Where Two or Three are Texting: Incarnation and Sacrament in a Virtual World
The young people in our schools and parishes are increasingly citizens of a virtual world where they carry out many traditionally “physical” activities, including living out their faith! Other Christian communities are experimenting with “online church.” What is an “online church” and is it an option for Catholics? How does the “digital continent” influence the way we prepare young people and catechumens to receive the sacraments? This webinar will explore these questions and offer some avenues for appropriate use of digital technologies in living our faith.
The webinar is co-sponsored by the National Conference for Catechetical Leaders, the National Catholic Educational Association, and the National Association for Lay Ministry. You can sign up for this free webinar at https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/307966088.
A few times a year I get manila envelopes in the mail from other diocesan catechetical offices. Every time I wonder “What is this?” And then it dawns on me: it’s another paper office newsletter.
I’m a bit bewildered why, in 2013, catechetical offices are still mailing physical newsletters. Part of that is my own history in diocesan work. In fact, in many ways I was fortunate: when I joined our diocese the catechetical office didn’t have a newsletter so when I instituted one it was simple to just go digital from the start. Still, there are some good reasons to make the move from a “dead tree edition” to an electronic newsletter.
Stewardship Diocesan offices are the beneficiaries of the generosity of our parishioners and donors. It behooves us to do as much as possible with these gifts by exercising good stewardship. Moving to an electronic newsletter cuts down on production costs by eliminating printing needs (including paper and ink) and postage charges. It also reduces our impact on the environment by keeping newsletters out of landfills.
Increased Production Values The paper newsletter I get are simple black-and-white affairs. By contrast moving to an online newsletter frees office from the constraints of ink costs and allows for the full use of color, photography, layout, typography, and design.
Utilizing Connectivity It can be hard to direct readers to the many wonderful online resources. By switching to an online newsletter it’s a simple matter of embedding a link into the document. This reduces the “friction” (resistance to movement) of getting people to a given resource by eliminating the process of manually retyping the URL in a browser. (And be honest — how often do you do that?)
Better Tracking Metrics How many people read your dead tree newsletter? That’s hard to tell since we don’t know how many wind up in the waste bin. Electronic newsletters, on the other hand, allow administrators to track the number of times the link opening the newsletter has been clicked. While this still isn’t a perfect metric it’s a lot better than the “shot in the dark” of a piece of mail sent into the world.
There are plenty of ways to go about producing an online newsletter. Our office uploads a PDF document to a free Issuu accountand emails the link to our email list; we include a link to the raw PDF so that recipients can print out a copy if they desire. Services like MailChimp and FlockNote create attractive email newsletters that are easy to set up and maintain.
For those of you worried that your parish catechetical leaders “of a certain age” still want to read your newsletter on dead trees, you can always maintain a separate list of people who opt-in to receive a physical copy of the newsletter. This will still cut down on the amount of paper and postage while getting them your information.
Use of electronic newsletters will surely grow in coming years. Starting sooner rather than later will help diocesan offices grow more comfortable with the technology and use it in the most effective ways.
It should come as no surprise that technology is an increasingly important component in education. But how can catechists makes use of these tools without breaking the parish’s budget? In this hour-long webinar Jonathan F. Sullivan will outline three simple strategies for using low-cost tech solutions that are approachable and appropriate for parish-based catechesis. He will also walk you step-by-step through three sample activities that utilize these strategies. Parish and diocesan catechetical leaders will also receive tips on how they can help catechists use technology responsibly.
Thank you to everyone who participated in my webinar “Using the Parish Web Site to Power Adult Faith Formation” sponsored by the Adult Faith Formation Committee of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership! Here are the notes and links I mentioned during the presentation as well as the PowerPoint slides; I’ll have the video up as soon as it’s available.
The truth is, having worked on a number of conferences, I understand why wifi isn’t a priority. For one, it’s expensive. (Seriously; ask a convention center or hotel how much they charge for wifi. Just be prepared to pick your jaw up from the floor.) Second, most leaders still don’t recognize that internet connectivity is increasingly akin to a utility. You wouldn’t hold a conference without electricity or running water, would you? And finally, conference planners believe that either very few people will use it or that so many will that the connection won’t be stable. Either way, why ask for the hassle?
The truth is that internet connectivity (by which I mean wireless connectivity across most of the conference space, not a room with some ethernet plugs) is a must-have for modern conferences. Here’s three reasons why:
Offering wifi allows participants to help each other. Increased communication among conference attendees means that they can help each other with both mundane questions (locating restrooms, good restaurants in the area, etc.) as well as more esoteric concerns (which breakout sessions are worth attending, what’s the keynote speaker’s web site, etc.). Both of these can help relieve the stress of already harried conference organizers by helping participants assist one another without the need to track down staff.
Offering wifi encourages people to spread your message. I love it when I see people on Twitter sharing insights and questions from conferences they are attending. Most conference even distribute an official conference “hashtag” in order to help participants connect their communications with the conference. (Last week’s NCEA conference in Houston used the hashtag #ncea2013.) This helps non-participants see the value of attending the conference and may influence their future conference attendance.
