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by Tim Welch

“I love doing brochures or certificates on the computer. I feel like I can be creative.” Does that sound familiar? I heard it twice recently, once from a former director of religious education and once from a Catholic-school principal.

There is so much satisfaction and, let’s face it, fun in doing work that allows us to draw from inspiration and turn it into something productive. Etymonline.com says the root of the word inspiration is “immediate influence of God.” It struck me, once again, that technology offers us all the opportunity to be creative!

Co-Creating with God

Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation (Genesis 2:2-3).

Bernadette T. Stankard, in her wonderful little book titled Co-Creators with God: Creative Strategies for Faith Formation (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007) continues the story:

“And on the eighth day, God continued his work of creation with man and woman. First God pondered over the food he had given them to eat. He admired the funny avocado and the juicy tomato, squeezed the orange and let the sweet juice run down his chin while he relished the taste. God watched as Eve pulled carrots out of the ground and washed them in the stream. God laughed as Adam tried his hand at a pomegranate, experimenting with what part to eat and what not.”

Stankard then expands the story with a delightful narrative of how jelly was created. It was a product of God crushing cherries by falling down laughing, Eve removing the pits from the mess, and Adam adding gooey stuff he discovered from what we now call sugar cane. Viola! It was a delicious treat born of divine inspiration and work of human hands (note the plural) to be handed down for generations to enjoy and improve upon.

Fast Forward  

Before we continue, I will ask you to launch your web browser (Internet Explorer, Safari, FireFox, or other web surfing tool) and go to outsidedabox.com. Then hover your mouse over the Videos menu at the top of the page and select Find a Video. Enter Jedi in the Search by Keyword box and click Search. Enjoy the engaging saga of …And Jedi You Shall Become, created by a high school group from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Appleton, WI.

For readers who don’t have a computer handy, here is a synopsis: Fr. Dave is addressing a group of rather disengaged (read: paper airplanes flying around the classroom) teens. He is telling the Parable of the Ten Virgins: Five are prepared for the coming of the Master and five are not. Sensing the lack of attention, Fr. Dave decides to retell the parable in terms of Jedi wanna-bes. The youth sit up and listen intently, and the clip turns into the young people’s reenactment of the parable, complete with blazing light sabers. The power packs run out, and the five who didn’t bring along extra batteries miss the coming of the Master because they run off to the Holey Mart to purchase replacements.

Such an example of creativity! It follows the pattern described in the Garden of Eden. The youth group looked at their world and the resources within it, allowed themselves to be inspired, worked together to come up with a new creation, and then shared it so that others could enjoy it. Certainly it took time for such a production, but the obvious engagement of those involved and, no doubt, the community it built had to be worth it. Plus, the actors will never forget the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

Technology affords us unique opportunities to explore the contemporary world with our learners. It also allows us to practice, with our students, being receptive to inspiration. Technology gives us tools to collaborate on twenty-first-century learning projects that can be used for reflection and shared with our larger community. Where do we begin?

World of Our Learners

The new world we need to be exploring is that of the twenty-first-century learner. In his positive book titled Grown Up Digital: How the New Generation Is Changing Your World (McGraw-Hill, 2008), Don Tapscott describes this unfolding world by the eight norms of what he calls the “Net Generation.”

1. Freedom: “Net Geners seek freedom to…take their own path and to express themselves.”
2. Customization/Personalization: “They have grown up getting what media they want, when they want, and being able to change it.”
3. Scrutinizers: “Transparency, namely stakeholder access to pertinent information about companies and their offerings, just seems natural to the Net Gen.”
4. Corporate integrity and openness: “Net Geners make sure company values align with their own.”
5. Entertainment and play: “This is a generation that has been bred on interactive experiences.”
6. Collaboration and relationships: “Today, youth collaborate on Facebook; play multi-user video games; text each other incessantly; and share files for school, work, or just for fun.”
7. Speed: “In a world where speed characterizes the flow of information among vast networks of people, communication with friends, colleagues, and superiors takes place faster than ever.”
8. Innovators: “They seek innovative companies as employers and are constantly looking for innovative ways to collaborate, entertain themselves, learn, and work.”

If we accept Tapscott’s assertions, which are based on a $4 million research project, we have a lot to ponder as catechists journeying with our learners in their world. This would include figuring out how we can help our students bring these norms to faith and prepare them to use the tools of the twenty-first century to proclaim the Reign of God in effective and creative ways. I am imagining that, as God, Eve, and Adam explored their world and came up with jelly as a proclamation of the goodness of God, our learners can create multi-media “eye-candy” to accomplish the same.

Creativity in that World with Google Docs

So in our exploration of the Net Generation, what resources will we find to help us create wonderful things? Google Docs Presentation! Google Docs is like having a limited but very workable and free copy of Microsoft Office through your web browser. You can create Microsoft Word-compatible documents, Excel spreadsheets, and even drawings!

For exercises in creativity, Google Docs Presentation can be easy, powerful, and collaborative! The process goes like this:

1. Sign up for an account at docs.google.com (younger learners could have their parents create a family account).
2. Log in.
3. Click on the Create>New menu and choose Presentation.
4. Play for a while, creating a slide-based meditation or an introduction to your lesson.
5. Save your work.
6. Sign out.

