When the University of Texas’ Knight Center for Journalism in the Americasoffered its first massive open online course in journalism — “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization” — more than 2,000 people registered. A second course that begins tomorrow has attracted 5,000.
Online education is having a moment; companies like Coursera and institutions like Harvard and MIT are all chasing what’s expected to be a upcoming boom in learning through the web. For UT’s Knight Center, its first experiment with MOOCs is also an experiment in pushing journalism education beyond its traditional audience. While data visualization has obvious connections to journalism, it also has clear applications outside newsrooms. And that kind of crossover appeal may be the key to succeeding in future online journalism courses.
“I’m sure that we’re onto something,” said Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. “To have 2,000 people in a course on one issue for journalism, and so much demand that you start another a month later and there are 5,000 people? It means there really is a demand.”
Alberto Cairo, an instructor at the University of Miami, leads the course, which combines video lectures, discussion forums, and assignments structured around news stories and public data. Cairo, who previously led graphics departments at media companies in Spain and Brazil, said having that tie to reported stories helps to keep the course focused. In particular, Cairo used examples like The New York Times’ interactive on words used at the presidential nominating conventions, as well as The Guardian’s data map on unemployment in the U.S.
“How to summarize data. How to tell a story with data. How to get your message through. All of those are journalism skills,” Cairo said. The goal of the course, Cairo said, is getting students to cast a critical eye on charts and graphics, but also to give them the tools and knowledge to build their own. Instead of adopting an existing class and putting it online, Cairo worked with Alves to develop the course specifically for online learning.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.