Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC is the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA). She has been a high school tech coordinator and graphics design teacher and also taught middle grades math and science in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York City.

by Sr. Geralyn Schmidt

With technology now thoroughly ingrained in every aspect of society, educators face a challenge unprecedented in our history. How do we truly prepare student for jobs in the future that don’t even exist today? How can we know “what’s next”?

As the Wide Area Network Coordinator for the Diocese of Harrisburg (PA), educators within the Diocese look to me to be the voice of “what’s next?” I often laugh at that. How am I supposed to predict the future? Here at the Diocese we are new to Web 2.0 tools. Very new. Last year we received a $1.7 million telecommunications grant to build a fiber network and provide services to 39 of our participating schools. This Wide Area Network stretches across 15 counties within the south-central part of the state of Pennsylvania and serves over 10,000 students.

After the build-out was completed, we launched an extensive professional development program and marketing campaign to “get the word out” to every teacher and student within our schools. It was amazing to experience the moment that the grant’s instigators (Diocesan Technology Education Committee, Education Department and IT Department) realized our classrooms now touch the world. We are no longer limited geographically. For me, this moment just echoed our education mission statement, which reads:

“As the Catholic Schools Office of the Diocese of Harrisburg, we envision education as a lifelong process that can actualize the full human and spiritual potential of all people, calling them to discover, internalize, proclaim, and live the Gospel message and to grow in faith.”


A new world is opening up in our classrooms

Over the past year, our teachers and students have used Skype, shared digital stories over the web, blogged, used wikis to good effect, created videos of learning experiences, constructed classroom websites that are now more interactive, staged on-line puppet shows, launched Distance Learning classes, conducted video conferences between schools, and even begun an Olympic collaboration project among St. Columba Catholic Schools in different regions of the world!

We have interviewed authors and collaborated with scientists and mathematicians. Many of our principal meetings, technology meetings and department meetings are now held on-line via Elluminate. This summer, our parishes are beginning to use this technology, since we are now offering catechetical instruction in addition to educational professional development classes online.

I am amazed by how much energy and enthusiasm many teachers have brought to their classrooms as access to new technologies has emerged. Our teaching not only stresses the basic skills of reading, writing, math, speaking and listening, but through the use of these tools, we’re able to increase opportunities for our students to think creatively, problem solve, make decisions about their learning, collaborate, negotiate, communicate, lead, and be active participants in a team. These are all essential skills required in any job today and in the future.

In addition, as teachers and students within Catholic Schools, the foundation of what we do and say must be anchored onto the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is rooted in a cultural climate that supports personal self-esteem, self-management, and personal responsibility. Our students are taught about Digital Citizenship not merely according to the way society defines “good,” but through the teachings of the Catholic Church. A document called “Ethics in Communications,” penned by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, says that

“More than just teaching about techniques, media education helps people form standards of good taste and truthful moral judgment, an aspect of conscience formation. Through her schools and formation programs the Church should provide media education of this kind.”

So our students are not only “educated” in a formal sense, they also are given the opportunity to become moral citizens in a global community.


We need patience as new thinking takes hold

I can hear many of you say, “Come on! You mean to say you have 100% buy in to this process by every teacher?” My response to you would be, “Ahh, no, I wish!” I am reminded of the words of the foundress of my community of religious sisters, the Sisters of Christian Charity. Pauline von Mallinckrodt was a visionary educator in the late 1800’s who began schools for the blind before Braille and established a kindergarten program in her region of Germany. She writes:

“We must have patience with beginners. Every one of us had to begin once – and it is a very good work to help beginners in their difficulties, because their initial training is of great importance for all their future activity.”

As I travel throughout the diocese talking, encouraging and teaching teachers, I see both attitudes — “I want to learn new technologies, please teach me,” and “I am too old to learn something new” — and strive to bring patience to my work.

As educators in the 21st century, we must model lifelong learning, and not be reluctant to say to our students (who often understand more about the tools than we do) “How did you do that?” We are creating a culture in which collaboration is cross-generational, a climate in which no ONE individual knows everything. This adds on to the skills that we teachers normally teach and allows our students to become teachers as well.

Bottom line: How do we prepare students for the future? By keeping our eyes on the fact that we are all in this together … learning together … creating together …. sharing ideas …. EVERYBODY … the entire World.

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