SCRANTON — When the coronavirus pandemic spiraled out of control in early 2020, the Diocese of Scranton needed to suspend in-person services, including faith formation activities and religious education for students and families.
Serving more than 317,000 Catholics, including more than 14,000 students, the Scranton Diocese — one of the largest in the United States — was faced with the daunting task of finding a virtual platform that was flexible and easy for parishes to use.
Religious education programs throughout the Scranton diocese were greatly aided when the Diocesan Office for Parish Life (OPL) decided to partner with Faith Alive! powered by Edmodo, a web-based learning management system, encouraging parishes to consider using it any way they choose.
Jacki Douglas, Diocesan Director of Word and Lifelong Faith Formation in the Parish Life Office, shared, “Like most of us, the Diocese never planned on extended closures of in-person services. The unprecedented stay-at-home orders was deemed a threat to the attendance and very way of life of parishioners and those dependent upon the Diocese.”
Douglas also recognized that while some parishes might have hoped to return to in-person faith formation classes, many wanted more flexible virtual options for continuing classes during closures or to enhance learning when in-person services could resume.
Finding quick success with a small group of parishes, the Parish Life Office quickly made Edmodo available to the whole diocese and is extremely pleased with its first experience.
The learning platform allows parishes to continue religious education online, including the ability to conduct classes virtually, manage lessons and curriculum, and make resources available to students and families. It also allows the flexibility to learn completely virtually or in a hybrid model and both in-person and online activities, while quickly bringing religious education communities online with easy, user-friendly tools.
As the Confirmation coordinator at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in Brodheadsville, Terry Talbott is acutely aware of the many challenges the year 2020 presented to Catholic religious education.
“I was worried about how we could continue to prepare the students for the sacrament when forced to meet remotely,” she admitted. “Edmodo not only allowed us to host virtual classes, but also gave us the ability to make important forms and information accessible to students and parents in a secure, transparent way.”
Talbott explained how the parish’s DRE and she devoted great time and energy to “create classes,” focusing on getting families enrolled in the religious ed program. A step-by-step sign-up document was developed, allowing most parish families to “get connected.”
“We also had to present the information to our catechists and introduce them to the platform,” Talbott continued, commenting that while many parish religious educators were familiar with Zoom video conferencing, quite a few were apprehensive about teaching virtually.”
Talbott lauds those catechists who, though at first intimidated by using a virtual platform, were determined to continue in their ministry. “I am so proud of the determination and dedication of all our teachers during this year,” she remarked.
As the year progressed, Talbott explained, many catechists incorporated videos and worksheets into their lesson plans and were able to share websites such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB.org) during their classes to illustrate a concept.
“I especially liked the connection to my classes that I had between sessions because I would post follow-up information and instruction for parents on our class page,” she explained. “I also loved the library function because it was a central repository for all the necessary forms students needed, and I could direct them there easily.”
Talbott also extolled Edmodo’s “messaging function” and how, when Our Lady Queen of Peace transitioned to in-person learning for sacramental classes, the platform allowed the parish to continue to provide classes for the small percentage of students and families who chose to remain virtual.
“I’ve been super happy with how I’ve been able to use the platform,” she said. “We intend to continue to use Edmodo next year, even as we return to in-person catechesis. It’s a great tool for communication regularly to our families and supplementing the relational ministry with our students.”
Currently, more than 3,000 students, parents and religious education staff across nearly 120 Scranton Diocesan parishes utilize Edmodo to communicate and join in faith formation activities online — and to come together in a time when it’s needed more than ever.