In Episode 10, Deacon Matt and Steve discussed the essentials for a catechetical curriculum. One of these essentials was that a curriculum is blended to include both print and digital resources, supports multiple models of catechesis, and allows for remote capability in an unpredictable and changing world. (You can revisit their takeaways on this topic!) Within these essentials, there are a few key considerations that will help you evaluate potential tools and systems to support digital catechesis: program oversight, variety, simplicity, and safety.
There are new systems that are designed to help directors and catechists easily manage your catechetical program, your lessons, and family catechesis.
Google Classroom™ is a suite of online tools that can be used for learning and instruction. Catechists can set up classes in this platform, and parents and students can log in and access classes from any device. With discounts for churches and non-profit organizations, this may be an affordable option for parishes and schools. With the suite, everything is found in one place. In some cases, Google Classroom™ might integrate with other learning software you are already using, like a learning management system.
Canvas is a learning management system for an entire learning community. More sophisticated (and more expensive) than Google Classroom™, Canvas allows administrators to take a high-level view of the students in their program class by class, grade by grade, and student by student. Canvas is popular in the academic side of learning. Schools (including private, charter, and public) rely on learning management systems like Canvas.
ParishSOFT is a church management system or software designed to manage communication with all your parishioners. This option can track people in your programs—the children and their grade levels, catechists, parents, families—and manage all sorts of records (like tithing and sacraments), but it's not really designed to deliver instructional content, assign assessments, or collect scores and offer reporting for any of the actual instruction or learning that's taking place in a catechetical program.
Christ In Us
Sadlier’s Christ in Us combines capabilities offered in the tools above with a learning management system built into the textbook, including all the instruction and assignments. With an administrator view, it offers the high-level data needed for easy program oversight—how to implement this program in your school or parish setting, program goals, pastoral care of families, prayers for particular circumstances, and models. But additional instructor, student and parent views offer portals for those community members to access courses, assignments, and information while the administrator maintains oversight. It is designed to provide a lot of insight as to what's happening in the program at multiple levels.
Digital resources are important for student engagement and offer enhancements over a static print text to help today’s students connect to faith content. This goes back to the benefit of blended options in a current catechetical program that Deacon Matt and Steve tackled in Episode 10. When you’re considering a variety of digital resources, you want to think about lesson resources, family resources, and catechist resources.
Dynamic eBooks allow students to read textbook pages but offer enhancements over print such as annotation tools and embedded digital content, like audio and video. Printability can enhance this tool as eBooks can be accessed anywhere on multiple devices, making them easy to use when students are not in the religious education classroom.
Video is an amazing digital resource that can support catechists who are preparing for lessons and need a refresher of concepts, or to use as a teaching tool for families at home or students in a flipped classroom approach to religious education. Videos might be instructional, to build on faith content in a lesson, or prayer support like visio divina. Regardless of the type, it’s important that all videos are age-appropriate and short, and followed by a meaningful activity to help students make connections.
Engagement and digital resources are not only important for students; they are important for catechists, too. Catechist formation is a great opportunity to integrate technology, especially when it’s delivered at point of use, when catechists are preparing for or giving a lesson. Technology can make preparation very simple for catechists (e.g., an audio or video recording with background) and more meaningful (e.g., meditations and prayers designed for them).
A Single, Secure Site
There are many digital tools, resources, and applications available out there. If you’re using multiple tools, a huge challenge can be managing them all at once. There are two considerations here: that you’ve got a single site for your tech resources and that this site is safe. You want digital resources in a single place that guarantees a secure online environment and secure communication.
Implementing a series of unique digital tools or applications means getting students to log in at multiple web addresses or URLs with unique codes or credentials. It also requires involving parents in this process. This approach can work, but it takes a lot of time and communication by both administrators and catechists and is tougher on parents. Having all your tech tools and resources at a single site, with as few logins as possible, is really beneficial for busy program participants.
An important consideration of any tech tool or blended program you might implement is safety. It must provide a safe environment, via a password protected, private website. It should also not allow students to leave the secure site and accidentally or distractedly end up on a website that is not intended or appropriate. And it should prevent staff from communicating directly with individual children.
When you're evaluating your program for the next year of religious education, you will want to use these suggestions from Deacon Matt and Steve to find the best, simplest, and safest tech tools for catechesis so that you can implement an engaging and effective blended approach next year!
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