The Digital Technology Divide: What Does it Mean for Catechists?

30719394There’s been an article buzzing around on Facebook that deals with the “digital technology divide” in education. The article presents the fact that, since this generation (digital “natives”) is the first to grow up completely surrounded by digital technology, they think and process information differently than us digital “immigrants” do. In particular, the article states that “Educators must relinquish the idea of being all-knowing and replace that concept with an attitude of being a facilitator, knowing that the world of information is just a “click” away.”

Take a look at the article yourself, which raises more questions than it offers solutions.

I’d love to hear what you think the ramifications are for catechesis!

About Joe Paprocki 2742 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at


  1. I think I am insulted once again! I would be categorized a “digital immigrant.” I remember Atari, worked with DOS, and didn’t ever have my own phone growing up! I worry VERY MUCH about the popular teaching philosophy that seems to be encouraging students to create their own collective truth in classrooms. I do want students to know how to find information and check those resources for validity. I do want students to be in a dynamic, collaborative environment, but do I need to text them the content? We are losing something when we rid ourselves of teachers, “know-it-alls” and authority. What is wrong with being an expert in your field? Most parents want the best, most knowledgeable teachers for their children. Are we focusing too much on want children want and entertaining? Are we giving in to communicating in sound bites? We are preparing them for life: it is not always entertaining and can be difficult. What is wrong with a child listening to someone for awhile? They need to learn to slow down, focus, yet still be engaged. I do think we need to address the boring ways we teach, but I have heard many speakers and teachers of the faith that can keep my attention for an hour or more! (Btw, they didn’t even have a PowerPoint!)

    • Donna, I think that using technology in catechesis is a long way from having students “create their own collective truth.” The truth that the Catholic Church teaches can indeed be found at numerous reliable Web sites…is it not possible for us as catechists to consider ways of helping our students explore these sites in our classes? I would love to have Internet access in the room I teach for RE so that I could show my students the Vatican Web site, the Web site for the Archdiocese of Chicago, the Website for the publisher of our textbook, and a host of other quality Catholic sites. Why do we dismiss this as some form of capitulation to entertainment? This is not about entertaining students, it’s about engaging them in the most effective ways to learn: engaging them in the ways that THEY learn. It’s not enough for us to say that when we were their age, we sat still and listened and learned. The fact of the matter is, today’s generation DOES learn differently. I agree that kids need to slow down and listen and I think that the person of the catechist is indispensable. However, we also need to engage them in ways that they are accustomed to learning.

      • I agree with everything you said along with your comment to Christian and may not have represented my opinion or concern well. I do not think that technology is bad or that we can’t utilize it for our students. I do use it and try different creative ways to engage students. I have read research that shows the “digital native” is less “connected” than technology is supposed to promote. It has isolated people. There has been a lot of bad press of bullying and suicide because of misuse of technology. I am all for reaching kids where they are and using technology. I just worry that we will become too worried about using technology and lose our message. I have read the blog about your PowerPoint, books and think that is great. We could definitely use more effective ways to reach kids with our faith. We also need to keep in mind Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Not all students learn in the same way. We need to address all styles of learning and development. While one student doesn’t read well, another may not learn well visually and want something on paper, etc. When one of my daughters (“A” student) was in middle school, she realized that she had trouble taking the standardized test for reading comprehension on the computer. She asked for a printout of the reading selections. She reads better from paper than on a screen. Her district gave that option to everyone. I just want to see our classrooms as a balance including both quiet times, skits and activities, and technology. Our culture does portray the Church as outdated. We aren’t though. Our faith is relevant. Pope John Paul II made a huge difference in this area. There are great souces out there and interactive kids websites that could be used in a classroom. As a CCD catechist of 11 years, with only 1-1/2 hours a week of class time and maybe only half of our students going to mass, I don’t have a lot of time and realize that technology can help. I can barely use the Catholic School teacher’s desk, let alone the fact that we don’t have computers. We have a tv in the class but I don’t know if we have wireless access. What if you don’t have technology to use? My biggest problem is that a lot of kids say mass is boring. They aren’t used to sitting still and listening. I don’t think they understand what is happening in the mass really. How do we address the difference between our fast-paced technology culture and the reverence and importance of the mass that has no “technology?” If we don’t show that there is “life” without technology, how will they know it? We have very little peace in our culture and lifestyles. Christ said He came so that we might have peace. It is His gift.

