Knight Center receives $600,000 from Knight Foundation to expand its online training program for journalists

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas will expand its online journalism education program over the next four years thanks to a $600,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The program is based on peer-to-peer online courses that allow journalists to teach their colleagues around the world through innovative and effective ways that create virtual learning communities of journalists, professors and students of journalism.

Jennifer Preston, vice president for Journalism at the Knight Foundation, announced the grant on April 15 at the University of Texas at Austin, during the opening of the Knight Center's 17th annual International Symposium on Online Journalism (ISOJ).

The Knight Center will use the funds to build on its successful pilot project of Massive Open Online Courses, also known as MOOCs, of the last three and a half years.  Over the next four years, the new grant will allow the Knight Center to offer at least eight online courses per year and reach at least 10,000 students annually through MOOCs.

​“The MOOCs democratize access to knowledge in unprecedented ways,” said professor Rosental Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center. “The magic of the MOOCs is to allow anyone from anywhere in the world, in a village in Africa or in a newsroom in New York, to take the same course on cutting edge skills taught by their peers, colleagues, journalists or educators who are the best experts on the topics.”

The Knight Center's MOOCs pilot project was launched in October 2012 with the course "Introduction to Data Visualization and Infographics," with Alberto Cairo, veteran journalist from Spain who holds a Knight Chair at The University of Miami. Other MOOCs in English, Spanish and Portuguese have focused on election coverage, data journalism, social media, mobile journalism, mathematics for journalists and other topics.

The education model is based on peer-to-peer instruction to share best practices among journalists, with an emphasis on skills related to digital technologies. Professional journalists or journalism educators teach the courses, which incorporate video lectures, reading material, interactive quizzes and discussion forums.

The MOOCs are asynchronous online courses divided into weekly modules so that students can finish coursework at their own pace during a certain period of time, usually four to six weeks. All MOOCs are free, save for a small fee for those interested in a certificate of participation, which is optional. MOOCs generally cover more broad, introductory topics.

In 2015, the Center added Big Online Courses (BOCs). Unlike MOOCs, students need to pay a fee for the BOCs and have access to more advanced and specific content.

In this new phase of the project, the Knight Center will launch another modality of training, the Small Online Courses (SOCs), tailor-made training programs for newsrooms, media companies or journalist organizations. It also plans to launch master classes online to benefit working journalists.

All courses are taught using JournalismCourses.org, the Knight Center's distance learning digital platform.

During the pilot phase of this program, since October 2012, the Knight Center has organized 20 MOOCs and seven BOCs in English, Spanish and Portuguese. Thirty-four instructors have taught those courses that reached nearly 70,000 students from 169 countries.

“We use digital technology to teach great journalists how to use digital technology to do great journalism,” said professor Alves who also holds the Knight Chair in International Journalism and the UNESCO Chair in Communication at the Moody College of Communication's School of Journalism.

The Knight Center has developed an extremely effective way to connect journalists with the up-to-date information they need to be successful amid the rapid transformation of our field,” said Jennifer Preston, vice president for journalism at Knight Foundation, according to an organization press release. “This investment will not only expand course offerings, but will expand the community of journalists committed to moving journalism forward by learning from each other.”

According to a 2012 Knight Foundation survey, “9 out of 10 journalists who took the Knight Center’s online courses said the experience as ‘as good as’ or ‘better’ than any face-to-face training they had ever had.”

The MOOC "Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization," taught by professor Alberto Cairo, Knight Chair at the University of Miami, has been offered four times in English and once in Portuguese, drawing more than 17,000 students. One iteration of the course was offered in partnership with the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong.

Additionally, in 2014, the Center started a collaboration with UNESCO and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). About 3,500 judges and judicial operators registered for courses on legal frameworks for freedom of expression, access to information and safety of journalists.

This is the third major grant professor Rosental Alves has received from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which “supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts,”. In 2002, professor Alves founded the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas in 2002 with the help of a $2 million grant from Knight Foundation. Five years later, he received an additional $1.6 million to maintain the center for the next five years.

The Knight Center was created to train journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean, to aid in the creation of independent organizations and associations of journalists, to maintain a blog monitoring journalism news in the region and to host forums and conferences dedicated to training and press freedom. With the recent MOOCs, the Knight Center became a global leader in online training for journalists, the only program dedicated to offering massive open online courses in journalism.

In nine years, from 2003 to 2012, the Knight Center organized more than 100 small online courses benefiting 7,235 people. In just three and a half years, with 20 MOOCs and four BOCs, the Center reached 10 times more people, almost 70,000. And instead of just Latin America and the Caribbean, it now reaches most of the countries in the world.

Additionally, the Center organizes an annual global conference on digital journalism, one of the most important and prestigious in the field. From April 15 to 16 of this year, the Center hosted the 17th annual International Symposium on Online Journalism, with more than 400 attendees from 41 countries.

In addition to funding from the Knight Foundation, the Center has been financed by grants from organizations such as the Open Society Foundations and has received support from the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communication, revenue from courses and conferences, and donations from the public.​

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.