Digital Discipleship: Transforming Ministry Through Technology

Archive for February, 2011

75th Anniversary of NCCL

Over the past few months I’ve been part of the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) Annual Conference & Expo Planning Committee.  What an exciting conference this will be as we are – Celebrating Our Past, Shaping the Future.  75 Years of Fidelity to the Word!

I did not plan to be part of this committee.  I just happened to meet Anthony Marchica, Committee Chair, at the last conference that was held in New Orleans.  When he heard how I was involved with shaping and forming an evolving ministry that is focusing on faith-based educational technology, Anthony extended the invitation to join the committee.  I agreed!

If you are not excited about this conference, you should be!  It is awesome considering that NCCL has been contributing to the gift of catechesis in this country over the past 75 years.  Begin to reflect on what has happened in the field of catechesis over this time period.  I invite you to share the stories that you have experienced in catechesis from 1936 until today.

What is of most importance is that we are all in the midst of a changing culture – often referred to as a Digital Culture.  Some of us are comfortable with what is happening around us, others are not!  Regardless, the culture around us is becoming more digital with each day.

Yes, we are in the midst of change!  In the next 10 years – how we catechize will change?  How? When I pull out my crystal ball I see the following – Many of us will be teaching courses online – with children and adults, Parents because of their busy lives will ask to have meetings via virtual tools like GoToMeeting, Students in their schools will be using eBooks in all of their subjects.  Religion will be racing to catch up!  More importantly, it is the changing mindset – that digital tools, digital projects, and more – will be important to our students and to catechetical ministers.  The school world is very comfortable with educational technology.  The catechetical world will need to study the Best Practices achieved over 35 years of growth and development in this educational technology field   .  What this means is that we will need to figure out how to blend the face-to-face (F2F) with the digital world that is emerging into our ministry.

As the NCCL Conference Committee stated in the 2011 Conference Brochure “Being ‘Tech savvy’ in today’s world requires a new skill set.”  When you come to this year’s conference, you will have an opportunity to learn new skills through the pre-conference session “Our Covenant Story: A How To and How Not To Form Digital Natives to be Digital Disciples.”  In addition, there are several conference Learning Sessions to enhance your “Tech savvy”:

  • Viral Marketing of Your Parish Programs
  • Digital Age Catechist Formation
  • Collaboration With New Media Tools
  • Social Media Communication – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and You Tube
  • Read, Aim, Shoot
  • The Symbolic Way Revisited

Check out the brochure on the NCCL website for additional information.

NCCL members, you may want to come one day early to attend Dr. Mary Hess’s Sunday morning presentation on learning media literacy skills through the creation of media.  For those who are interested in attending the NACMP Conference, which is held before the NCCL conference, more info at

I hope to see you in Atlanta for the 75th Anniversary of a wonderful catechetical organization.  It is time for us to celebrate all that we bring to this ministry!

In this time of celebration, I invite you to share a story or two – about how the evolution of technology has enhanced what you do in parish catechetics?  Think about it!  We’ve used various tools and technologies over the years- drawing in the sand, stained glass windows, crucifixes, statues, posters, photos, filmstrips, 16 mm film, videos, DVDs, and now YouTube videos, and more!  At this time of remembering, I invite you to share how you may have integrated the various mediums into your catechetical ministry.  Are you using a blog?  Are you creating digital stories? What have you been doing?  And what are you beginning to dream about doing with digital tools?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

NCCL 2011 Video Credits


Caroline Cerveny, SSJ-TOSF

Elizabeth Thoman CHM – Healing Petals Photography


David J. Carr – 2010 Digital Trends – Ideas and Technologies



Winds of Change – Jap Jap (Animoto)

Pope: Church Needs Creativity to Reach Digital Age

Copyright ©2011 Caroline Cerveny

RSS Feeds: Save Time and Organize Great Content

Welcome to our guest blogger – Joyce Donahue  

Joyce Donahue

Joyce Donahue

For many people, RSS feeds are a mystery. You see the ubiquitous orange-and-white box logo all over the internet, but unless you know the real benefits of feeds, they may simply represent another time-consuming complicated thing to learn about that you tell yourself you will deal with “someday”.  Actually, they are pretty easy to use.  Best of all, they can help you organize frequently updated web  content to keep you in the know.

An RSS feed is, simply defined, a way to notify you that something has been added or changed on a website. Once you subscribe to a site’s feed, you receive alerts whenever new posts, events, or photos are added so that you don’t have to keep coming back to check to see what’s new – thus saving you time and trouble and reminding you to visit new content. A great basic explanation of RSS feeds can be found here .

The RSS video will show you how subscribing to feeds in Google Reader works.

