The communications camp was a dream which came true in 1987. A group of members of the Finnish Society for Futures Studies realized that the most important skills of the future were communication skills. But where could you study these skills? Nowhere. That is how communications camps came into being. That, after all, is the purpose of society – communications education.
The camps have been going since 1987. The main idea behind them is that these skills belong to everybody, no matter where he or she lives.All you need for even the most advanced communications is a telephone line and electricity. Even radio waves or solar cells will do. That is why our camps are usually situated far away from urban areas. And that is why we live very simply: we sleep in tents and keep all the equipment inside the school buildings. They are ideal for our purposes, because they are empty in the summer and there is enough room for different functions, for example radio and tv-studios, the camp magazine, photocopying, kitchens and dining rooms.
What do we do?
The children live and work at the communications camp for one week. They publish the daily camp magazine (or more, depending on how big the camp is), watch the tv-news and a short film (about 7-9 minutes) every evening, and have radio networking from 09.00 am to 7 pm every day. Usually we also have at least two, maybe three, rival camp restaurants. The children prepare their own meals and market them to other campers via camp radio, magazines and ads. They draw up the menus themselves ( on the basis of tastiness, ease of preparation, health, size of proportions, etc), and send off faxes to the baker and the shop. The next morning everything arrives ready packed for the camp. The main idea is that one must learn to communicate in different ways to get food, publish the magazine, and make the radio programme.We learn by doing and everybody has an opportunity to learn everything because every group spends two days in every activity on a rotation basis: two days in the kitchen, on video, on the newspaper, and at the telecommunication point, which sends messages all over the world. Messages also go to the shop and baker. We dont ”play” at the camp, it is all very real. The children know this; and they know that the adults take it as seriously as they do. The adults are on hand if the children need help; they are not teachers always wanting to give advice. Everyone is allowed to try and to succeed, and the results are quick. You can read your own article in the magazine. And you can hear what the others say about your masterpiece. Maybe, for the first time, you are a movie star!
The atmosphere at the camp is very positive and everyone can do what he or she wants. If you succeed, everybody is delighted. If the result is less than good, you can always try again and maybe next time youll succeed! Younger campers do what they can. They hold the microphone or run off copies of the magazine, or they can have their own music programme on the camp radio. Older campers, who have been at the camp many times, are junior leaders. They support the younger ones and set a good example.
Who finances the camp?
For the first camp we got a small grant from the Ministry of Traffic and Communication. The subsequent camps financed by camp fees. Because we live in tents, the rent of the school is usually quite low. The adults and camp leaders are not paid (they get free food) and because we prepare the food ourselves, camp fees are quite low. A camper pays 180 euros for eight days.
Although our technology is state-of-the-art, it, alone, cannot improve society without human creativity. We need to understand Civil Society and our place in it so that we can use technology appropriately according to our real needs. We must analyse our values for the future and create situations in which we can satisfy our human needs not only our affective minds.
A Forum for Social Innovations
The communication camp is where one learns to use new information and communication technology for self-expression and for making life easier. A good camp spirit is based on trust and openness among the participants. The camp principals for action are:
– Learning by doing
– Finishing the work
– Caring for others
– Taking and carrying responsibility
– Peer mentoring: we are all teachers and we are all students
– Working independently within our groups
– Realising the total process while learning
– Valuing the work of others
Who can come to the camp?
– Participants of any age, who can read, have an open mind, and a relaxed attitude.
– We hope that children and adolescents be motivated by their own curiosity.
– It is suggested that children under 10 years of age be accompanied by an adult.
– Adults of any age are welcome.
How does the camp work?
At the beginning the participants are divided into five groups. During the course of the camp all the groups take part in, and become familiar with five different activities:
– Information and stand
– Television / Video
Every group has two or three trainers who assist the group through all the five activities. A trainer is a person who has completed the nine-year comprehensive school, taken part in at least three camps, and passed a special trainer course.
There are only two strict rules at the camp:
– Persons under the age of 18 years are not allowed to drink any alcohol.
– Persons over the age of 18 years are allowed to have only wine and beer.
The Information Group
The camp has a currency of its own called lecu. All the participants are entitled to a citizen’s wage of six lecus (one of our social innovations). Lecus are needed for:
– buying things at the camp stand such as coffee, pancakes, etc.
