, they’ve facilitated numerous training sessions on digital tool usage. Classrooms have been equipped with devices like tablets and interactive boards similar to smart boards.
Can you expand on the needs you mentioned earlier that led to the start of the project?
In addressing teachers first, we observed that some were reluctant to use technology in their teaching, while others were already quite good at it. Our aim was to establish a community of learners and to share expertise and knowledge. As for the students, although they were familiar with social media, their proficiency with educational apps was somewhat lacking. Some students also had difficulty with basic digital tools, indicating a gap in fundamental digital skills. This highlighted the importance of supporting digital literacy and raising awareness about online safety.
Furthermore, the sudden onset of the COVID-19 pandemic made our project even more relevant, as it required a transition to digital platforms like Zoom for teamwork.
What were the main project activities about?
We merged both online collaboration and student exchanges where school students and teachers from all the partners schools participated in digital escape rooms, virtual reality charades, treasure hunts with QR codes, online co-design sessions, ICT (Information and Communication Technology) workshops, robotics, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning and many more activities.
One highlight of the project was our Christmas celebration, where students showcased different cultures and traditions and incorporated their digital skills into the festivities. Despite challenges in the first year, the virtual celebration allowed students to share and learn about each other’s Christmas traditions and to create a wonderful blend of learning and fellowship.
Other highlights took place during the cultural exchanges, like a shared evening in Belgrade where students presented their traditional foods and customs. These moments moved beyond education and into celebrating our diversity and building bridges between us. The students also created badges during an activity, capturing moments of forming new friendships and showing the personal connections they made. Some students continue to maintain contact even after graduating, which shows that these projects truly create lasting bonds.
Can you elaborate on how students participated in the project?
We first tasked students with creating presentations about their schools and cities and gave them freedom over the content and delivery. They later designed quizzes using platforms like Kahoot and Wordwall, covering personal interests and workshop themes. Our workshops were split to involve educators and students separately. Notably, students from all the schools collaborated, shared ideas and co-created. Their enthusiasm in designing digital tools and activities was particularly rewarding.
While we gave students a great deal of autonomy in the presentations, other tasks required more structured guidance. Depending on the activity’s complexity, the level of mentorship intensity varied. At first, some teachers were hesitant about giving the students too much freedom. However, as the project progressed and everyone saw the positive results, those concerns mostly dissipated. The enthusiasm from both students and teachers really showed that our approach was working.
What were the cultural exchanges like?
Our school’s location in an immigrant-rich area generated excitement for the Digital Bridges project. The project attracted a diverse group of students and teachers, which helped to break the typical mould and emphasised inclusivity. Our diverse student demographic, including many from former Yugoslav republics, added to the project’s inclusivity even before the exchanges started.
The linguistic similarities among participants of the exchanges facilitated communication and enhanced interactions. Students and teachers recognised and celebrated our shared cultural values, which helped to enrich the experience for all involved.
To illustrate it with a story, there was an unforeseen delay in one of our activities, which caused us to wait for an extended period. As time passed, both students and teachers grew restless. Then the Serbian students spontaneously began to dance. It was a traditional Serbian dance, and soon everyone joined in. The entire group, regardless of nationality, was immersed in the dance. Time flew by, and before we knew it, our delayed activity was ready to begin.
How did you ensure that students remained focused on the task at hand and refrained from using these devices for non-educational purposes?
In the context of the exchanges, the participants were still familiarising themselves with each other. Their primary goal was to explore and learn more about their peers. The novelty of the experience ensured they were engrossed in the activities, with minimal distractions. In a broader classroom setting, regular monitoring by educators plays an important role. We frequently paced through the class, ensuring students remained on track. The key lies in presenting engaging content and tools – ones that captivate their interest and sustain their attention.
Could you share some examples of the engaging activities and digital resources developed for the project, and how they contributed to the students’ learning experience?
The Christmas activity that I mentioned above was one such instance. We also ventured into creating our own web resources and platforms, which were designed to cater to specific learning needs. These platforms were not just passive repositories of information; they encompassed interactive elements, quizzes and tasks.
For instance, we had an activity using the Quiver app where students painted their flags. Once they were done, the app brought the flags to life, allowing students to talk about their countries. We also had a treasure hunt centred around various European values and cultures. Each participating country had its students present about their school and nation.
Additionally, we decided that for each mobility, each country would present something on a common topic. These presentations were often linked to world events. For example, on World Water Day, we organised activities related to that theme. The beauty of this was that students didn’t just stay in the classroom; they went on field trips, recorded their experiences and even had the opportunity to edit their recordings. For Earth Day, celebrated in Slovenia, we introduced Escape Rooms centred around environmental topics. The intriguing component was that they undertook small field trips to explore each of the themes we celebrated. For instance, they visited rivers like the Drava and Danube.
How did the teachers respond to the challenges, especially those pertaining to technology?
We put a lot of thought into our plan from the start and learned from previous experiences. Our main goal was to make sure our teachers felt comfortable and knew how to use the new technological tools we were bringing into the classroom. We spent plenty of time on training to make this transition as smooth as possible.
We also decided ahead of time which teachers would go to which events, making sure everyone got a chance to be involved. The energy and positive comments from the teachers when they came back from these events really showed that every country involved put in the effort and came up with some engaging and modern activities.
Can you tell us more about the impact of your project?
Our school already had a peer mentorship programme, which then grew and led to the formation of student-driven clubs after the project. These clubs reflect the project’s spirit and are still active today, involving activities like managing a blog and producing video-based school news.
The project also allowed us to take our existing peer mentorship online and mak it more accessible and comfortable for students. Google Classroom became a popular platform for these sessions.
We regularly discuss the project’s outcomes in teacher meetings and share updates through various channels. The skills learned during the project continue to be applied, as seen when a student mastered a new video editing tool and shared this knowledge with peers. The project also helped students develop basic digital literacy, teaching them essential skills like email communication and file sharing, which they surprisingly lacked before.
Last but not least, the Digital Bridges project provided our students – who rarely travel outside their own country – with opportunities to interact with diverse cultures, learn about different traditions and establish lasting friendships. They explored new places and discovered our shared heritage.
Bojana Nikić VujićProject Coordinator (Lead Partner)
Drawing on the inspiration and skills developed during the project, students took the initiative to establish nine school clubs, each focusing on a specific area of interest. These clubs cover a diverse range of subjects such as robotics, music, journalism, sports, arts and traffic safety, providing a platform for pupils to pursue their passions and apply their newfound knowledge in a practical setting.
About the project
EU Youth Programme Priority:
The project received widespread attention both within education circles in the Balkan countries and among the general public. On one hand, the project’s experiences and results were presented by coordinators and teachers from the partner countries at various online and in-person events, in online publications, and as an article in a collection of conference papers. On the other hand, the general public learned about the project through several appearances on Serbian television and even in Euronews! Europe-wide recognition was achieved by winning the Digital Transformation category at the SALTO Awards 2022, an annual contest that promotes and recognises outstanding youth projects across Europe.
Coordinator: Ivo Andric Primary school, Belgrade, Serbia
Ivo Andric Primary school, Zagreb, Croatia
Mice Acev Primary school, Skopje, Northern Macedonia
Ivana Cankarja Primary School, Vrhnika, Slovenia