As Saint Mary Seminary begins the spring semester, we are well underway in our preparations for reaccreditation by the Association of Theological Schools and the Higher Learning Commission that will occur some time in September/October of 2015. Each school begins the process at least two years in advance since the final reports to each agency are due the semester before the visit (May 2015). The seminary faculty recently began a pre-visit initiative required by the Higher Learning Commission. This initiative builds on the integration of technology into our formation curriculum. Since the Program of Priestly Formation (5th edition) states that “contemporary pedagogical methods that incorporate technological advances should be encouraged (#234), the seminary has begun a concerted effort to use technology in its teaching and learning.
Last semester, faculty and seminarians received iPads as part of a gift from the Bishop’s Brunch Fund to bring academic life into mobile life. We also have updated bandwidth and made the entire seminary wireless. This permits the seminarians, lay students, and permanent deacon candidates to access technology throughout the entire campus. We would like to see this initiative as our response to the late Pope John Paul II’s call for the new evangelization that requires “new ardor…new expressions…new methods” in the digital world of the 21st century. By linking technology into the formation program, the seminary is helping our faculty and students hone skills to intentionally engage and evangelize the new media culture, and to use it effectively in their future ministries.
What are some of the ways faculty and students are using technology? The most noticeable difference is that we have to some extent gone — paperless. Memoranda, monthly calendar updates, course syllabi and class handouts that previously required reams of paper, printing, and collating are now shared electronically between faculty and students. Some faculty present their lecture notes from the iPad. In turn, many students type their notes and organize class lectures on their laptops or iPads instead of carrying several notebooks and bulky folders. Another important advantage of technology is Internet connectivity. This provides access to unlimited resources and allows interaction with experts beyond the classroom. This semester, one professor brings guest lecturers into the classroom through the use of Skype. In this case, students are able to interact with the author of their course textbook, who is hundreds of miles away, but is live in the classroom by way of video conferencing. Faculty and students are able to download reference books, such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Documents of Vatican II and biblical commentaries that have user friendly applications for cross referencing and easy access to footnotes. In some cases, required texts for courses are available in electronic format and are less expensive than a paper copy of the textbook. The iPad has a simulated bookshelf application so faculty and students can organize and quickly access textbooks and journal articles.
The seminary library provides a password protected electronic link for faculty and students to the holdings catalogue. This provides immediate access to the library collection and is especially convenient when one needs to do research outside of library hours. Since the seminary library is also affiliated with Ohiolink, books not held in the library’s collection can be requested from other libraries, and then picked up at the library during the next drop off date (which is usually two times a week). This process certainly expedites research, making it more convenient and effective!
As part of the new initiative, the faculty hopes to integrate technological applications that encourage higher-order thinking skills to help our seminarian’s creativity in the academic environment, particularly in the areas of analysis, critical thinking and writing. Students can be instructed during class to access the Internet for online research. A scripture class can access maps or an archeological site. A church history class can easily download a picture of a cathedral that had special significance for the medieval theology. Students are able to share an electronic copy of a written assignment with the entire class as the teacher posts it to the projector so the entire class can review. The list continues with unlimited possibilities as students and faculty incorporate new methodologies for teaching and learning.
Technology also helps with assessing our student learning outcomes and the effectiveness of our degree programs. The fifth year seminarians preparing for priesthood ordination recently used the video camera in their iPads to present to the faculty how they have integrated the human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral domains of their formation. They accessed class projects, papers, and video clips from homiletics and liturgy classes from an electronic portfolio maintained during their last four years in the seminary. Faculty access a password protected electronic site to assess student performance in the classroom and enter data to help maintain the quality of the degree programs. The data collected allows us to assess our degree programs. Certainly technology can never replaces human interaction and personal contact for those learning skills necessary for a ministry of presence. Nevertheless, engagement with technology provides new venues that reach people who need to hear the good news about the gospel and our Catholic Faith.
Many of our newly ordained priests have created a mission-based webpage that responds to questions about the faith; gives access to their homilies throughout the liturgical year, and electronic access to the events of parish life. This tool is a necessary part of evangelization. Our seminarians are technologically savvy. They come to us from a culture that is media saturated. By engaging the technology and utilizing it with intentionality,
I hope that our seminary will prepare not only effective priests but new evangelists who can embrace the culture using new media to effectively preach and teach our Catholic Faith.
Rev. Mark A. Latcovich, Ph.D. President-Rector