Why should you follow web pages using a feed? One of the most useful is the blog feed.  A strategy often recommended to help begin a blog is to start following other people’s blogs and adding occasional comments, so that you learn the protocols of blogging.  In addition, following blogs, newsfeeds, photo streams, or websites is a great way to keep up with new information and ideas, interesting news, and to be exposed to a variety of opinions about topics of interest. There are many great sites – on ministry, catechesis, teaching techniques, technology, and much more.  I personally follow about 180 feeds at the moment. (Thankfully, they don’t all post new content every day!)

So, how do you follow a feed?  Look first on any web page for the orange and white box indicating an RSS feed. If you don’t see that, look for the initials “RSS.”  Click on it to subscribe. Normally, you are given a choice to subscribe via an email or by using a reader.  When you are just beginning to follow feeds, you may wish to subscribe by email.  However, if you find yourself following a number of feeds, a feed reader, such as Newsgator, Page Flakes, RSS Owl or Google Reader allows you to organize them all into one place and even to create folders to arrange them by categories.  Since I regularly use the Google Reader, which is one of the most versatile and easy to use, let me explain how I use it.

Google Reader requires that you first have a free Gmail account, which is connected to Google.  You can find out how to do that here .   Once you have a Gmail account, log in and you should see Google Reader as one of your options on your account page. If not, go to the Google Reader page to download it.  You may want to check this page to see a thorough description of how it works.

Once you have the Reader, visit the page you wish to follow.   If you see the orange and white RSS box or the word RSS, click. Follow the screen prompts, choose Google, then Google Reader. If you do not see an RSS indicator, simply copy the URL from the address bar of your browser, open Google Reader, and on the upper left choose “Add Subscription” and paste in the URL, then hit “enter.”  You will see a notification indicating you have subscribed to the feed if a feed can be created.

RSS Subscriptions

RSS Subscriptions

Your subscriptions will be listed on the lower left. Click on the name of the feed to open it in the reading pane. Scan the titles of the post in the list and click to view a preview of the content.  Often you will be prompted to jump to the full version on the original web page to read more. To organize your subscriptions, you can click on the lower left, the words at the bottom “Manage Subscriptions.” A second page will appear where you can rename, unsubscribe, create folders and more.  You can also make some adjustments, such as changing which folder a feed appears in, from the bar above the reading pane.  Once you create a folder structure, you can keep similar feeds together, under such headings as news, catechesis, liturgy, entertainment, hobbies, etc.   Google Reader also allows you to tag selected feed stories as favorites.

That sounds easy, right? Want to be prompted to check the Google Reader for new content daily?  If you are using IE 7 or above, or Firefox, which have tabbed browsing, simply create a new tab and go to the Google Reader, then add that tab to your browser as a permanent home page (click “Tools” on your browser toolbar, then “Options” and add the URL of the Google Reader to your existing homepage, separated by a semicolon.  That way, each time you open your browser, a tab for the Google Reader will open and you can see by a number in parentheses on the tab how many new items there are to be checked. Your items of interest are right there whenever there is an update – ready whenever you have a few minutes to check on them – and you won’t miss the great new stuff that content providers on your favorite sites have added.

Come visit Liturgy and Catechesis Shall Kiss, Joyce Donahue’s blog on the intersection of liturgy, catechesis and culture.

Religion Classroom Blogging


So, you have a good idea of what it is like to create a blog! You’re ready now to do something with your students. Where will you start?

I love this Edutopia article by Helen Echlin – Digital Discussion: Take Your Class to the Internet (or How to set up a blog in your classroom).

However, you’ll notice that the suggestions are not specifically for religion teachers. Yet, are there ideas that inspire us to figure out what we could do in a religion classroom with a blog? Of course – YES! We can adapt and use many of these ideas in our religion classrooms. There are many BEST PRACTICES in other subject areas. Read on and let your imagination be inspired to adapt these ideas so that they will “fit” your religion classroom.

Let’s begin this conversation of what could we do with a blog in the religion classroom! As I share some thoughts, I invite you to contribute your suggestions via the comments section. Following are some suggestions for blogging with your students:

