The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas’ first Massive Open Online Course (or MOOC) in Spanish came to an end recently with excellent reviews and several projects to cover elections around the world. “How to Improve Electoral Coverage” had 1,772 students from 45 countries.
The course’s instructor was award-winning Colombian journalist and electoral coverage expert María Teresa Ronderos. It took place from March 8 to April 19 but was extended until the first week of May to give students extra time to turn in their assignments.
“How to Improve Electoral Coverage” had 1,772 students, including 436 from Mexico, 216 from Colombia, 148 from Peru, 147 from Venezuela, 124 from Brazil, 108 from Argentina and 108 from Chile. Several other students came from countries like Spain, Paraguay, United States, France, United Kingdom, Italy and Portugal.
The course’s final project asked students to put together their own electoral coverage strategies but some went beyond the requirements. Several participants created new blogs with specialized information on electoral processes in their regions while others created data visualizations and interactive maps using electoral data.
Participant and journalism student María Virginia Núñez proposed to create a website in Venezuela that would compile and compare electoral data from both pro-government and opposition media outlets to allow readers to “see both sides of the coin,” she said.
“Sometimes it was really frustrating when an assignment asked us to recommend a link on the forums and not being able to find one,” Nuñez said. “This motivated me to create my own website and led to my final presentation.”
Andrea Valeiras, a journalist in Galicia, Spain, proposed a website that would be called RazoneSuRespuesta.com (“Reason out your vote” in Spanish) and would aim to change the habit, held by many in her community, of always voting for the same candidates.
“The goal is that people in Galicia get to know their candidates and their proposals in the next elections, as well as teaching them about the other candidates, what can happen (if they get elected) and what consequences it may have,” she said.
The students also created two special forums on elections in Venezuela and Paraguay. Several participants from the latter country invited Ronderos to chat with them through Skype to discuss their electoral coverage plan in anticipation of the presidential elections last month.
“How to Improve Electoral Coverage” also shared with students a number of practical tools on how to cover an electoral process in the most effective and useful way for citizens. It also covered topics like the basic concepts of a democracy, new forms of electoral surveillance and some of the best examples of electoral coverage in the American continent.
These are some of the participants’ comments about the course:
Gustavo Urrea, journalist, Colombia: “The course allows me to have a more solid level of preparation and a better undertanding about what I can do. I’m also planning on re-reading the materials and recommendations from several of my classmates, which will help me take other things under consideration and be better prepared… Given that in Colombia most of the big media outlets inform in the same ways, the course allows me to propose alternative ways to communicate with voters about the candidates and the importance of an active civic society.”
Rubén Isaí Cabrera Ordoñez, editor, Nuestro Diario, Guatemala: “I think (the course) gave us the theoretic background that’s necessary for this job, and that’s not easy to find. It also took theory to practice with each week’s homework… In my case, I think the topic of how to prepare a candidate’s profile and the electoral coverage handbooks were and will continue to be very useful.”
Janeth Sarmiento Villavicencio, editor, Peru: “For me it was important to take this course since we were able to take a look at the different modalities this job can take, not only those that the instructor would show us us about but also those from other colleagues registered for the course… Even though I wasn’t able to keep up with the course at the beginning because of a health problem, I was happy to learn that one could catch up along the way. The reading materials were appropriate for the lessons. I remember the materials about writing profiles, which allowed me to evaluate the narratives that emerge from a biography… I was particularly interested in the modules on electoral coverage as a form of service to the citizens, the proposals and the one on surveys.”
Diana Gil Calvo, press specialist at the Ministry of Education, Peru: “The course was an enriching experience, not only because of the high level of the instruction but also because of the first-time opportunity to share different experiences with colleagues from other countries. I was interested in particular in learning about other coverage strategies and the opinions in the forums. I will apply what I’ve learned about coverage plans in my job covering elections for an institution since I work for a state sector and we must often use identical or similar strategies.”
Álvaro Vega, journalist, EFE news agency, Spain: “Meditating on how previous elections have been covered with the perspective of acquired knowledge is one of the contributions of this course… I was particularly interested in the issues related to the transparency of the voting processes and the recounts — something that isn’t questioned in Spain — and the topic of campaign financing.”
“How to Improve Electoral Coverage” was the first course in Spanish offered through the Knight Center’s successful MOOC program, a pioneer in journalism classes in this novel, massive format.
The Knight Center’s first MOOC was “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization,” which took place last year, was taught in English by instructor Alberto Cairo and attracted more than 2,000 students. The course was so well received that the Knight Center offered a second edition, identical to the first. It had 5,000 students from 133 countries and concluded in February 2013.
“How to Improve Electoral Coverage” ended almost at the same time that the Knight Center launched its second MOOC in Spanish, “Introduction to Data Journalism,” with journalist and data journalism expert Sandra Crucianelli. The course started on May 13 with more than 3,000 students from around the world.
The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas was created in 2002 by Professor Rosental Alves at the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism thanks to a generous donation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has been supporting it continually. The Center also receives major contributions from the Open Society Foundations and The University of Texas at Austin. The Center’s main goal is to help journalists in Latin American and the Caribbean to improve the quality of journalism in their countries.