– watching TV and playing PC games
Experience tells us that temptations to spend lecus are many and various, which inevitably raises the question of earning them. This has been made easy. You can do ”invisible” jobs such as cleaning workrooms and toilets or collecting litter thereby scoring points. The participants themselves decide how many lecus one task is worth and which tasks earn lecus. A sample list can be:
30 for making social conversation during lunch or dinner
50 for cleaning a toilet
1 for picking up a piece of litter in the yard
20 for changing the dirty dishwater
30 for heating the dishwater
30 for cleaning the sauna
20 for heating the sauna
10 for cleaning one room
Ten points are worth one lecu. The information group maintains a database on the participants in which the points are recorded. The information group is also in charge of the lecu bank. Every evening before presenting the work of the video group, a grand pin-awarding ceremony is held in honour of those with the highest score. Thus, the ”invisible” work is brought to light.
The information group does not have any detailed schedule to follow, which raises the challenge of spontaneous organisation of work. The group is in charge of the telephone exchange, the lecu bank and maintains a database on the participants with the scores for the promotion of invisible work. The info group has an important role in maintaining the daily logistics.
The group has a saying, ”Take something when you go, bring something when you come”. They keep a journal on the whereabouts of the participants. The phone number and the purpose of your absence are recorded in the journal that’s kept in a private Telegram channel. You might have gone to a particular shop so someone can easily reach you at any time to tell what is needed at the camp.
The camp paper called ”Tietotuutti” is published every day and distributed in the camp village. The newspaper group often works until late at night to get all of the important things published such as comments about the menus of the day and opinions of the daily activities. There is an emphasis on self-expression rather than journalistic precision.
Visual design is an essential part of the paper. Interest and creativity are encouraged among the most ambitious and imaginative group members by providing methods for editing images such as accessing them from the Internet, taking new pictures with digital cameras, and transferring old pictures by means of scanners. We hope next summer to be able to include image transferring by means of mobile phones. We use a computer-publishing program for page layouts.
It is obvious that our participants enjoy working on the newspaper. Everyone in the group produces at least one item for the paper. There is something exciting in the hectic atmosphere of late nights. The group waits for the last pages to be completed so they can start printing with a copy machine, collating, and stapling the pages together. At the end, a couple of participants make a nightly tour around the camp village delivering fresh newspapers to the tents.
The camp newspaper is like any ordinary newspaper. It carries an editorial, news of the day, a weather forecast, a horoscope, items on sports, letters to the editor, and two more social innovations: a gossip column and Ursula’s Letter Box.
The camp provides an incentive for finding ways of motivating the younger participants to read the newspaper as well as write for it, which has led to the introduction of a new forum, the gossip column. In the newspaper room there is a PC available all day long merely for gossip writing. The gossip column includes friendly observations about campmates such as: ”Who is sitting with Hazel on the doorstep?” ”Why was Juha so interested in yesterday’s gossip?” and so forth. The idea is to arouse curiosity and interest rather than being too accurate as to the truth of the items. If you write gossip about your friends one day, you have good reason to read the next publication to see whether there is any gossip about you.
There is a box in the newspaper room for questions to Ursula. The range of the questions varies from serious to funny. Although Ursula’s personality has remained a mystery, her answers can be found in the morning paper. Ursula does not necessarily have to be a camp member and she has the possibility to answer by email.
The camp radio station extends for 8 kilometres and can be heard on line in real time on the Internet. Mobile phones can be connected directly to the radio station and be used as a mode of transmission. The camp fixed line phone network is also connected, so it can be used for instant interviews and information competitions. A radio and a phone can be found in every tent and every workroom, which enables the radio programmes to be completely interactive.
The radio programs do not usually include dramas. Creating dramas is a laborious effort and, more important, the format itself is unfamiliar to the young and is not heard on the radio stations they listen to. They do not have a mental framework to be used as a source of inspiration. Therefore, it is difficult to find enthusiastic people to write radio fiction and plan good sound effects. On occasion, however, fairy tales like Winnie the Pooh have been read on direct broadcasts. The roles have been cast beforehand with the readers sitting around two microphones. Readers and listeners alike have enjoyed these experiments.
Television / Video
Many participants have been looking forward to the TV / video group all winter. It is a forum for self-expression. As a medium the TV is familiar to all. Everybody has spent thousands of hours watching TV programs. The minds of young people are filled with images from action films, Music TV, and mannerisms of well-known news anchors, etc. These patterns show in their own work.
The group is divided into two teams that work independently to produce a program of 10 – 20 minutes in length. One group works on factual subjects, the other on fictional subjects. The factual subjects include news, reports, and interviews; the fictional team makes short movies.
The TV / Video group has to be finished with their work by 22.00 when a public presentation of the program starts. This brings the whole camp together. It is in fact the only time during a camp day when all the participants attend.