        • Thanks, Donna. This is a robust and worthwhile discussion! I must emphasize that I’m as big an advocate of silent and shared prayer as I am of using technology in the classroom! I think we need to provide them with peace and community to offset the noise and individualism of our society.

        • with only 1-1/2 hours a week of class time…”
          Hey, hey Donna, I get 55 minutes on a good night; can you and the kids function for 90? How old are they?

        • I think I was supposed to put my reply to Christian here but it might be at the bottom! Haven’t really blogged before!

  2. This comment came via the LP Website from Sondra:

    Come into my classroom, sit in rows, remain quiet, listen to me, and I will pour all the knowledge I have into your brain. That quote is my first problem with this article.
    No catechist worth anything would start from this premise. Catechesis should be a co-learning situation. It should be interactive (questions and dialogues). I was trained to start where your learners are and then move forward. I try to tell my learners that I will share with them my knowledge and understanding until we reach a mutual point and then we ll walk together into the unknown.
    Sondra Hoffman

    • Sondra, I certainly agree with you…I took that first sentence as hyperbole. The article is suggesting that kids today are conditioned to find the truth in places beyond the teacher and the textbook. Are we willing to embrace that and lead them to those places (i.e. quality Catholic Web sites, etc.) where they can find the truth that, in days past, could only be accessed through us and/or the textbook?

  3. I was more impressed with the comments than the article: one straw man after another, knocked down. Wow. Remarks like this don’t help him a bit:

    “Many educators today still teach with the premise of being all-knowing. Technology-illiterate educators may teach under the premise of, Come into my classroom, sit in rows, remain quiet, listen to me, and I will pour all the knowledge I have into your brain.

    I have 5 kids, 4 of whom grew up in a digital home, in the Digital Age; their ages run from 22 to 18. My wife & I get more real information from the net than my kids do by a factor of 10, to be conservative. Mostly they Facebook and YouTube. Big deal. Compared to them, my wife and I, and (I hope) their teachers are indeed ‘all-knowing.’ My kids are bright, but really don’t know squat yet.

    God forbid that people like this have anything to do with my kids educations….but somehow, I think they do.

    With respect to good online sources of faith, I can recommend oodles, but I teach 6th graders, so that doesn’t come up much.

    • Christian, thanks for weighing in. As I mentioned in my reply to Sondra’s comment, I’m reading that line (“Come into my classroom…”) differently. First, I see it as hyperbole. But more importantly, he’s not suggesting that the kids have the knowledge but that they are now accustomed to gaining access to knowledge through technology as opposed to accessing it through any one person (the teacher) or the textbook. I don’t see him suggesting that teachers relinquish their responsibility of passing on the truth but rather that they embrace the fact that they and the text book are no longer the only medium through which knowledge can be accessed. Our challenge is to welcome technology into our learning spaces and to facilitate processes by which kids can access the knowledge that formerly was only available through us and our textbook. I believe he is suggesting that teachers demonstrate their mastery of the topic they are teaching by showing how information about the topic can be found in a variety of places in the digital world. To me, that’s no different than a teacher or catechist showing their mastery of a topic by directing the kids to turn to page 40 of a textbook…the textbook alone will not teach, but the catechist knows how to identify the important points and bring them to life. Are we not capable of doing the same thing with technology? Intead of saying, “turn to page 40 in your textbook,” can we not say (if we had Internet access in our classrooms) “go to and let’s take a look at…”? The difference is that the kids would be interacting with the knowledge in a manner that they are most accustomed to: through technology.

  4. When St. Francis Xavier went on his missionary journeys, he didn’t speak foreign languages or dialects. He, too, was an “immigrant,” preaching to “native speakers.” It was very likely all new–and difficult–for him, too. As catechists working with today’s learners, we’re not that different from missionaries going into foreign lands centuries ago. But the language we need to learn–quickly–is technology. Like it or not, we need to start understanding and processing information the way our students do. It’s not “giving in” to them. It’s simply accepting a new challenge, just as the missionaries and evangelists did.

    • Well said, Connie. It’s not a matter of using gizmos just for the sake of it…it’s using technology to help young people access and process information in a manner that suits their learning style which is rapidly becoming diferent from “our” learning style.

