If you’ve been following my tweets, you may have seen that I’ve started taking an online course in data journalism. Aside from the subject, what makes this course different from any that I’ve taken before is that it’s a massive open online course (MOOC). Myself and my 20,000 classmates, who come from many different countries, have signed up to take this course completely for free. It’s run through the European Journalism Centre (so far both instructors have had British accents) and Data Driven Journalism. There is no obligation to actually do all the course work, unless you want the certificate at the end; even so, it’s impossible to monitor whether you’re actually watching lectures and reading through the discussion posts. Back when I worked at The Cord, I remember one of us working on a story about MOOCs. I was highly skeptical. What was the point of a course that required no prerequisites? Would people really be motivated to complete something that required no money and where the marks don’t matter? Can the quality of teaching really be that good?
I’m two weeks in, and so far my experience has been okay. It’s all been very introductory so far, so I’m more excited for what’s to come in the next few weeks, which hopefully will be applying tools a bit more. There’s a different instructor for every week, and they’re all professionals in the field – working journalists and professors. There are five different modules for the course and within each around four different sections. For each section there’s a short video lecture and some readings (sometimes just looking up a web tool, other times reading an article), followed by a quiz of a few questions that you can retake as many times as needed, and an assignment of sorts that you work on in the discussion board. It seems like there are a lot of people who are really engaged and the sheer size of the class keeps the discussion boards busy; I find it can actually be a bit overwhelming and I don’t usually end up going through a lot of it, just because there is so much. But it really is a very different learning environment and not a bad one, in my opinion. If you’re there and participating, it’s because you actually care about the topic and want to become more knowledgeable about it. There is grading, but I don’t find it to have much influence on the course, so I can’t imagine it’s a motivator for most people. For my part, I’m there because I’m looking for an introduction into a subject that’s completely new to me, but I’m not ready to throw myself into school fully again. The flexibility—and the zero cost—is really appealing.
I’m hoping to have something to show for it at the end that I can post on here, maybe something with Google Fusion Tables. And I should have some more thoughts to share in a couple of weeks, after we’ve gone more in-depth. If you’re looking to learn more about MOOCs, Coursera has a good overview.