  • It is important to have an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). Check here for a AUP Model. Remember, schools have been involved with technology for several years. Look at their best practices and adapt the language to fit your faith-based organization. The school office in your diocese may have a model format that is already being used in the schools.
  • Introduce “blogging” to your class group. If you are working with 8th graders, refer back to the Constructing Constructiveness: A Sample Blogging Lesson Plan note in the article. Revise this so that it fits your class. Remember, a wheel was invented “once” and since then it is constantly improved upon to fit the vehicle it is on. Same with blogging ideas, learn to see how Best Practices in other subject areas can quickly and easily be adapted to fit your class situation. If you are working with other grade levels, how could you adapt this lesson plan to fit your class?
  • Liturgical Seasons. Check out the online Liturgical Calendar for 2011 or the explanation of the Liturgical Seasons.  Set up the blog so that you are inviting students to blog about the current liturgical season. What does it mean for them? What happens in the parish during this time? Invite your students to take digital photos that show how this liturgical season is celebrated in the parish. Perhaps they would like to talk about one saint of the week (especially in Ordinary time) that they have learned something about. Write a very short article for them about the season and then ask specific questions that you would like them to respond to.
  • Saints: Set-up a page for each student. Invite them to identify the saint they are named after and to write a short article about the life of this saint. Invite students (you may want to assign students) to comment about each other’s saints. What did they learn about this saint? What is important about their lives that inspires us today?
  • Church Leadership: In order to help your students understand the various levels of Church leadership we have in the Catholic Church, you may want to focus on church leadership/membership in the Catholic Church. Here you can cover – Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Monsignors, Priests, Religious, Laity. Here is where you can direct your students to a variety of websites from the Vatican, Your Diocese, and Parish to locate the information you are inviting them to research. For links you would like your students to use, here is where you may want to use a “social bookmarking” website (More about Social Bookmarking in a future article). Create the group of links you would like your students to use for this assignment. It will save them time and direct them to good Catholic websites that are credible, reliable, and non-biased.

These are just a few suggestions for a class blog activity. As you learn more about blogs and engage your students in blogging experiences, we look forward to hearing your stories about what is working and even what may not have worked in your class setting.

Blog Poll

Online Collaboration & Communication Tools

I’m back to my desk after being very involved in the Interactive Connections Conference that was held in Orlando, Florida last week. In the near future I will share more about the conference.

Overall most of us have been involved in collaboration and communication while teaching or in our ministry endeavors. The Webster Dictionary states that collaboration involves- to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor. Yes, we do collaborate in so many ways! We love seeing each other and meeting face-to-face!

However, what is “new” for us is to be able to collaborate with others in an online environment. Most of us are unfamiliar with how to do this or may think that this option is beyond our budget. Some of us will come to this option with the mindset that – collaborating face-to-face (F2F) is better! So, we will not even have the desire to try the online option.

I would encourage the “Pioneers” in our midst to be the catalysts in their communities to engage others in online collaboration. The options are many! Most of the options are FREE. Check out Sean Aun’s article, Work Together: 60+ Collaborative Tools for Groups for suggested tools.

OnLine Collaboration

OnLine Collaboration

I will highlight some of the tools that Sean refers to and others that I’ve used successfully with other collaborators. I would invite those who have used any of the collaborative tools mentioned in Sean’s article (or any other tools) with success to share their stories with us.

Here are a few options for you to consider…

Doodle –  A collaborative way to coordinate groups for identifying a date/time for a meeting. All can easily collaborate to find the best date possible.

Google Docs – Here is the place to collaborate with others using word processing, spreadsheets, form building, presentation and date storage tools. How can these tools be used?

  • Documents – Invite your students to use Google documents to write a short essay. Show them how to share the document with you. You can add your comments and grade the reflection. Students can choose to create a digital portfolio of their work.
  • Spreadsheets – Invite a team of students to create a spreadsheet where they are sharing information with one another.
  • Presentations – Invite a team of students to create a prayerful reflection that is shared in class.
  • Use Google Docs to build a form with a text box (or text boxes) that correspond to question(s) you want students to respond to after class at home. Invite your students to input their thoughts into the form. This application automatically incorporates the feedback into a spreadsheet. Next class, have the printed spreadsheet in hand or show via your computer and LCD projector and open up a discussion based on what students have shared.

The gift of Google Docs is that students can work from the comfort of their home computers and collaborate creating their document at various times or at the same time of the day.

Blogs – Yes a blog is a collaborative tool! As a teacher you can focus on writing a weekly question, comment, or assignment where students are expected to comment and collaborate with each other in this virtual space. A blog can be a private or an open space for the students. You choose!

Glogster.Edu Simply put, a Glog is a kind of poster – fully designed by yourself! As a tool, a student can be creative using text, images, music and video. Think about a Who is Jesus exercise! To use in the faith-classroom, I would engage junior high students. What allows this tool to be collaborative is that others may comment on the Glog. Here is an opportunity for students to engage in a digital activity as well as to respond to other students.

John Kuglin sees presentation as another critical part of 21st century learning. It doesn’t matter what field you’re going into, you’ve got to be able to collect, organize, and pull your thoughts together—typically with a team—and then present those thoughts in a way that is understandable to other people. Collaboration and presentation are absolutely tied together.

I so appreciate what Andrew Marcinek has shared – One of our best resources as learners is our ability to connect. We can connect like never before and have the opportunity to engage with others from around the world on a daily basis. If we can learn anything from the web 2.0 generation it is that the ability to share and learn from each other is limitless.

With the many tools that are now available to us, it just takes time to explore and to see what works best for us. Here is another list of tools that you may find helpful.

Once you have used a tool for a project, come back and share your story. Many of us would love to hear what you are finding to be helpful to you in your ministry.

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