From Mary Rothschild: Technology and Media in Religious Education?

Yes, that’s a question mark. Education in American society is at a watershed moment evidenced by “flipped classrooms,” synchronous and asynchronous online learning and the exchange of resources and information via social media, Google tools, along with “gamification.” Religious education is no exception and there’s no doubt, as Bud Horell points out in his blog post on this site, that new technologies facilitate preparation and communication for religious education and can bring that community’s message to a wide audience.

However, this is a pivotal moment for what MIT researcher Sherry Turkle calls “realtechnik:” a healthy skepticism about linear progress and a willingness to assess both possibilities and problems from technology use, to “step back and reassess when we hear triumphalist or apocalyptic narratives about how to live with technology. It encourages humility, a state of mind in which we are most open to facing problems and reconsidering decisions.” (1)

What questions do we need to ask?

Particularly when we focus on imagination, there is a need to be specific about several things:

What age group is addressed? Often the term “children” is used for all from birth through at least age 12. There are real and compelling developmental considerations in different age groups, especially around the use of screen media.

What group is being addressed as teacher, as learner? In “Total Catechesis/Religious Education: A Vision for Now and Always,” (2) Thomas Groome points to an ideal coalition of homes, schools and parishes which engages every member as both teacher and learner. There is no more compelling model for a child than an adult or older child who is truly engaged in a spiritual search. How does use of technology facilitate or impede that direct connection?

So, how to use the enormous potential of technology? When does it help and when does it deflect from the most important interactions around faith? I look forward to exploring these questions with you at the conference, particularly with Kristen Treglia at the pre-conference workshop on Technology.

Mary Rothschild is adjunct instructor in the Communication and Media Studies Department at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus and Founder/Director of the non-profit organization Healthy Media Choices.

Mary Rothschild mary [at] healtymediachoices [dot] org

1. Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. 1st ed. Basic Books, 2011. Print.
2. In Groome, Thomas H., and Harold Daly Horell. Horizons & hopes: The Future of Religious Education. Paulist Press, 2003.

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2015 Annual Conference: A Focus on Teaching

Our mission statement begins with: “The mission of the Religious Education Association is to create opportunities for exploring and advancing the interconnected practices of scholarship, research, teaching, and leadership…” At the 2015 Annual Conference we will begin with a focus on the practice of teaching. A concern for teaching is one of the most distinctive aspects of religious education of an academic field.
Emilie M. Townes, Dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School and E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of Womanist Ethics and Society, will begin the conversation. Emilie is also an ordained American Baptist clergywoman. Drawing insight from her academic teaching as well as her pastoral preaching and teaching, Emilie will offer a reflection of how we can teach imaginatively, and how we can encourage students to imagine a more just world through our teaching. Emilie will then discuss the imagination and teaching with Thomas H. Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College; and Laury Silvers, Instructor in the Department for the Study of Religion and the Department for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Toronto. Tom Groome is a senior scholar in the field of religious education. Laury Silvers is a well-established scholar in the study of Sufism, the Early Islamic Intellectual Tradition, women and gender in Islam, and progressive Islam in North America.
The conversation with Emilie, Tom, and Laury should prove to be a rich ecumenical, inter-religious, cross-cultural, interdisciplinary, and inter-professional dialogue about imagination and teaching that invites and inspires us to think about teaching and religious education in new ways.

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An Exercise in Imagining

John Roberto begins his new book by stating: “What does it mean to reimagine? Dictionaries define it to ‘reinterpret imaginatively,’ ‘rethink,’ ‘imagine again or anew,’ ‘form a new conception of,’ or ‘recreate.’ Reimagining Faith Formation or the 21st Century is true to these definitions. I this book I rethink and recreate a faith formation for the twenty-first century world. In so doing, I am proposing a ‘new conception’ of faith formation that is faithful to our continuing mission of making disciples and promoting lifelong growth in faith – designed for people in the twenty-first century” (Naugatuck, CT: LifelongFaith Assocaites, 2015, 1, emphasis as in original). The book invites readers to take into account the challenges facing faith communities today and, then, to reimagine the ecosystem, models, and foundational understandings of educating in faith within our contemporary, postmodern era. The book is a valuable resource for all who are concerned about how communities educate in faith. On a broader level, the book highlights the power and potential of imagination to reshape, renew, and re-energize our understanding and practice of religious education in local church communities today.
As we prepare for the November 2015 REA Annual Conference, I recommend the book to you. It can help us to think about the potential of imagination to disrupt taken for granted understandings of religious education, make new connections between everyday life and Christian faith, and even transform the ways we think about educating in faith.

