Learning about Jesus online at any time

Bishop Anthony G. Bosco

Many modern technological advances like television, the computer and the Internet can be used for good or evil. In themselves, they are neither moral or immoral. It is what human beings do with them that matters. Only human beings can sin. I heard a computer whiz use the acronym, "GIGO" (Garbage In, Garbage Out). This is to remind us that humans are responsible for the content. The Internet can be used for transmitting information and it also can be used, as it unfortunately has been, for immoral and vicious purposes. Don't praise or condemn your computer. It just does what it is told. Well, at least most of the time.

One of the wonders of the Internet is a rapidly-developing area called "distance learning." Although many schools, colleges and universities offer various courses, one of the pioneers has been the University of Dayton in Ohio. Its Institute for Pastoral Initiatives has introduced the Virtual Learning Community for Faith Formation (VLCFF) under the directorship of Mission Helpers of the Sacred Heart Sister Angela Ann Zukowski, who has a doctorate in ministry. Sister Angela Ann, an old friend of mine, has been the guiding genius behind this effort. The VLCFF states its purpose as "a new initiative to offer adult religious education and faith formation anytime and anywhere via the Internet." A number of dioceses, including our own, are partnering with the University of Dayton as co-sponsors of these courses.

Each course consists of four or five weekly sessions. Some courses can also be used for certification if they meet the diocesan requirement. The advantage of this type of learning is that students can access the course materials any time during the day or night at their convenience. Many do this in the wee hours of the morning. Most of the students are already busy people and do their assignments when they can find the tune. A few courses require the purchase of a book; others have the reading material online. To participate, students need a computer with Internet access and an e-mail address. In the partnering dioceses, courses presently cost $40. For others, the cost is 75. The courses can be helpful to catechists, religion teachers, RCIA participants or any adults interested in enhancing their faith.

Courses currently available include Church History 1 and 2; Jesus; Media, Faith & Values; Sacraments; Scripture 1 (Old Testament); Scripture 2 (New Testament); Media and the Moral Imagination; Catholic Beliefs; and Catholic Schools. I have always enjoyed teaching in a classroom. When Sister Angela asked if I would be interested, I said, "yes" rather quickly realizing this would be a new experience. Technically, I am known as the "facilitator." The title of my class is "Images of Jesus, a Study in Christology." I did not have to design the class. There are five sessions: The Many I mages of Jesus; Jesus' Message in the New Testament; Jesus in Today's Theology; Jesus and the Cross; Our Liturgical Life: Encounters with Jesus. Each course has a pretest, quiz questions to be answered after the readings and a final assessment. The answers to those items are sent directly to me, and I respond directly to the student. But the students also can communicate with one another in each session by posting on bulletin boards entitled Reflections or Growing in Faith. I can communicate with the entire class at one time or with each student one-on-one. So can the students.

The computer design of the class makes it very user friendly. The student merely has to fill in the boxes on the screen, push the button, and, presto, I have their work and am able to comment.

I have students in the class from Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, New Mexico, and three from the Diocese of Greensburg. Some are teachers. All are seeking to grow in their knowledge of Christ. Most have told me they find it very enjoyable. Some have already taken other courses. One woman, taking her first course, said she was a little worried about the technology, but felt assured that since she had teen-agers in the house, they could help her conquer the computer. But the course design couldn't be easier even for first timers.

Teaching the course has been a real joy for me. I have watched students grow in their knowledge and, therefore, their love of Christ.

One of the frequent complaints I hear from clergy and religious educators concerns the difficulties in finding appropriate methodologies for adult education. They try many programs in the parishes. People are very busy, pulled in many directions. I believe that for many of our adults who are eager to learn and grow in their faith, distance learning is an excellent opportunity since they can do it at their convenience.

Are you interested? Sit down at your keyboard and go to this site: http://www.udayton.edu/~vlc/. You can learn all about the opportunities.

Come on in, the water's fine.