Catholic educators focus on technology

HOUSTON - More than 8,000 Catholic educators at the annual National Catholic Educational Association convention April 2-4 in Houston included catechists, teachers and administrators who teach preschoolers to high school students in cities and rural areas across the country and around the world.

One thing the entire group seemed to have in common was the realization that technology is a major part - or should be - of their daily work.

The convention included more than 60 workshops on technology and about 30 exhibits in the exhibition hall that promoted technology for classrooms and schools.

This year, the participants for the first time also could make use of an app for smartphones to search for sessions, speakers and exhibitors or find their way around the George R. Brown Convention Center.

"Technology is in the forefront for our members," said Karen Ristau, NCEA president. "Catholic educators are eager to bring the latest technological advances into our schools, parishes, colleges and seminaries. This convention provides a great resource for learning about new innovations from all these companies and networking with colleagues to hear what they're using as well."

Some of the technology workshops at the convention included:

- "30 Apps in 60 Minutes."

- "Catholic Classrooms Without Walls: Interactive Projects Connecting Catholic Schools Around the Globe."

- "Beyond Google: Helping Kids Find Good Health Information on the Internet."

- "Cyberculture: Social Media Troubles and Tribulations."

- "It's an iPad World, So How Do I Live (and Teach) in It?"

- "How to Start or Grow an Online Program at Your School."

Father Robert Barron, a Chicago archdiocesan priest who is rector of University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, and founder of a global media ministry called Word on Fire, gave the opening address at the convention, urging educators to reawaken their sense of mission and to use modern technology to do so. The priest is also the host of "Catholicism," a 10-part documentary series and study program about the Catholic faith - and he is a daily blogger.

Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, a member of the Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart and associate professor at the University of Dayton, a Marianist university in Ohio, urged the educators in an April 3 general session address not just to embrace new technology but to help today's young people find balance in the midst of it.

In an April 4 interview with Catholic News Service from Houston, Sister Zukowski, who is also the director of the Institute for Pastoral Initiatives at the University of Dayton in Ohio, said catechists and Catholic schoolteachers "need to be aware of how comprehensive the digital civilization is" and need to use it in their teaching but also contribute to it.

"We need to think outside the box, especially with faith formation," she said.

She said teachers should use Facebook, Twitter and blogs to explain elements of faith and "stimulate the religious imagination" but they also need to focus on how to "enhance the spirit of contemplation and silence" so young people will develop a "sense of deep communion with God and one another."

She noted that people today are on their phones "24/7 and always waiting for them to vibrate" and they even think that they vibrate when they haven't in "a fear of missing something." She warned that this constant communication or waiting for communication can block contemplation and the chance to "hear the voice of God."

Sister Zukowski urged the educators to "prepare students to have an encounter with Jesus" that can be the basis for their witness to others "in the digital world and the world we live."

Ristau, NCEA's president who is retiring this June, told CNS that working with new technology is a given for today's teachers, pointing out that one-third of Catholic schools in the U.S. today are paperless.

She said religion teachers need to use technology just as much as teachers of other subjects particularly since they need to tap into "engaging ways to pass on the faith."

Contributing to this story was Carol Zimmermann in Washington.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970