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2015 Pre-conference Workshop on Technology

In a recent conversation with Gabriel Moran he noted that his wife Maria Harris would have been delighted by the new information technologies available today for use in teaching/learning environments. Gabe noted that Maria used to spend hours putting materials on slides and making slide show presentations to use in her teaching. For those of you who knew Maria, can you imagine how she would have made use of the art work now accessible on the web? Even better, what would Maria have done with a Flickr account, game based learning, augmented reality, and 3D printing?

What new information technologies do you use in your teaching?

We will begin the 2015 REA Annual Conference with a Pre-conference Workshop on “Using Technology to Spark the Imagination in Classroom and Online Teaching/Learning.” The workshop is designed for both beginners and those who already have some experience using technology in their teaching. Our presenter will be Kristen Treglia, Fordham University Instructional Technologist. Look for more information about the Pre-conference on this web site in the weeks and months to come.

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Share our meeting flyers!

Plans continue for our next annual meeting in November, to be held the 6-8th in Atlanta. We now have two versions of a flyer that you can download and print, or send to friends and colleagues electronically.

This is a great way to start a conversation about our organization, and invite people to consider proposing a paper or workshop.

Remember that the CFP deadline is May 1st.

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Art and the Imagination

In Releasing the Imagination, Maxine Greene points out that aesthetic experience requires us to move consciously beyond ourselves to notice what a work of art has to offer, that is, to notice how a work of art stirs our thoughts and feelings and can invite us to experience something new (124). In this way aesthetic experience can spark the imagination.

To help us begin to prepare for the next REA Annual Conference and, perhaps, to think about developing a proposal to present a paper or lead a colloquium or workshop session, I invite you to spend some time viewing the banner art on the 2015 Annual Conference site.

There are three original works of art by Seattle artist Todd Lown that serve as banner art. One depicts nature and the imagination, another presents the theme of technology and imagination, and the third presents the intereligious imagination.

As you spend time with the works, what thoughts and feelings are stirred within you? How might your experience of these images spark you to think about the imagination in relation to your work as an educator, religious educator, and/or practical/pastoral theologian?

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Religious Education and Imagination

The primary theme for the November REA Annual Meeting 2015 is “Connecting, Disrupting, Transforming: Imagination’s Power as the Heart of  Religious Education.” I invite you to think of this theme in relation to your own life and ministry. Specifically, I ask you to consider: Within your areas of work and academic interests (focusing on religious education in schools, faith communities, higher education, or some other setting), how has or how can a focus on the power and life-giving possibilities of imagining open up new horizons or spark creative energy for religious education?

The secondary theme for the annual meeting is “Imagination as the Heart of Religious Education.” We have come together at our past annual meetings to explore educational and religious educational themes in imaginative ways. In preparing for our annual meeting, I invite you to go beyond what we have done in the past, and to reflect upon imagination as the heart of religious education. Additionally, I ask you to consider how a focus on the role of imagination in religious education can enable us to connect with one another across the divides created by our diverse, social and religious contexts and our many differing religious educational interests. I invite you to envision the REA Annual Meeting 2015 as a celebration of the field of religious education, and a celebration of our common commitment to imagining the potentially life-giving and transforming power of religious education within the church and the world.

Beyond the foci on “The Power of Imagining” and “Imagination as the Heart of Religious Education,” I invite you to consider the following specific themes:

  • Teaching and Imagination in a Global, Postmodern Age,
  • Reaching out Imaginatively to Contemporary Youth and Young Adults,
  • Interreligious Education and Imagination,
  • Imagination and the Educational Use of New Information Technologies, and
  • The Contemporary Environmental Crisis as a Challenge to the Religious Imagination

As critically important issues of the times in which we live, these themes will be explored in the annual meeting Plenary Sessions. As you consider submitting a RIG, Colloquium, Workshop, or Poster proposal, I suggest that these might be especially relevant topics for our REA Annual Meeting 2015.

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Our date and location are set!

The date and location for the REA Annual Meeting 2015 have been set. Join us on 6-8 November 2015 at the Atlanta Marriott Buckhead Hotel & Conference Center. Visit our accommodations page for more details.

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