The whole world seems to be going digital, so should faith formation?
An exploration the virtual world of education provides many examples of how technology can be used for the digital catechesis of our children at church or at school. It also raises many questions of effectiveness versus entertainment, and even the question of too much technology being harmful for our most valuable resources, our children.
Of course, too much of anything is potentially harmful so let’s approach digital catechesis assuming a balance of technology with traditional communication, relationships, and pedagogical approaches.
In his book, Deep Learning for a Digital Age, Van B. Weigel asserts that “the use of technology in higher education should enrich and extend the student’s exploration of new territory.” (xii) Basically, if learning technologies do not “deepen the learning experiences of students, they are not worth much.” (1) Of course Weigel goes on to suggest specific conditions on which deeper learning is achieved, but that is not our focus. The point here is that we cannot use technology for the sake of using technology. It must (1) draw people together as a learning community, not apart from each other; it must (2) provide opportunities for looking at things from different contexts; it must (3) help them learn about learning.
Drawing People Together in a Learning Community
One of the greatest actions contrary to Christianity is that we would become outcasts and marginalized. Worse would be to cast someone aside because they didn’t have technology, or because they couldn’t keep up so have to go to the computer for individualized instruction. Technology should not only be for the “haves” nor should it be used as a punishment for remediation. Of course, this is more of a risk in a school setting than a parish setting but drives the point that the use of technology should be something that we share and that builds the community in the classroom. One way I use technology in the classroom is for the support of learning scripture and prayers. Have students break into pairs or small groups and create drawings, paste pictures, or even create a collage or scene on a PowerPoint or similar software. The creations should reflect one part of a scripture or prayer. When sequenced together they can be photographed and assembled as a sort of digital storybook. We even have students read the scripture or line of prayer and record their voices. When played back, everyone tunes in and marvels at the creation they made as a learning community!
Providing Opportunities for Contextual Learning
One of the challenges I have as a parish catechist is the limitation of time and abundance of content to cover. With 75 minutes of class and 60 minutes of actual instruction -if I’m lucky- it seems like we can barely cover the content on a surface level. We can read and I can explain, but deeper learning is really a challenge. With the use of digital technology I can summarize concepts, show short videos (usually from YouTube), show a different video (also usually from YouTube) and discuss other contexts in which the concept takes on new meaning. Let me explain! While introducing the Ten Commandments to our fourth grade class last year, we reviewed what they were and I showed a cute lego style video setting up the scene with Moses. We finally covered the actual commandments with this video. The combination of activating prior knowledge with the opening discussion, with the context of Moses, and then covering the actual commandments went a LOT further than anything I could have said or they could have read. I truly believe this leads to deeper understanding through a variety of contexts.
Another approach that utilizes technology for deeper learning is that of the flipped classroom. Flipping classrooms is essentially putting the homework before the class thus freeing up instructional time for more activity-based learning. You may read more about it here.
Learning About Learning
Another challenge is any educational setting the ability to take information and transfer it to another setting. This is called metacognition. In other words, its about thinking about thinking, or how to think, and developing self-awareness while learning and actually learning how to learn. Its easier than it sounds. Think about morality. Christianity is all about morality! Everything becomes a moral decision when you think about it. Drawing from the Ten Commandments we think about the fourth commandment: “Honor Your Father and Mother.” If we think of this literally we do what they say, and don’t do what they tell us not to. But what about when the situation arises when there is grey matter? We have the opportunity to teach them to become obedient to the rules, or to think about the reason for the commandment, rule, or law, and make prudent decisions based on right and wrong, as well as conscience and consequences. Once they become aware of looking at why certain things are the way they are, they develop higher level thinking skills and begin to transfer these skills to other areas of life. So how do we use digital technology to do this? In this example we could ask students to research the Ten Commandments online and list examples of following them. Or, we could have them research headlines in the news and apply which commandments would apply to specific scenarios. Another possibility is to ask them these ethical dilemmas for kids. By utilizing the Internet in these examples, students will be learning about learning, increasing their higher level thinking capacity, and learning the lifelong skill of transferring knowledge to other life applications. These aren’t the only options for digital catechesis, but get the ball rolling. What are some aspects of digital catechesis you have used effectively?