(If you are like me, you may want to go directly to YouTube.com and search for “Google Docs Presentation Tutorial” for help.)

Where did your presentation go? It is securely stored on a server somewhere in Google Land. If you create a document at your office, you can edit it from home if you get inspired. You can also download your slide show as a PowerPoint presentation to run from your computer or as a PDF file to print out or e-mail to others.

Collaborative Work on the Web!

Why Google Docs Presentation instead of PowerPoint or Keynote? You can share the creative process with those of the Net Generation. You create a new presentation, click on the Share menu in the upper right hand corner, and enter the family e-mail addresses of your students. Then, with Mom or Dad logging them into their Google accounts, they can add their own slides to the presentation!

Just as God, Eve, and Adam took time to explore their world for fruit, your class can explore the possibilities of this online tool. Just as Eve and Adam teamed up with God to create jelly, your class can team up to create “eye-candy” for the soul! And just as generations built upon and perfected that cherry delight, so, too, can your students’ families further develop the slide presentation at home with scanned-in photos and other graphics they create or find on the web.

Net Generation Norms Revisited

Many of the norms of the Net Generation as described by Tapscott can be addressed through the creative use of Google Docs Presentation. It can also help people of older generations engage and understand the world of their learners. A collaborative project of this type allows learners the freedom to express themselves; provides the opportunity to customize the project through their own slide input; engages them in entertainment and play, especially if you define play as the exploration of a new environment; and allows them to collaborate, building relationships with one another all in the name of creativity. And all this with the guidance of a caring catechetical mentor!

Dream about Possibilities

You can allow students to see but not edit your project if you just want to share a presentation as a lesson outside of class time. Students, too, can create presentations and share them with their whole class in a read-only fashion. Such slide shows could even be used as assessment tools to measure comprehension. Additionally, the web address of any class work in progress can be linked to the parish website for all to enjoy. Students will do their finest work if they know they will be published.

Don’t forget to explore the other features of Google Docs! It was developed for collaboration. You can use Google Calendar to publish faith formation events for your parish, work collaboratively on your budget with a select group using the spreadsheet tool, and use the document tool to plan a retreat with your youth ministry leaders.

The young Jedis of Holy Spirit in Appleton, WI, could never have shared their story without someone knowing how to video record them, how to work the audio, and how to edit in the light sabers. The final product certainly showed a comfort level with the camera, computer, and applications.

Start Now!

We in catechesis will never form disciples for the twenty-first century if we don’t start using tools available to our learners. To start, Google Docs Presentation offers a fun set of tools to play with when you want to be creative, invite others to share their inspirations, and offer your handiwork to the World Wide Web for everyone’s benefit.

If you don’t feel comfortable jumping in with your students, start exploring with other catechists. But do start exploring with someone; after all, we have a Story worth telling, and a God wanting to inspire us to tell it in every way possible, from jelly to slide presentations!

Tubequest for Creativity

Using the Presentation tool of Google Docs is a good place to start. But our goal is to form twenty-first-century disciples who can create multi-media productions captivating enough to effectively proclaim the Good News as Jesus used the media of his day to proclaim the Reign of God.

I enjoy browsing YouTube, TED, Vimeo, and other online video resources for videos that, even if they aren’t catechetical in nature, give me creative ideas to build upon.

Here are some videos/resources my colleagues have forwarded to me that are inspiring at one level or another. As you take a look at these videos, ask yourself: Can I tell the Story with such creativity?

youtube.com/watch?v=H17edn_RZoY: Wendy J Francisco’s “GoD and DoG” video. Simple song, elegant animation, deep meaning!

iamnotashamed.org: The Confirmation class from St. Joseph’s Church in Grey Eagle, MN, shot their own version of this video with an inexpensive Flip Video Camera. It was very moving.

youtube.com/watch?v=D7o7BrlbaDs: Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir, “Lux Aurumque.” What would it take for our learners to collaborate with audio, using, say, the free audio recording software Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net/download)?

simpletruths.com/movies.asp: Simple Truths presents a number of inspirational video “slide shows” with narration and music. Check out “Eat That Frog” and think Lent.

youtube.com/watch?v=Invhsa87isk: The story of creation done through sand art. I wonder what students with old overhead projectors and clear glass cake pans could do with some sand?

ted.com/talks/willard_wigan_hold_your_breath_for_micro_sculpture.html: Okay, not everyone can do sculptures on the head of a pin, but this video about Willard Wigan, the micro sculptor, is inspiring nonetheless.

youtube.com/watch?v=ZItqAdaYPQM: Bill Dan is a rock balancer. This video can be used for theological reflection on the need for balance in one’s life, but it can also give us pause to ask, “How else can we be creative?”

Tim Welch is the Consultant for Educational Technology at Catholic Education Ministries, Diocese of Saint Cloud, MN. With more than 27 years of experience at the parish and diocesan levels, he is continually searching for ways of journeying with others to implement proven technologies that can serve ministry (especially catechesis). Tim currently serves as Consultant for Technology and Catechesis for Our Sunday Visitor Curriculum Division, formerly Harcourt Religion Publishers. He is the author of Technology Tools for Your Ministry: No Mousing Around (Twenty-Third Publications).

Copyright 2010, 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, August 2010.

Image Credit: Brian A Jackson/Shutter Stock 145450387

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