The program starts with news as a direct broadcast from the studio. Within the news programme there are several inserts that were prepared ahead of time. This part of the presentation is very exciting for all the participants. The second part of the program takes us into the world of the imagination. If there are any adolescent boys on the fiction team you can be almost sure to see an action film with blood (ketchup), shooting, running, good and evil, etc. No doubt the team has had a good time during the process. The films are full of energy and amusing jokes.
People adopt roles within the group according to their interest and talent. There are those who like to act, others who like to use the camera, and finally those who are interested in editing the film. Our aim is, however, that everybody should do a bit of each job, try at least to get an idea of what it is about. Acting in front of a camera, however, might be too much for a beginner. There is excitement in the air when the last shots of the film are edited in the video room and time is running short. Finally, the work is completed! It is ten minutes to ten! Everything is ready for the show. We did it! We know the climax of the day has been reached when we see everybody watching the program. How do they react? Do they like it or dislike it? Yippee, they applauded!
Within the concept of the camp, the restaurant group has a specific significance. It takes care of the most basic need, nutrition, which is equal to the work activities. Kitchen work is usually isolated from other activities. At our camp the restaurant group works together with the other groups. The members decide what they want to serve in their restaurant, they order by fax the required foods from a local shop and bakery the night before the bakers start their work. Many parents have probably been amazed at listening to their children tell them how they have been in charge of planning and preparing all the meals of the day for 40 people (breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper). As a means of self-expression cooking is equal to activities such as making a video film or a newspaper. The restaurant group plays an important role economically in two ways. All meals are prepared from scratch and we don’t need to hire outside people.
The participants bring their own plates, mugs and cutlery with them together with a cloth bag. They wash their dishes themselves and hang them to dry in the bag on a line outside.
At the kiosk you can use either euros or lecus. In the morning one of the first jobs is to make a list of what needs to be purchased for the stand from the local shops to ensure an adequate variety of things. The group has to decide on their supply for the lecu trade. Pancakes, juice, cakes, coffee, etc. have been the most popular items so far.
Even the youngest participants like to work at the kiosk. Their enthusiasm is overwhelming when they take part in the decision-making for purchases for the kiosk. The choices of so many different chocolates and lemonades to be bought and sold are really exciting.
What the camp attendees think?
When a campfly bit me
A communication camp is hard to explain. It has to be experienced. I heard about a communication camp for the first time six years ago, when my father told me about it. I couldn’t take part in it that summer because our family did a trip abroad during the camp.
Next year the camp was arranged in the late summer. I had already forgotten the hole communication camp idea and it wasn’t pleasant for me to go there. The biggest reason for this was that I didn’t know anybody there.
When the camp began I was really excited. The first few days I was amazed when I saw all the machines and the action in the camp. During the week I really realised all the things
The best part in the camp was the spirit. Everybody was important and all the ideas were good, others listened you too. After a week I was convinced that I would come back next summer.
What you can learn about the communication camp?
Those things that I have learned from the communication camp are fun to try to use in every day life. At school I have taken part in doing different kinds of newspapers and with my friends I have made some videos.
In communication camps I have learned to see behind the television and radio programs. I have also learned to listen to others ideas.
Some thoughts about communication camps
It seems a long way back to 1987 and the first communication camp I took part to, but a short way from these communication camps to my every day life.
The first and important experiance in a communication camp was my nomination to the camp’s PR-leader. An important task that demanded some thinking and organizing of oneself is talent. It was a simple pleasure to introduce our camp to the visitors. For to win my stage ear was just enought to carry the title of PR-leader.
Especially this first camp has been important to my evolution. There I unconciously understood the meaning of assumming responsaibility and through years its meaning has slowly brightened up to me. Charging my place from being lead to be a leader did only clarify to me how important it is to get to carry responsibility in a tolerant and encouraging athmosphere.
When talking about communication camp experiences I would rather talk about emotional experiences. If these camps were an object to me it would be a mirror that through an individual reflects light and energy to its surroundings. When I close my eyes and think about communication camps I see yellow colour and hear the word feeling. Only faraway I see the decor: computers, cattles, phones, tents, mosquitos…
The yellow colour stands for warmth and courage (only a few dare to dress in pure yellow). And that is what these camps are about, dressing in yellow-winning oneself, and warmth – the reflect of the yellow to its environment.
Being in the camp is also learning to cope with other people. Planning projects together and putting them to an end together. These experiences tought me that in life you are mostly dealing with relationships. Briefly: we have to be individual, we don´t have to like everything and everyone, but we have to cope together.