By Claudia Mathis
Tamara Beal, a junior at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School, has developed a strong faith in God. She owes much of that development to an online faith formation course she took last year at St. Helena’s in Sherrill. Beal was confirmed this fall.
Andrea Slaven, Eastern Region Director of Faith Formation and teacher at St. Helena’s, created the three-week mini course entitled “Finding God.”
“I wanted to get the kids to contemplate — to find a deeper meaning of their faith,” Slaven said. As part of the coursework, the class of 20 students were encouraged to search for God in the world around them.
“I really liked it,” said Beal. “It allowed me to be independent and think for myself and to not be pressured by my peers.” She said that she felt more comfortable sharing and being open about her faith when she responded to questions online. “It’s a good way to get your own personal relationship with God,” Beal said.
For the last year, Slaven and Cheryl Smith, Resource Center administrator, have used technology to reach out to teens and adults in an effort to develop and deepen their faith.
The two women recently attended the national Interactive Connections: Digital Catechesis Conference in Orlando, Fla. where they presented a workshop entitled “CaTECHesis: Out of the Classroom and Into the NET.” They explained the basics of creating a blog page and the educational implications of creating online courses. They also gave some examples of the structures used for online courses. Smith shared the course design of the online course she created, “Power of One” and Slaven did the same for her course, “Finding God, Part One.”
Slaven said that their presentation was well-received by the 30 people who attended. “It was an honor to present it,” said Smith. “We also feel very honored about being invited back to next year’s conference as presenters.”
Slaven and Smith were invited to present at this year’s conference by Sister Caroline Cerveney, SSJ, who is creator and chairperson of the event. She was impressed with the women’s technological expertise when she attended a workshop they presented at the Journey of Faith Conference in Syracuse last September. The workshop explained how to creatively use technology for catechesis and evangelization.
Stephanie Mosher, catechetical leader at St. Joan of Arc in Morrisville and a co-teacher of the confirmation classes at St. Joan of Arc and St. Mary’s in Hamilton, attended the workshop at the Journey of Faith Conference. She was inspired to create a blog page, which she is now using with her high school students.
Mosher said that the biggest advantage of utilizing the blog page is that it affords some flexibility to the students. “They have such busy schedules, they can’t come to all the classes,” she explained. “This way, they can complete the work on their own time.”
Smith, who teaches faith formation to 10th graders at Church of the Annunciation in Clarks Mills, said she has received lots of positive feedback from both parents and students who have used her online course. “The kids can work at their own pace and they can talk more freely about their faith,” said Smith. “It gives the kids that are more introverted a chance to express their feelings. It also gives parents an opportunity to see what their child is doing.”
Smith developed “The Power of One” because she wanted her students to be involved in their community and she wanted the community to be involved with them as well. “I thought they would retain the information better if they did it online,” Smith said. The students chose a project and met in class every three weeks. An online session was held between each meeting.
Smith has also started an online book club for adults, an extension of the book club which meets at her office. They are reading A Jesuit’s Guide to ‘Almost’ Everything authored by James Martin, SJ.
Smith said she has added a “Catechist Corner” on her church’s web site offering inspirational videos.
After attending many workshops that broadened their knowledge of how to implement today’s technology, Slaven and Smith are busy preparing a series of workshops and onsite training sessions to be presented throughout the diocese. “We learned a lot and now we’ll be able to share it,” said Smith.
“We’d like to see more of the parishes take advantage of the ability to evangelize and catechize via the network,” added Slaven.