Virtual catechesis is a remote approach to catechesis that integrates digital technology during the faith formation process. Virtual programs are implemented primarily online and require programming adapted to this format. In virtual learning for children’s catechesis, online formation can be provided in a variety of modes and models, including synchronous and asynchronous learning, and offerings that range from fully virtual to blended or hybrid. These options can sometimes result in a confusing landscape of seemingly infinite choices, but they also provide huge opportunities to catechize in innovative ways!
Of course, virtual catechesis must do remotely what it strove to do in person. It must support catechists and children in going beyond learning the truths of the faith to provide opportunities for encounter with Christ, accompaniment, and opportunities to live out faith in real life and in real time within the context of community and Church. In the 21st century, virtual community is a community context we must consider. Today’s disciples must be prepared to be missionary examples in the physical and virtual world, and therefore the skills they must possess include digital discipleship.
Despite challenges, there are many reasons to implement virtual catechesis. The global coronavirus pandemic and its implications for health and safety led to restrictions and guidelines that limited in-person learning in schools and parishes. But there are other reasons that virtual learning can be a wonderful alternative to in-person learning, such as for those experiencing disruption due to other factors like weather, for those who are located in rural areas that prevent regular in-person attendance in faith formation and sacramental preparation, for those who are homebound, and many others. Supporting children and families with digital evangelization efforts for the 21st century is another reason that virtual catechesis can support today’s children and families as missionary disciples.
Virtual catechesis and distance learning are important components of flexible and modern religious education programs, but schools and parishes and their individual staff and volunteer members have different levels of readiness. Whether you are a “Digital Newbie,” “Virtual Pro,” or somewhere in between, you can start to implement successful virtual catechesis. The key is knowing where to begin so you can take actionable next steps. Start by assessing your readiness for virtual catechesis.
As always, begin with prayer! The next step is finding a program that will help you implement a blended or fully virtual model for catechesis that includes built-in digital systems and tools. Or, you can adapt your existing catechetical program by integrating technology and virtual offerings that will support catechesis. There are so many tools available to support catechesis. You can evaluate these tools based on your own needs and their benefits to your particular program.
If it’s not built into your blended or virtual program, you’ll have to consider your approach. A flipped catechesis model has many benefits. In this model, students and families do before class what is usually done during class. The synchronous time can then be used for deeper discussion and questions. Implementing this model may offer some key benefits to the families and children in your Catholic religious education program, including opportunities for intergenerational catechesis, more dedicated class time for students to explore and discuss their Catholic faith, as well as increased connection and engagement with families. Finally, the approach really lends itself to the use of rich multimedia resources and can be applied to all ministries.
Building community online can be harder than in person, but it’s a worthwhile investment. Here are ways to build community and improve communication in virtual learning. Begin by communicating clearly and openly with parents to involve them in the process and program. Take the time to set expectations and let them know how and when you will be communicating with them and how they can reach key people in the school or parish. Give them resources for home. Remember, technology is only a tool! It cannot replace the people who make up your community and the communication among its members. You may want to consider using social media as a tool to grow your network and reach your community as well! (You can also connect with Sadlier Religion on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to join conversations and discover trusted, timely resources, lessons, and products to help you in your homes, ministries, and religious education programs.)
Any kind of virtual learning raises questions about access and equity. It’s important to communicate with each family to be sure that they have what they need to be successful in virtual catechesis. This may include access to WiFi, a device on which to learn, the necessary programs, and required software updates. Here are important things to keep in mind to make sure your virtual learning approach to catechesis is equitable for all the students in your program.
In many virtual settings, children are working in shared spaces. Remember that in many homes there are multiple devices and there may be connectivity issues and interruptions for some students. Be flexible and prepared to provide support with regards to connectivity! Provide options to ensure families are comfortable and prepared for virtual catechesis.
Each family is different and just as programs must be adapted for some children and families in your catechetical program, they must also be adapted when learning is virtual. Be sure that any platforms, programs, tools, and activities you choose have adaptations for students in your program or classroom with special needs and learning differences so that everyone is included.