Digital Discipleship: Transforming Ministry Through Technology

Archive for November, 2015

So You’re Going to Be a 21st Century Catechist!

You’ve caught on and realize that the students in your classroom are Digital Natives with a smartphone or tablet in their pocket or backpack.  In addition to figuring out the best web applications or apps to use with them, here are some points to consider before you plan your lesson:

  1. Read your Diocesan AUP or RUP document. The Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) or sometimes called Responsible Use Policy (RUP) usually outlines the way the Internet can be used with students.  Helpful procedures and sometimes suggestions are included.  If you are unable to locate this document on your diocesan website, ask your parish leader or diocesan office for a copy.
  2. Review the “Terms of Use” and “Privacy Policy” of the tool or the website. These are the rules which one must agree to abide by in order to use a service.  Or, it can simply be a disclaimer when using a website.  What does the catechist want to be aware of? What information a site may collect about the user, age limitations, or is parental permission required. If you do not understand the terminology, check with your administrator.  It is helpful to let your administrators know what websites/tools you will be using with your students.
  3. WiFi is needed for BYOD. How your WiFi is set-up needs a professional who understands what is involved in the overall set-up in your parish as well as the school. To get on the BYOD boat, involve these professionals so that they become part of the secure-BYOD solution at your parish.  There are alternatives.  It is important to have secure BYOD.  Meet your parishioner/student mobile pastoral needs.  Help them to move forward to a better place.  Bring solutions to your pastor.
  4. Highlight the importance of Digital Footprints. The Cybersmart blog says “One of the great things about being online is the ability to share videos and photos with your friends and seeing their response.  Everything you post online combines to make your digital footprint. Remind students that what they create online contributes to their digital footprint. Guide students so that they are not compromising personal information.
  5. Involve your parish director, pastor, or diocesan office on web usage. Remember anybody today can create a beautiful website that appears to be a good Catholic website.  Make sure you seek out those who can guide you in choosing websites that represent the best in Catholic theology for the age level you are involved with. If your diocese or parish is lacking in this area, start the conversation.   If you are unsure about using something, ask your parish director, pastor, or diocesan leader.  There may be digital libraries available to you of vetted online material. If not, then…
  6. Completely vet the website or app before using. If the website or app has not been vetted, check with your parish or diocesan administrators for approval.  There may be a vetting form or process. Before you use this digital material, take time to review it and become acquainted with the content.  Just like previewing a video, you want to make sure that the site or app has good faith content and is age appropriate.
  7. Involve parents in the process. Parents normally provide their children with the devices they may bring into your classroom. It is helpful to let them know what digital activities their child will be using in your classroom. In the registration process, it is important to highlight your AUP (or RUP) and Privacy Policies. Remember that some web sites may need parental permission for their child to use the website. This is a good time to get the “Parental” permission you need for the class year. This is also a way to engage your parents to become partners and supporters of their child becoming a digital disciple.
  8. Incorporate good Digital Citizenship at all levels. Why is Digital Citizenship important? Even for Youngest Kids is an article that reminds us that our students are communicating in a 21st Century world. How we act and communicate today is very important in our being digital disciples.  There are helpful points to be aware of in the article so that you can help students communicate and collaborate safely and responsibly.
  9. Determine why the website and/or app is being incorporated into the learning experience. Remember that technology is not a “baby sitter” or to be used “to fill up class time.” As a catechist involved in crafting a well-designed lesson, we need to realize that our students come to our learning sessions with 21st Century Learning Skills.  How we adapt technology in our classes can be learned from those who are already engaged in technology integration.  You may find this article – Why Do We Need Technology Integration?  helpful!
  10. Become familiar with CIPA, COPPA, and FERPA. These are important rules and regulations that guide the education community. They are also important to the pastoral parish community. Click on the links and/or search the Internet to learn more about each of these topics so that you can learn why these areas are important for you and your students.

Technology provides multiple opportunities to provide learning experiences that are engaging, productive, and allows the student to learn.  Using a website or app provides you a way to engage your student in 21st learning experiences.  As you reflect on the ten ideas provided, you may have other ideas and comments to share.  Please feel free to share these via email, or comment, as I am always learning.  I trust that this blog post offers you a good starting place as you create exciting learning opportunities that integrates technology into your classroom.

Forming Catechists for the 21st Century

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Once upon a time I was a Diocesan Director of Catechetics!  One of our major tasks in the diocese was the training and formation of our catechists.  After working at the Diocesan or Archdiocesan Level for over 20 years, I would affirm that all diocesan leaders offer outstanding faith formation training!

However, as we continue to march into the 21st Century the element that is missing is related to faith-based educational technology.  Why do I say that? Because I am an educational technology specialist and I’ve observed what is happening at the educational level for elementary, middle, high school, and college since 1983!

All one needs to do is to attend a national or local educational technology conference, and almost immediately you learn that you are stepping into a digital culture, language, with needed skills you do not have.  Often the ministry visitor to a national educational technology conference feels like a foreigner in a foreign land!

So what do we do?  Here are a few suggestions:

Let’s develop National Faith-based Educational Technology Standards.  Why? Over the last 30+ years, the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) –   have driven what is happening in the educational area from kinder through university. I suggest that we model our standards on the NETS standards.  This way when students attending public educational institutions step into our learning environments, we will understand and know how to use technology for evangelization and digital discipleship. We need to learn from those who have blazed this wonderful trail before us.  It is a common vision, which currently is needed in the ministry world!

