Living with COVID: New campaign aims to help young people understand COVID-19

Schoolgirl Eden and COVID
The 'Living with COVID' campaign includes six 30 second videos telling the story of a schoolgirl, Eden, who finds COVID has come to ‘live’ with her. Picture: supplied

A multidisciplinary team of University of Melbourne researchers has created an innovative public health campaign to help communicate coronavirus (COVID-19) to young people.

Working with the Victorian Student Representative Council (VicSRC), the project ‘Living with COVID’ aims to fill a gap in coronavirus communications by providing entertaining and engaging resources to adolescents.

Project lead Professor Rachel Fensham, Director of the Digital Studio in the Faculty of Arts, said that young adults crave information, but do not necessarily consume it in the same way that older adults do. Rather than tuning-in to daily press conferences or reading newspapers, young adults are bombarded with information across a multitude of social media apps.

Research from the Wellcome Trust UK on the Digital Health Generation showed that 70 per cent of young people access health information online, in particular through social media.

“Knowing this made us think that we could play a role in helping young people access relevant information that speaks to them, but it would have to be on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok – not a TV news channel.”

But with a lot of misinformation in the online world, Professor Fensham also noted that young people are looking for sources they can trust.

“This is where it’s useful for us to be able to leverage the experts at the University of Melbourne who are doing the latest research on the virus and its impact. And with this reputation, we could tailor health information to young people’s lives.”

Working with creative studio Either Either, the team brings together experts from Computing and Information Systems, Education, Science, Medicine and Arts. The team sought to create accurate and entertaining resources that allow young people to read more about COVID-19, how it spreads, how it can be prevented, and how to cope with lockdowns and their effect on mental health.

“We had input from epidemiologists and public health experts, psychologists and social media experts. The input from VicSRC was also invaluable. They told us about what kind of language to use when communicating with young people. We learnt that language we thought was appropriate was inauthentic – the kids can see when it’s an adult trying to imitate their speech!”

Technology-enhanced learning expert from the School of Computing and Information Systems, Dr Justin Filippou provided guidance on how social media content can be used to help produce positive interactions with information. He said that, “Designing engaging and informative content that cuts through a lot of social media noise is incredibly important. Social media and games, when designed properly, can become great education resources.”

The project has also provided an opportunity for University of Melbourne marketing and computer science students to undertake internships and gain invaluable experience in communication campaigns. Student interns will work on posting and moderating content from the ‘Living with COVID’ social media channels.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the importance of effective communication with diverse groups in society. It has also highlighted the need to try new campaigns and new ways of reaching target audiences.

“While young people receive official communication from their school, this might not necessarily be the type of communication that they are most likely to engage with. For us being able to fill that gap between schools’ and government communication while providing a trusted resource with expert-based content, means that we can help make sure that young people feel informed and supported during the pandemic,” said Dr Victoria Millar, a science education expert from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

The campaign includes six 30 second videos telling the story of a schoolgirl, Eden, who finds COVID has come to ‘live’ with her. It aims to encourage people to visit the ‘Living with COVID’ website where they can access further information from University of Melbourne experts and important health resources.

The team behind the campaign is hoping to raise funds for a second series next year. The new episodes would focus on the latest research on vaccination and anti-viral drugs and continue to provide trusted, evidence-based information and resources for a young audience.