Students from Portuguese MOOC 'Introduction to Programming' create their own programs and receive grants for workshop at Google

Scripts that compile data on political candidates' assets, send e-mails alerting you about schedules for women's soccer games or minimize the risks of password theft and other sensitive information. Robots that Tweet the votes of senators on legislative proposals or that follow bills on women's rights in the House. These were some of the final projects developed by journalists who started programming after the Portuguese MOOC "Introduction to Programming: Python for Journalists," offered by the Knight Center with the support of Google News Lab.

Fifteen participants had their work selected for a face-to-face workshop at Google's headquarters in São Paulo, which will take place on Feb. 19. They applied the education gained in the course to create their own programs and automate tasks of their journalistic routines.

For four weeks, more than 3,000 students learned the basics of programming using Python, one of the most popular and accessible languages available today. Unlike other programming courses, the MOOC presented examples and strategies aimed at the most common needs and difficulties for journalists. The course was taught by programmer Álvaro Justen, project manager of the School of Data, and journalist Pedro Burgos, ICFJ Knight Fellow and leader of the project Impacto.Jor.

In addition to the exclusive workshop and the visit to Google, those who do not reside in São Paulo will receive a travel scholarship, including airfare and help with lodging. The competition anticipated the selection of the top 10 projects, but the Knight Center and Google News Lab team decided to reward the efforts of five more competitors.

"The most interesting thing for me was the diversity. People who took the course were able to think in innovative ways to create programs like 'editorial assistants.' From automating tedious tasks such as clipping, extracting data from government pages, and tracking movements in social networks. There was a little of everything. We were very impressed and satisfied," Burgos said.

Justen, experienced programmer and a  well-known figure in the Python community, was impressed by the technical quality of some of the final projects. "It was a nice surprise to see so many people interacting and seeing how programming can make life easier for journalists. And I was also surprised by how many participants went beyond the content of the course to implement their final projects," he said.

Following the lessons offered by the instructors, Cristian Fávaro, a reporter for Agência Estado, developed a program to automate the publication of information from a U.S. Department of Agriculture report on supply and demand for agricultural commodities.

"Agility and accuracy in disclosure of data is critical for breaking news readers who need it to operate in the financial marketplace," said the journalist, one of the MOOC contestants.

According to him, the course showed the potential applications of programming in his routine work. "I've been doing programming for a little over a year. I've done a lot of online courses, but none of them had a focus on journalism as cool as this. The exercises were great and totally connected to the reality of the newsroom," he said.

For Bárbara Libório, who worked in Canal Meio and Aos Fatos, the course was an opportunity to overcome her fear and develop programming skills. "Programming always seemed like a seven-headed animal. It was also a frustration because pursuing some stories depended on that knowledge," said the journalist, who was also selected in the contest.

"Percebi que posso fazer muito mais do que eu imaginava com programação e quero me dedicar a aprender novas linguagens e ferramentas nos próximos anos, para ser uma jornalista e uma cidadã mais completa."

"I realized that I can do a lot more than I imagined with programming and I want to devote myself to learning new languages and tools in the coming years, to be a journalist and a more complete citizen."

Criatividade, habilidade técnica e valor jornalístico foram métricas utilizadas para julgar os trabalhos vencedores. Confira abaixo a lista dos alunos contemplados e clique em seus nomes para ver os projetos escolhidos:

Creativity, technical ability and journalistic value were metrics used to judge the winning projects. See below the list of students and click on their names to see the projects chosen:

All winning projects will be featured at Google São Paulo and receive direct feedback from the MOOC instructors. The competition was organized to encourage students of the massive course to apply the learning obtained in projects with journalistic interest.

"We are very proud of this project and thank the Google News Lab for the partnership and for organizing the workshop and the visit to the Google headquarters in São Paulo," said Professor Rosental Calmon Alves, founder and director of the Knight Center. "I am sure that instructors Álvaro Justen and Pedro Burgos have changed the lives and careers of many Brazilian journalists who have learned the basic principles of programming in this free online course."

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas was created in 2002 by Professor Rosental Calmon Alves, holder of the Knight Chair of Journalism at the University of Texas School of Journalism in Austin. The Center has received contributions from the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation and other donors such as Open Society Foundations.

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.