The New Media and New Evangelization.  As I read Archbishop José H.   Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, presentation to the Catholic Association of Latino Leaders in Houston, Texas he clearly states – I want to talk with you today about the new culture of communication and its implications for the Church’s mission of evangelization.  I am delighted with his approach and comments.  He clearly invites us to – …the goal of our mission to the digital continent is the same of our mission in every age and every place — to bring people to the beauty of encountering Christ, to the beauty of living in authentic relationship with him and our brothers and sisters in the Church, which is the family of God. However, to get to this point takes collaboration between those engaged in the ICT Triangle.

ICT Collaboration.  There are many ways to use technology in ministry.  Information Technology specialists are engaged in utilizing administrative and financial technologies at the diocesan and parish levels. Communication Specialists are engaged in a great deal of our public relations work that today also involves the integration of social media into our communication needs.  The educational technology specialist can serve at a number of levels, depending on their professional background.  When you Google – who is an educational technology specialist – you discover the following:

  • Aninstructional technology specialist facilitates technology use at schools and universities through a variety of interactive methods. Do we also need these specialists at the parish and with other ministries?
  • They assist faculty and staff with new classroom technology by developing tutorials, workshops and training sessions on new hardware and software, audio, video and graphics instruments. Yes, there is all sorts of available training, but is it tailored to our ministry world?
  • With an Education Specialist (EdS) degree in Educational Technology, you can initiate change in your classroom, at your school, or in your district. In our case you will be a leader in 21st Century faith formation experiences. Change is needed in the methodology of teaching the faith to our children, families, youth, and adults. Are we ready to adapt to the methodology that is already exciting our students in other subject areas? If not, let’s get degrees in this area to be the experts we need to be!

When I worked at the university level, I was in heaven (well almost heaven!) as the ICT Triangle was very operative here with three departments working collaboratively together – Information Technology, Communications, and Academic Technology.

So far in our church I see the following:

  • Diocesan Information Systems Conference – The Annual DISC Conference is the premier showcase for the use of information technology within the Catholic Church at both local and national levels. Members represent their Diocesan Information Systems Departments.
  • USCCB Communications Committee – The committee seeks to support the work of evangelization and faith formation through a comprehensive approach to media that includes media relations, media production and programming, policy, review of entertainment media, publishing, distribution, and licensing with sensitivity towards culturally diverse communities. I would venture to say that all diocesan offices have a Communications Department.
  • However, in the area of Educational Technology I do not see a concerted effort to hire these types of specialists at the diocesan level. Here in the State of Florida, only ONE diocese has an educational technology specialist at the diocesan level and she primarily serves the Catholic School Community.  In addition, there is no national group to represent educational technology specialists – except for the emerging Digital Disciple Network.

So, let’s find the folks who are interested in being or becoming educational technology specialists who are willing to collaborate and share with one another.  They are the folks who will be part of the training network that we need.

Becoming an Innovative Catechist in our Digital Culture

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A catechist in today’s learning environment – is challenged!  Why?  Their students are often engaged in some wonderful learning environments that utilize a variety of digital learning methods in their everyday schools.  Yet, when they come to the parish religion classroom, there are a number of challenges:

Experiences will differ.  Some parish programs have a wonderful relationship with their schools.  Technology like smart boards and WiFi are available to the parish program.  In some parish programs, there is a distance between the two programs, that is separated by a wall almost impossible to climb.  Most catechists in today’s digital world do not know or understand what is happening in the area of educational technology in our public schools. So, even if equipment is available they may not know how to use or there is an understanding that the equipment is only available to the school community.

Native student. Our students know and are comfortable with technology.  We often call them Digital Natives!  Instead of welcoming the digital tools (smartphones and tablets) that are in their pockets and school bags, we discourage them from using and/or ban them from bringing into the classroom.

Embrace the changing role of the catechist.  Are we paying attention to the changing role of the classroom teacher?  If yes, we will learn from and adapt what we learn from their everyday journey in the classroom.  The role of the teacher today is different!  They are no longer the sage on the stage but a mentor, coach, and more.  As a catechist, am I a spiritual guide who knows how to engage young people in evangelizing with digital tools? After all, digital culture is our youths “modus operandi.”

Empower yourself.  Take time to learn more about the digital world of our students.  Digital Discipleship Boot Camp is an option for you to consider.  It is an opportunity to not only learn about but to get hands on experience with the variety of tools that are available to you to use today in a learning environment.  Learning the digital world is a bit like learning a foreign language.  It takes time and practice to become fluent.  The more you use digital tools, the more natural it begins to feel.

A little learning can go a long way.  When you jump in with both feet, this changing learning environment can be overwhelming for a catechist.  So, what’s the secret to success? Go “inch by inch and eventually you can go yard by yard.” Instead of trying to do more than you can truly handle, find one or two things that will work for you and your students.  Later, you can expand your base of knowledge.

Every catechist is capable.  In working with adults in the Digital Discipleship Boot Camp, when I see comments like –

  • I consider myself a novice at most communications technology. I’m willing and excited to learn whatever I can.
  • I would like to know how to keep up with all the new technology that seems to keep developing every day.

I am delighted, as it is possible to learn something about this ever evolving digital culture, language, and gain new skills.

WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?  We are challenged today to be innovators in classroom methodology.     How we teach and share the faith will change.  We simply need to adapt to the world as it changes around us – best “inch by inch.”  Becoming a Digital Disciple is important today!

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