“When I started the massive open online course (MOOC) ‘News video production for the internet’ offered by the Knight Center in the middle of 2016, I could never have imagined that it would end up taking me on a journey to Germany months later,” wrote Ramon Luz, a journalist from Montanha, Espírito Santo, Brazil.
As part of the course, Luz produced a short web-documentary that won him a trip to YouTube Space in São Paulo. Afterward, he decided to further pursue video production in his career as a journalist and applied for a fellowship in Germany, submitting the web-doc as part of his application. He was among about 40 people chosen to spend more than a year developing a professional project in Germany.
“In 2017, I became the first person from my state to receive this grant, and now I’m in Germany to record a documentary about refugee integration in Berlin! An outstanding step in the career of a 25-year-old journalist born in a poor area of Brazil,” Luz said. “The role of the Knight Center’s MOOCs in the careers of many journalists around the world is huge. And that means not only a positive impact on the quality of the news coverage in several spots worldwide, but new opportunities to make dreams come true.”
Luz is one of the more than 115,000 people in 170 countries the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas reached in the five years of its pioneering program in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in journalism.
From Cabo Delgado, Mozambique to Rome, Italy and Philadelphia, U.S., these courses have kept journalists up-to-date with the digital revolution, inspired them to pursue new projects or to return to school, helped to keep their communities informed and pushed the adaptation of innovative storytelling methods.
In celebration of the MOOC program’s fifth anniversary, some of these students shared their stories with the Knight Center.
For Sergio Belmonte Almeida, owner of Sociedad de la Comunicación in Chihuahua, Mexico, the courses helped to continue a decades-long career.
“When you have been through six decades in this profession and young colleagues think you are tired and out of date, the knowledge acquired in the MOOCs allows you to show that although it is true you are not a digital native, you still have a lot of advantages in the competition, because you add the experience of the old school, the trajectory in the field, and the diverse newsrooms of analog journalism,” Belmonte said.
For other journalists, the courses have supplemented what they were already learning or teaching in their college courses.
"As a university professor and communications consultant, I have benefited greatly from the MOOCs I have been privileged to take from the Knight Center,” said Fabiano Pereira of São Paulo, Brazil. “In addition to allowing me to update my knowledge to share with students and colleagues, they opened the window for me to exchange stories with colleagues from all over Latin America, promoting learning possibilities going even farther than the content presented in the lessons of the courses.”
Course material not only makes it into the classroom, but also around the newsroom.
At daily newspaper Bukedde in Uganda, features editor John Weeraga has taken advantage of the free and low-cost courses to train his team to better research and report stories, specifically on government revenue and spending.
"I mostly use the courses as a training tool for my team. After I study, I usually take my teams through the same training," he explained. "Without these courses, I would never have the money for such valuable training."
Sometimes, as in the case of exiled Ecuadoran journalist Emilio Palacio, the courses inspired a change of approach in how he would ensure his opinions about his home country reached the eyes and ears of news consumers.
After taking a course on the development of journalistic projects for the web, Palacio traded the written word to produce a weekly opinion video. Digital site Hispano Post eventually picked up the video and Palacio began producing a second, more humor-laced video with the help of another Ecuadoran host.
“Today, the two videos are in the group of ‘most seen’ and ‘most viral’ videos on the HispanoPost platform almost every week. My followers on Twitter went from 30,000 to 100,000 in two years,” Palacio said. “And although I am 4,000 kilometers from Ecuador, very often one of the two videos becomes a subject of required conversation between opinion-makers in my country, although I still cannot go back. The best part is that I keep making my living doing what I like, journalism.”
The Knight Center also heard from MOOC students outside the journalism field.
Economist Rossana Fiorella Gómez Levi from Mexico City said the 2013 course “How to improve electoral coverage” was fundamental for her, leading her to study political science for her doctoral degree.
The unique format of the MOOC program creates the opportunity for students like Ramón, Sergio, Fabiano, Emilio and Rossana to not only learn from expert instructors, but to share experiences with colleagues miles across the world.
“The cool thing is that the learning is not only in the available classes, but also (and it’s one of the best parts) in the exchanges between colleagues in the forums. I am proud to say that I have met a lot of cool people in these processes. Many people who contributed to my professional growth and whose work, carried out in different corners of the country or even outside, I possibly would not know without the MOOCs,” said Marilice Daronco, communications analyst and freelancer at Brazil’s Folha de S. Paulo, who has taken 10 courses from the Knight Center.
This year alone, the Knight Center has offered 10 MOOCs, and introduced courses on several new topics, including fact-checking, immersive journalism, Python and product management. The Center has also planned new topics for the coming months and years, and will bring back some popular courses.
“We are overwhelmed by the stories we have heard from the students of our MOOCs. When we started this project five years ago, I would never have imagined it could grow to this size. The collaboration of thousands of journalists and media workers from around the world is an inspiration to us,” said Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas.
“We’d like to thank the Knight Foundation, Google News Lab and other sponsors of this program and all of our great instructors and students," said Alves. "And I would like to echo the words of journalist and MOOC enthusiast Marilice Daronco, ‘Long live the Knight Center and its wonderful “stubbornness” in striving for a more human and higher quality journalism.’ Thank you for taking this journey with us.”
If you took a MOOC with us and want to tell your story, please send an email to knightcenter(at)austin.utexas.edu
Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.