Friday, February 4, 2011

The Gift of Technology - Online Connection and Learning

Just spent an entire day online in a virtual meeting that was not only exciting and engaging but well worth spending a day on: the annual Diocesan Partner's Convocation for University of Dayton VLCFF (Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation) the brainchild of Sr. Angela Ann Zukowski.   Originally, I had planned to drive to the event, as I had for the past 3 years, but the weather in the Chicago area had other ideas this year.  Actually, except for missing out on the great food, participating through the Virtual Conference Center (VCC) with pretty much half the people at the meeting was almost like being there.

Perfected over the last couple of years, the VCC interface, typical of many webinars in style, is the face of things to come. We could see the PowerPoint, a video and sound feed of what was being said by presenters and those with microphones, and at the same time, could chat with the moderators and other online participants.  In that way, we were able to engage in real dialog with others in the room.  Obviously, this kind of gathering has many possibilities for distance faith formation in the future.

What did I learn today? Quite a bit.  I heard about finalization of courses for the lay ministry formation and youth ministry certificates.  I heard about plans for growth and future certificate programs and courses. I heard about an openness to updating the technology in the original message-board and internal email interface to provide an experience attractive to young adults - and about many other plans... but I also heard a commitment to keeping courses at a basic level and remaining true to the original vision of the VLCFF - to make faith formation accessible to nearly everyone with access to a computer, no matter how slow the connection.

What emerged from the reports and dialog was that the VLCFF is growing rapidly - with increased use across the board each year - including the near-doubling of participants in Spanish online courses in the last year alone.  Registration for the current cycle is over 900 students - from dioceses all over the world.  VLCFF expects to break the 1000-mark soon.  Courses are inexpensive - participants from member dioceses get a discounted price of $30 for 3-week seminars and $40 for a 5-week course.  (Even if your diocese is not a member, the top price for a course is only $90.) Offerings are varied - Catholic belief, scripture, liturgy, media, Christology, ministry competencies, prayer and lots more.

New offerings will include a liturgy track - with one of the first new courses coming later this spring: an online  course on the Revised Roman Missal, created by Sr. Joyce Ann Zimmerman.  (More news about that when it is available)

As a regular facilitator of VLCFF courses myself, I have to say, this is really great stuff.  Where else, for a low dollar amount, can catechists, Catholic school teachers, liturgy committee members, RCIA team members, and Catholics who want to learn more about their faith meet and share with others from all over the world, while engaging in reading and sharing about great faith-related topics?  Why not check the link above - and consider becoming a new student!

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