by Dave Baudry
We live in a world where the majority of our students are already connected to online technology through mobile devices—wherever they are. As catechists, our challenge is to incorporate technology and media with catechesis so that it makes sense and enhances learning. “Contemporary communication media do not merely transmit information; they generate visual, audible, emotional, and, in some cases, entirely virtual experiences for individuals and communities. Well-planned catechesis must employ these media so that the message of Jesus Christ can be effectively communicated in the real circumstances and culture of those who seek him” (National Directory for Catechesis, n. 69).
Don’t Let Them Drift Away
What’s interesting is this: Twice a week, both my daughters (ages 6 and 9) come home from school and are on the computer at a website called Compass Learning Odyssey. This is a program recommended by their teachers for learning computer skills and supporting achievement in reading, writing, math, science, and other subjects. Once they log in (with their parents’ help, i.e., a parental control code), they are on their own for half an hour. When they complete a stage or lesson, their progress is recorded automatically. The report shows which lessons and quizzes they have completed. It also shows what assignments their teachers give them. When they complete each session, a check mark appears indicating the session is complete.
What’s important is this: The enthusiasm for using technology to learn and teach is increasing. I did a technology workshop on social media a few months ago and was amazed at the response. Over 25 adults signed up to learn and understand social media and how to use it effectively as catechists. One teacher commented, “Today’s children are so used to computer games and TV, they need variety and hands-on interaction to learn. When they come to religious education class, they drift away.”
We need to adapt to our young people. We can incorporate websites, tools, and activities that they might be inclined to use—thus limiting their inclination to “drift away.” We already may be using some of these ourselves.
The Evident Benefits
What would it look like if catechists could incorporate online learning into their sessions with students? One evident benefit is scheduling. It’s not always possible for students to be physically present in religious education class. Technology offers options. Maybe some of you are already working on this.
Another benefit is the fact that technology is already in your classroom. You and your students are walking in with it—cell phones, for example.
Yet another benefit is the versatility of the technology. You have the benefit of choosing how to use technology in your classroom. Consider what you’re comfortable with and what type of learning styles fit your students. For example, some students are hands-on learners and need to be doing something with their hands and bodies. Others are audio-visual learners and need to see things written and hear them spoken. Also remember that it’s not all about the technology; your presence, relationship, and rapport with your students are equally—even more—important.
Technology Sites and Tools
All technology must be kept simple, understandable, and age-appropriate. If you have a lesson outline with one or two objectives, then consider where and how technology can enhance—not take over—your efforts.
One idea is to let students help decide the technology they would like to use by considering what devices they are currently using (e.g., iPads or smartphones). What sites do they use regularly (e.g., Google, YouTube, etc.)? What could they research? What have they seen or experienced that relates to the lesson you plan to present? Allow students to use their tech skills and report back to the class. When students are directly involved, they have increased retention levels and will be more engaged in the lesson.
Also identify the technology tools and resources that interest you and that could assist you in your ministry. Consider two or three tools or technologies you might like to learn, explore, and incorporate into your lesson plans. Perfection is not expected. Enjoy the process of learning as you use it. (Note that YouTube.com is a good source of workshops, webinars, and how-to videos to help you learn just about anything.)
The following are helpful and interesting sites and tools you might want to explore. You and many of your students may be familiar with these already:
* Laptop computers, flash drives, DVDs, and Wi-Fi are common technology essentials.
* Animoto is a web application that produces videos from photos, video clips, and music.
* Google is a search engine, i.e. another way of searching for information on the web. Google Docs and Google Calendar are group information-sharing applications that are part of Google.com.
* Smilebox allows you to share pictures and create slideshows, collages, invitations, and greeting cards.
* Microsoft Office applications (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and Outlook) are common software features on many computers that offer possibilities for catechists.
* Photoshop is a graphic-centered software for manipulating and displaying pictures for use in publications and social media sites.
* iMissal is an Android, iPad, and iPhone application offering Scripture and prayer. It features readings, prayers, a liturgical calendar, and more in both audio and visual formats.
* Pandora.com and KLove.com are music sites that could be used in the classroom. Both allow catechists to bookmark songs that fit their lessons.
* YouTube.com and Godtube.com offer video and audio clips that can help students better retain information and understand topics. Video doesn’t replace any lesson plan, of course, but it can be used as an effective supplement to the material being presented. Just go to the site and search for the topic you’re interested in.
* BustedHalo.com and Lifeteen.com offer technology resources that can be used in a classroom. Busted Halo, for example, has great five-minute videos for each of the Sacraments.
