MOOC: Math for Journalists Made Easy: Understanding and Using Numbers and Statistics

Time: June 1- June 28, 2015

Instructor: Brant Houston, Jennifer LaFleur, Greg Ferenstein

Welcome to “Math for Journalists Made Easy: Understanding and Using Numbers and Statistics,” a four-week Massive Open Online Course with instructors Brant Houston, Jennifer LaFleur and Gregory Ferenstein.

This is part of, the distance-learning program of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin. Our program offers MOOCs, massive online courses that are free, and other online courses with a limited number of students that have a small fee. This course is free and open to anyone in the world. Click here to learn how to register.

Click here to see the full syllabus!


This course aims to provide journalists, media practitioners and the general public with knowledge about how to be critical about numbers, statistics and research and to avoid being improperly swayed by biased researchers.


At the end of the course, you will come away with knowledge about:

  • How to do and interpret common calculations and statistics

  • How to identify misleading surveys, research and pitches

  • How to read academic research in a critical way

  • How to recognize deceptive visualizations of statistics

  • How to explain numbers and statistics in ways that are simple to understand and are intuitive to any audience

Who can enroll

This course is open to anyone who has an interest in learning about the basics of using numbers and statistics in journalism. You don’t need any previous experience or expertise in math.


Brant Houston is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting and teaches investigative and advanced reporting in the Department of Journalism in the College of Media at Illinois.

Houston is the author of "Computer-Assisted Reporting: A Practical Guide," which recently came out in its fourth edition and was co-author of the fourth edition and fifth edition of "The Investigative Reporter's Handbook."

Houston has taught investigative and computer-assisted reporting in more than 20 countries and he is co-founder of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. In addition to his teaching, he oversees an award-winning online newsroom in the Journalism Department at Illinois and is working on projects on new business models for journalism and on new technologies for news-gathering.

Houston became the Knight chair after serving for more than a decade as the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE), a 5,000-member organization, and as a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Before joining IRE, he was an award-winning investigative reporter at daily newspapers for 17 years and was a member of the staff of the Kansas City Star that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Hyatt Hotel disaster in 1981.

Jennifer LaFleur is the senior editor for data journalism for Reveal. Previously, she was the director of computer-assisted reporting at ProPublica and held similar roles at The Dallas Morning News, the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. LaFleur is a former training director for Investigative Reporters and Editors and has won awards for her coverage of disability, legal and health care. She has a master's degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. LaFleur is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Gregory Ferenstein is a San Francisco based reporter and founding editor of the Ferenstein Wire. His works have appeared in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, and CNN. He holds a Master's in Mathematical Behavioral Science.

How the course works

First of all, note that this is an asynchronous course. That means there are no live events scheduled at specific times. You can log in to the course and complete activities throughout the week at your own pace, at the times and on the days that are most convenient for you.

Despite its asynchronous nature, there are still structures in place for the duration of the course from June 1 to June 28, 2015. The material is organized into four weekly modules. Each module will cover a different topic through videos, presentations, readings and discussion forums. There will be a quiz each week to test the knowledge you’ve gained through the course materials. The weekly quizzes, and weekly participation in the discussion forums, are the basic requirements for earning a certificate of participation at the end of the course.

This course is very flexible, and if you are behind with the materials, you have the entire length of the course to complete them. There are, however, suggested weekly deadlines for each module.

We recommend you note the deadlines listed in each week of the course.

  • Videos should be reviewed between Sunday and Friday

  • Readings should be reviewed between Sunday and Friday

  • Discussion Forums – posts should be made throughout the week before Friday

  • Quizzes – should be taken no later than Saturday night by 10 p.m. Weekly quizzes will be available until the last day of the course, June 28, in case you get behind with the modules.

For this course, a student could expect to spend up to three hours a week or up to five hours if they want to do supplemental readings and tasks.

How to Register

Registering in the platform is easy.  Please follow these steps:

1) Create an account in the Journalism Courses system.  Even if you’ve taken a course with us before, you may need to create a new account.  Check to see if your previous username and password work before creating a new account.

2) Wail for a confirmation in your email indicating that your account has been created.  If you do not receive this, please check your spam folder.

3) Log into the platform, scroll down until you see the course listings, and click on the “Math for Journalists” course.

4) A button will appear, click “Enroll” to enroll yourself into the course. You will be able to access the course from the “My Courses” menu at the top of the page.

5) You will receive an email confirming your enrollment.

If you have any questions, please email the course assistant, Filipa Rodrigues, at

Please add the email addresses and to your address book to ensure you receive emails about the course.