Verbum, the Catholic version of the bestselling Logos Bible Software, has created a program to provide $5 million in grant money to help high schools implement its new religious-education curriculum.
The new program called “Lumen” is a four-year series built to connect the classroom textbooks directly to powerful Verbum software, which integrates the Bible, catechisms, original documents, writings of the Church Fathers and many other resources.
As Alex Renn, Verbum’s marketing and operations team leader, pointed out, “Rather than trying to digitize a textbook, we are writing it with the expectation that students will have access to a collection of key texts, so vocabulary words are links, and reading assignments open books as well as study tools.”
The Lumen program is built software first, rather than creating a textbook and then trying to connect it to digital resources and tools. Verbum’s search features, hyperlinking and myriad visualization and analysis tools make it more than merely a collection of texts.
The software runs on PCs, Macs, iPads, iPhones, Android devices and Kindle Fire, which means students will have access to all of the material wherever they are.
In addition, the curriculum is integrated with Verbum’s Faithlife social-media platform to help facilitate questions, discussions and projects.
“Our Lumen curriculum is an entire integrated learning platform that allows a student to explore the faith in a dynamic way,” said Robert Klesko, Verbum’s Catholic educational-resources product manager. “Most high-school theological instruction gives you a textbook and a Bible. The Lumen program gives you that, plus a digital theological library of over 200 classic Catholic titles. Now, students have access to the documents of Vatican II, the YouCat and the encyclicals of John Paul II in their entirety. All the citations in their textbook are live links, which allow a seamless transition into the primary or secondary-source documents.”
“This, along with embedded catechetical videos from Catholic Answers and Word on Fire, biblical infographics, the ability to share notes and questions through our ‘Community Notes’ and a host of other software tools, allows for a very dynamic presentation of theological material,” he added.
The Lumen program is being created to meet the goals of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ document “Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework.” That framework outlines a four-year, eight-semester course of catechetical instruction designed to rectify the poor catechesis often found in current Catholic education.
The bishops have not been directly involved in developing the program, but Klesko said “they have been very supportive and enthusiastic about the project. They have been very helpful in explaining to us their conformity review process, which we are currently undergoing.”
The U.S. bishops’ outline calls for six core semesters covering the revelation of Christ in Scripture, who is Jesus Christ, the Pascal Mystery, the mission of the Church, sacraments and life in Christ. The other two semesters are reserved for electives in history, Scripture, discipleship, ecumenism and vocation.
While “Doctrinal Elements of a Curriculum Framework” lays out the theology viewed by the bishops as essential for an informed faith, it does not claim to be a complete curriculum.
Verbum decided that this theologically precise document would benefit from the tools and resources found in its software.
Marie Pitt-Payne, chairwoman of the theology department at St. Joseph Catholic Academy Upper Campus in Kenosha, Wis., is involved in evaluating the Lumen program and cites the links to the framework as useful in ensuring that her students are meeting the bishops’ benchmarks.
“Verbum helps me as a teacher,” observed Pitt-Payne, “but also enables my students to do quality research in a ‘safe’ environment. When teaching the Catholic faith, I have to give my students specific sources or they will resort to Googling for research. The sources they can end up utilizing through Google can be incredibly inaccurate. Within Verbum, you have a sufficiently extensive but also completely solid environment to cut students loose to really engage with the richness of Church teaching — which is an incredibly enriching experience.”
Kevin Clemens, a religion teacher at Benet Academy in Lisle, Ill., agrees: “The ability to move seamlessly within Verbum from the Scriptures to the Catechism to the writings of the popes and Church Fathers has greatly improved my ability to develop dynamic lessons. My hope for using Verbum more widely in the classroom is that my students not just study about Jesus Christ, but, rather, encounter him head on in the living word as we receive it from the Church.”
The goal of the grant program is to get schools up and running with the new program. It covers a one-year trial of the freshman courses and provides freshmen and faculty with the textbook materials and the Verbum software.
To qualify for a scholarship, a school must currently have or be in the process of implementing (for fall 2015) a 1-1 technology or bring-your-own-device program. This means that students must have a computer or mobile device provided by themselves or the school. In addition, the school will be responsible for a $2,500 fee for Verbum to fly out a trainer for intensive faculty training.
This is a new kind of venture for the Logos/Verbum software family.
It springs, said Klesko, “from a deep need in secondary education. So many schools are transitioning to technology programs which require a laptop or tablet for all instruction. Publishers so invested in paperback books were not responding with the kind of high-quality digital resources that are expected, especially for the vital task of theological instruction.”
“Verbum’s thought, as being a digital-first company, was to take our already powerful software and develop courses for high-school theological instruction,” he said. “So what we’ve developed is a high-powered tool for studying the faith, and since it comes to students delivered through the medium of technology, we hope that it is a tool that they come back to time and time again in their faith formation.”
Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology
and Catholicism at God and the Machine.