* Podcasts are audio presentations. Lifeteen.com, thecatholiccafe.com, and ewtn.com/podcast are sites that feature podcasts, and they cover many topics.
* Explore service ministry websites. One is called Charity Miles (charitymiles.org). You and your students can pick a charity and earn corporate sponsorships. Charities include Habitat for Humanity, Autism Speaks, Second Harvest, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, ASPCA, and more.
* Explore image-hosting and video-hosting websites such as picasa.com or flickr.com. Use some of the photos and put together a slide show to illustrate a Scripture reading or story.
* Facebook and Twitter are popular social networking sites your students will be familiar with. Social sites are useful as long as one respects diocesan guidelines regarding appropriate communication with children (safeguarding children). There are some good and practical applications for Facebook, Twitter, and blogs (web logs). One catechist uses a blog for weekly trivia with her middle- and high-school students. She links the blog to Twitter, creating a successful way to engage and interact with her students.
Technology offers countless ways to make information sharing easier and quicker:
* Create a spreadsheet (in Google Docs or Excel) to keep track of your students’ sports events, school activities, and interests. (As a parent, I was thrilled when I saw my daughter’s first-grade teacher come to our daughter’s dance performance. Wow! I was impressed that she cared enough to attend. She had charted these kinds of activities for all her students.)
* Email or phone parents regarding their communication preferences. Parents like to stay informed.
* Create class rules and expectations with students and email those rules and expectations to the parents.
* When a child is absent, call or email the child’s parents and let them know that the child was missed, and tell them to help their child cover the chapter/materials for the next class. Scan and send home the attachments.
* If you know your students’ birthdays, you can set up an automated birthday-card delivery for them with greeting.com or SendOutCards.com. Kids love mail. The convenient part is that you can enter all the email addresses at one time and set the day and month you would like each greeting sent. No worries because the e-card or real card will arrive on the child’s birthday.
* Create a slide show to music using animoto.com or smilebox.com. This could be part of a prayer or retreat experience or an end-of-year highlight to show parents. This is easy to set up and is free to start. The program allows you to select a theme, set it to music, create some captions, select some pictures, and add titles (perhaps Scripture verses). Let the program do the rest.
Use Google Docs
* to share assignments and upcoming activities
* to organize lessons and programs
* to share ideas with other catechists
* to share magazine articles and comment about them
* to publicize events and resources
* to keep up on current news
* to share best practices along with your thoughts
* to create spreadsheets to share teacher and student data
* to share lesson plans with other catechists
* to schedule your lesson plans and activities throughout the year
The real advantage of this is that you can access this from anywhere. The information is stored in the Cloud, so you can work on this at home, at school, or at work.
There certainly are challenges to using technology:
* Some catechists are not permitted to use school equipment, like interactive whiteboards and televisions.
* Many learning spaces and classrooms are not hooked up to Wi-Fi.
* Many parishes and religious education programs do not have the financial resources to invest in laptops, projectors, LCD TVs, and other technology.
Never forget: There are no absolute demands on catechists to use technology in the classroom. Technology is only a means for you to use if it helps you deliver the Good News in a more effective way.
Technology is a valuable tool to use for sharing the Good News. The catechist who carefully prepares his or her lesson plan combining information, music, prayer, and art with technology is helping students be engaged and learn. Technology, however, is not the focus; it’s a supporting player. What’s important is that the catechist/student relationship is nurtured and the lesson objectives are achieved.
When you use technology (and even when you don’t), always ask at the end of class: What did you learn? What did you like about this class? What would you like to change? This is a good review for the students and will also help you plan the next class. This kind of processing also demonstrates to students that you value their opinions about making lessons more contemporary, engaging, and user-friendly.
As we journey through the Year of Faith, we are called to prayer, study, outreach, and evangelization so that we might live out the way of discipleship to be joyful witnesses to Christ. There are great support resources and interactive websites that can be used in a classroom. Technology is greatly encouraged. As they say, the sky is the limit. We will say the “clouds” are the limit. Go for it!
Dave Baudry is the Director of Christian Formation at St. Martin of Tours in Franklin, WI. He serves as a co-chairperson on the Technology in Faith Formation (TIFF) Committee for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee (johnpaul2center.org/Catechesis/Technology.htm).
Copyright 2013, Bayard, Inc. All rights reserved. This article is protected by United States copyright and other intellectual property laws and may not be reproduced, rewritten, distributed, redisseminated, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast, directly or indirectly, in any medium without the prior written permission of Bayard, Inc.
This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, July 2013.
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