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Knight Center enrolls 5,000th student in online courses

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas recently registered its 5,000th student in an online training course, marking a major milestone for its pioneering distance education program.

Since 2003, the Knight Center has offered journalists 91 short courses in Spanish, Portuguese, and English, reaching students in every country in Latin America, and most nations of the Caribbean.

Classes typically last from four to eight weeks and are taught entirely online through the Knight Center’s innovative platform built on Moodle, an open-source course management system. They feature video lectures, chats, discussion forums, quizzes, and other collaborative learning technologies.

The Knight Center has received major funding since 2002 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, enabling it to create and expand its distance education program.

"The online courses have proved to be an ideal system to teach journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the appetite for these courses is tremendous," says Rosental Alves, director of the Knight Center. "When journalists from different countries in Latin America are united by their interest in training, this ends up creating an interesting chemistry, a bond of community formation that can last and generate positive results."

Since 2003, the Knight Center has worked with 16 instructors to offer online courses and webinars from their homes in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, and the United States. Students include reporters, editors, and producers for print, broadcast, and online media.

Emphasis on digital and investigative skills

The courses have covered a broad spectrum of topics and reflect the Knight Center’s growing focus as a training center for digital journalists and as an incubator for collaborative multimedia journalism projects.

The Center’s earliest classes, including “Mathematics for Journalists,” "Computer-Assisted Reporting" and “Electoral Coverage and Democracy” remain popular whenever they are offered and frequently fill up within days after being announced on the Knight Center website and on the Center’s news blog Journalism in the Americas.

Those courses, as well as the popular course "Digital Tools for Investigative Journalists" and newer offerings such as “How to Write for the Web” and “Digital Media Product Development” are specifically designed to help journalists make use of digital technologies to enhance their reporting. The Center has also offered courses specifically for teachers, such as "Journalism 2.0 for Instructors."

Current courses

“Math for Journalists,” taught in Spanish by Argentine trainer Sandra Crucianelli, is the Knight Center’s most frequently offered course and has been adapted for reporters and editors who were preparing for electoral coverage, and for journalists from one specific country, such as Mexico. It is currently being offered for the ninth time (running until Feb. 20) with 44 students enrolled from 13 countries.

“How to Write for the Web” is also currently under way (Jan. 31–March 6) and is being taught in Spanish by Colombian journalist Guillermo Franco with 38 journalists enrolled from 14 countries. The course is based on Franco’s book How to Write for the Web, which is one of seven e-books featured on the Knight Center’s Digital Library.

The Knight Center’s newest course, “Journalism Ethics for a Digital Age,” will be taught in English from Feb. 27–March 2011 by Edward Wasserman, a professor of Washington and Lee University. It is designed to help journalists learn to deal with ethical issues that arise in their day-to-day work in new media environments.

Experiments and collaboration

The Knight Center frequently experiments with innovative uses of its distance education platform.

*Latin American journalists have recently used the Knight Center's distance education platform to participate in a series of online training in environmental journalism, leading to a collective investigation of carbon emissions trading in Latin America. The course was offered by Colombia's Newsroom Council, an investigative journalism organization created with the Knight Center's assistance.

*When "Mathematics for Journalists" was offered last September, students interacted with one another and with Crucianelli through the Second Life virtual world platform in an experiment to study the effectiveness of Second Life as a platform for teaching journalists to apply math techniques in a simulated crisis. The Second Life experience will be repeated this month as part of Crucianelli's current class which ends Feb. 20.

*The Knight Center completed an online course for African journalism professors last November as part of an agreement with UNESCO to help journalism professors in Africa improve their training on digital media. Twenty-three instructors from nine countries enrolled in the class.

Application in newsrooms

Journalists who complete the courses often report being able to make immediate use of what they have learned.

A student in the class “Digital Tools for Journalists” (April 2010) said, “I’ve learned many new tools, some of which I didn’t know existed, and others that I knew about without knowing how to use them adequately.”

A participant in “Coverage of Drug Trafficking” (March 2010) said, “Mostly I have new ideas about how to cover the issues of drugs and drug trafficking. Now I know when I should publish a story, and when I shouldn’t, or to ask myself what risks I face if I publish.”

“I liked a style and pace of the course a lot,” said a student in “Journalism 2.0 for Instructors” (April 2010). “I learned new tools, I updated my theoretical perspective, and I was able to exchange experiences with other teachers.”

The Knight Center’s distance education program is one of several components of the Center’s work as a professional training and outreach program for Latin American and Caribbean journalists. Its training programs have benefited thousands of journalists and instructors throughout the Americas, and the Knight Center has helped to create a new generation of independent journalism organizations in the region.

The Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas was created by Professor Rosental Calmon Alves at the University of Texas at Austin School of Journalism in August 2002 thanks to a generous donation from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Its main goal is to help journalists in Latin American and the Caribbean who are interested in improving the quality of journalism in their countries.