  5. While I think the article is a bit naive in how it portrays teachers, I find some validity to it. I remember my days of learning as a child in the classroom (seems like ions ago). It was textbook, discussion and assignments. Computers worked on DOS and cell phones were bigger then Maxwell Smart s two shoes combined. If you exclusively try that methodology today, it doesn t work very well. Why? Because, information is available differently, more easily and more rapidly. Who needs books when you can have a Kindle? Who needs to go to the library when you have Wikipedia?

    I agree that we need to take advantage of the new way of sharing information. I think the Church agrees that we need to take advantage of the new way of sharing information too. I think the article doesn t give us credit. Is it fair to say that technology is progressing faster than educators can incorporate it? Probably. It is dangerous to commit to a technology that can change, disappear, or go out of favor tomorrow? Absolutely.

    The article doesn t address the opposite though. What does this blazing speed world of information do to our students? They live in a world of sound bites. You get everything condensed but don t really understand it in any depth. When you try to get deep, you risk losing your students.

    We have a responsibility to get our information across in a different way, but we also have a responsibility to not short-change our students either. Learning is not always fun, but it doesn t have to be boring all the time either. In my opinion, the article misses a major point Balance.

  6. I don’t think that CCD needs to be boring! At our parish, we have a new program designed by my DRE for 1st – 6th grade. We are taking our concept to different parishes now. I have been helping my DRE with the creation of a new CCD concept that involves breaking up the time into 15 minute lessons or activities alternating between teachers within the classroom. It gets the kids moving from subject or activity more often. We are trying to create a dynamic environment.

    • Donna – wow love the 15 minute idea for grades 1-6. We do that during our 1 week summer bible camp. 20 min. video w/theme song; 20 min. bible story of the day; 20 min. craft reinforcement or game reinforcement; 20 min exercise; 20 min snack; 20 min back to classroom to finish thoughts for the day; 10 min to reassemble, sing theme song, say goodby. Is it fun!!! Lots of work but the kids love it and so do the parents. At the end of the week, we have a kids Mass, hot dog barbecue that the Knights do for us.
      Can you give some addtl. info on the 15 minute idea that you are taking to other parishes. I live in Temple City, CA. (teach 5th grade). thanks

  7. “Who needs to go to the library when you have Wikipedia?”

    This makes a point for me: neither my own kids, nor the college students my wife teaches, think they need to read books to learn, or do research at the library, both of which are fabulously stupid notions. My wife received one recent ‘research’ paper that was 77% cutnpaste from the net, according to a proprietary software tool the school provides for her use.

    Between the Internet sloth of my children’s generation, and soporific hours spent in darkened rooms staring at Powerpoint, which is being read out loud to me by the ‘speaker’ for God’s sake, I am very pessimistic about America’s intellectual future. I know there are occasions when technology can help educate, (e.g., smartboards…I love ’em) but most of my experience with it in the classroom has been very negative.

  8. Donna… I think the problem is you are calling it CCD. If we get rid of that mentality, I think we can have a more productive conversation.

  9. “I think the problem is you are calling it CCD. If we get rid of that mentality, I think we can have a more productive conversation.”

    I don’t understand this…can you elaborate?

  10. I also, like Donna am involved in a 1st-6th Faith Formation program at our parish. But we require a parent to be present also to “teach” their child(ren). I believe it is the way to go because many of our parents need to strengthen their own understanding of the faith. It shows the chidlren, you never stop learning about your faith and God. Trying to find the right balance for all ages is very difficult, but we love it because it can be viewed as a “spiritual date night for the family”. It will take time to have a great program, but I feel it is the best way to continue with children and adult faith formation.

    • Diane, I’m curious how you get the parents to come to the classroom – and where do you put them? We have up to 15 – 17 students per class in our elementary program. And, our day school routinely does not have twice that in desks. I’d love to hear more about the logistics of it as well as the reception from the parents. I am struggling to get parents to do the take home pages with their children – and to bring them to Mass. When we have our parent meetings in the fall, Mass attendance is stressed as a vital part of faith formation – and… our second graders have to sign in weekly at Mass for First Eucharist prep. How did you get them to come to class with their child? What happens when there is more than one child in a family? I am so intrigued by the concept. We are beginning to institute more Family Enrichment activities – and in another year, attendance at a minimum of two per year will become a required part of the program. Parents do need to work on their faith formation.

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