MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are online modules open to anybody in the world for free. Each MOOC usually gets a few thousand people engaged. In reality MOOC is a convening of a global learning community that is interested in one specific topic. The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas has been doing MOOCs since 2012. So far the institution has offered more than 30 MOOCs that have reached about 120,000 people from 171 countries.

Director of the Knight Center for Journalism, Rosental Alves says that they have reached people from many countries in the world with journalism training that most of those people would not have had access otherwise. Rosental shares a little bit more about MOOCs.


Why are MOOCs important for journalists?

We are in the midst of the disruption of journalism models, from the business model to the way news is distributed, to the way news is consumed. Training and professional development have never been so important for journalists. Lifelong learning is going to be the name of the game, as the digital revolution is changing the media ecosystem in a way that is becoming more and more different from what we had in the industrial era. So, MOOCs are an alternative of continuing education for people to stay abreast of trends and to learn how to use the new technologies to make their work better, to serve society in a more effective way.


How does it all work?

Our MOOCs are scheduled to a certain period of time, usually from four to six weeks, but they are asynchronous. It means that there is no live events. Sometimes we can have a Google Hangout or a chat at a scheduled time, but it’s not mandatory because we are global, so it would be difficult to work with live activities in so many different time zones. During the period of the MOOC, we open instructional modules in the beginning of each week, and we open the previous module. So, there is always time for people to catch up if they get behind. The important part is that each person can take the course in the times and days that are more convenient for them, during the course period.

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Each module is composed of video classes, reading materials, a quiz and also discussion forums. The discussion forums are part of the core of the MOOCs, as students respond to questions posed by the instructors and post comments about each others responses. It’s a learning community, usually gathering journalists from many countries, and many cultures. In the end, students who want a certificate can apply for it and we verify if they complied with the minimum requirements. Then, they pay a low fee of US $30 and we let them download a certificate.


Who are some of the teachers of these courses?

This is a very important point of the programme. First we identify interesting topics that we think are or should be in a demand among journalists interested in improving their performance. We are always asking journalists what they need. Then we seek who are the best people to teach those skills. The instructors can be academics who teach in journalism schools, or can be professionals. I’d say most of the instructors of our courses are professional journalists. For example at this moment we have opened registration for a MOOC on product management for newsrooms. In this case, it is taught by a team consisting of: Cindy Royal, a professor from Texas State University; veteran journalist Aron Pilhofer who is now a professor at Temple University; and Becca Aronson, a program manager of Texas Tribune.

We’ve just had another MOOC and it was on Python, which is a java script language, very common and very needed in newsrooms for data journalism. It seems amazing that we had almost 3,000 people learning a computer language to apply in journalism. Another example of cutting edge skills is the courses we have had this year in English and in Spanish on Virtual Reality (VR) and 360 video. We are always looking for trends, skills and technologies that are needed in newsrooms to be up to date. I always say that with our MOOC program we use digital technology to teach great journalists how to use those technologies to do better journalism.


What are the benefits for African journalists to attend the MOOCs?

We have the MOOCs in English. Anglophone Africa has been taking our MOOCs. We’ve had students from most of African countries. Years ago we had a special program to help journalism professors from Africa to teach online journalism. Lately, we have not had programmes that are specific for Africa, but Africans are welcomed to take our MOOCs and we could find ways to let more people in Africa know about our courses. Oh, we also have courses in Portuguese, so we always get some journalists from Angola, Mozambique and Cape Verde. I wish we could attract more people from those countries. We would love to have more students from Africa!

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