Offering wifi lets presenters and exhibitors get creative. One of the most frustrating experiences I ever had speaking at a conference was arriving to give a tech demonstration only to discover that internet connectivity was only available in a side room away from the room where it was supposed to be held. Demonstrating live web resources (and incorporating them into presentations) is vital for many presenters, and limiting where internet connectivity can be had puts a damper on our ability to most effectively communicate how to use these tools.
What reasons can you think of for conferences to offer wifi?
One of the concerns I often hear when talking about digital tools and faith formation is that it’s impossible to form relationships online. I this this is a false assumption with a grain of truth — in fact, I think the internet can form and strengthen relationships in two ways.
First, new media helps connect people who may never have an opportunity to meet face-to-face. My own experience on Twitter and blogs has led me to connect with dozens (maybe more) of catechists and catechetical leaders from all over the world. The insights, resources, and support I have received from them — and I hope returned — have been invaluable to my work and ministry.
Second, new media helps us to strengthen existing relationships by connecting us to our friends and family even when they are physically removed. Stefana Broadbent offers some examples in the video above; personally, I love the story of the family who uses online video to have dinner with family members on the other side of the world!
Of course, neither of these types of connections are as intimate or strong as true face-to-face interactions. But in an increasingly mobile world they are better than being completely disconnected. (I recently heard someone say that we may be entering an era when we no longer have “former friends” — just people we moved away from and now connect with online!) Managing these new forms of relationships will be tricky, but they demonstrate the power of new media to form and strengthen relationships, even if they don’t reach the “more perfect” types of face-to-face relationships we need in our lives.
In case you missed it last week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has released a new online version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). This is something that has been a desperate need — while there have been work-arounds for making a robust online catechism available, having an official version from the bishops is a very positive step forward in the USCCB’s social media and technology initiatives. Is this version everything we could have hoped? No, but it’s pretty good. Here’s some specifics.
The online Catechism has a simple layout: a table of contents on the left, hyper-linked to the headings. It’s a pretty long list; a collapsible menu structure may have been preferable, but also would have made it harder to browse to find the section you’re looking for. A nice touch includes alphabetical links to sections in the Glossary and Index.
On the right side of the screen is the text of the Catechism itself. It’s wide enough to be readable without onerous amounts of scrolling. The headers and paragraph numbers are set off from the text and in bold type, so they are easy to scan. All in all it’s a very readable presentation of the text.
Of course there is room for improvement. I know it would have added work, but I would have loved to have seen the footnotes hyper-linked to their respective texts. At the very least the biblical citations should link to appropriate section of the USCCB’s online New American Bible — this would go a long way towards making a true online reference.
Another major drawback is that, from what I can tell, there is no easy way to link to specific sections of the Catechism. Browsing through the Table of Contents doesn’t change the URL. You can right-click and copy the URL from the links in the Table of Contents, but that only takes you to the text of that particular section without the search bar or Table of Contents. Bloggers and other online evangelists will find it difficult to point people to specific citations; hopefully this feature will be added in a future update.
The most important aspect of the online Catechism is its search capability. How does it work? Remarkably well! The search bar is always accessible at the top of the page and returns searches quickly. Ten search results are returned on the right, with two lines from the revelant paragraph displayed. Clicking on the title of the paragraph brings a popup with the whole paragraph and a “read more” link to the paragraph within the Catechism.
The one drawback is that the search only recognizes whole words; “episco” won’t find any matches, but “episcopal” will. I hope this will be updated in a future version so that we can search for word roots as well as whole words. But that’s a pretty minor quibble.
Of course, in today’s day and age, you have to develop for mobile. I checked out the online Catechism on my Motorola Droid Pro and my office’s iPad. The phone worked better than I expected. I oriented the phone in landscape and had to zoom into the right side in order to read the text comfortably, but not so much that it cropped the text on the left or right. The book looks great on the iPad in portrait but especially in landscape. I suspect that this will become my favorite way to access the site.
That having been said, the fact that the Catechism still isn’t available as a standalone app is maddeningly frustrating, especially for those of us who live and minister in rural dioceses. When I’m in Quincy — one of the major population centers of our diocese — I have no 3G connection (thanks to Verizon’s less than stellar coverage) and so I have no way to access the Catechism in a parish unless they have wi-fi (which very few parishes do). There is a huge need for a completely downloadable Catechism app for iOS and Android that contains the layout and search capability of the online version. The new online Catechism can only be viewed as a stop-gap measure until such an app is available and I hope that the USCCB is working diligently and swiftly to make that happen.
When I heard last month that the USCCB would be launching a new online Catechism of the Catholic Church (and has plans to launch the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults) I was skeptical. I intentionally kept my expectations low so as not to be disappointed. Thankfully the USCCB has given a great resource that, while not perfect, goes a long way towards making the Catechism more accessible and user-friendly. A Catechism and New American Bible app — or better yet, making those texts available to app developers — must be the next step to truly make these foundational documents available to a 21st century audience.
Following are some of the materials from my presentations at the convention. It was a privilege to be asked to address the conference. If you were there I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments!
Embrace New Methods
This is the audio and slides from my Tuesday morning TED-style keynote address. I apologize for the poor audio quality; the session was taped and I’ll post the video here as soon as it is available. You can also download the slides from my presentation.