For Journalism: How it Started, Where it’s Going
A Q&A with Dave Stanton
The For Journalism project aims to create nine brand-new courses for journalists who want to learn how to design and build news applications, and to offer them to individuals and institutions in the fall of 2013.
With 25 days still to go, the project’s Kickstarter funding is well over halfway to their goal of $32,000. We asked Dave Stanton, the project’s head wrangler, how it got started and where he sees it going.
How did For Journalism get started? What was the seed, and how did you turn it from that into a real thing?
This is an idea that I’ve been working on for more than two years. It started when I saw some professional masters programs and I disagreed with the curriculum. It seems like all of the universities wanted to train Adobe jockeys and not people who actually understood how to use code and data to effectively tell stories. So, I asked all the news apps developers I knew and all the people they know what would be the courses they would include in their ultimate hacker journalism masters program.
After that initial list of all the classes in our ultimate hacker journalism masters program, I asked people to rank them on a scale to see what was most important in their newsrooms right now. That narrowed the list to about 16 doable courses with a rank order. Then I asked the new apps community to give me the three people they felt were most qualified to teach these courses. Based on course importance and instructor fit that’s how we settled on our initial batch of courses. I have another batch I would love to add but we’re holding back right now to ensure we have funding to do each course justice. The most obviously missing things are courses are related specifically to visual design. I really hope we can exceed our funding goals and add those to the initial batch.
What can we expect from each course? How deeply will they dig into each subject, and how much time do you expect it will take for learners to go through each one?
We’re trying to have each course be comparable to a 16 week university course. So a professor could essentially adopt one of these courses and teach data journalism at the University and all they would have to do is stay two weeks ahead of their students to feel comfortable of having success at the end of the course. We’re going to include breakout sessions, recommended homework, grading rubrics, and other resources to ensure that the faculty succeed. Our hope is that University will adopt one of these courses into their existing curriculum. Then students will be able to take any of the other courses as independent study with a nice structured method to get through the material.
But of course we’re very interested in helping working professionals as well. Although the courses are going to be paced and scoped for a 16 week lab class at a university, you don’t have to be at a university to get all of the benefit. All course projects will have open source code along with forums and other ways for self-study students and existing journalists to help each other. We have some really cool ideas about how we can do this synchronously and asynchronously. I don’t want to give too much away on that yet because it’s really dependant on the amount of funding we have. In short we want to make sure that everybody succeeds with these courses, and all of the money that we raise is going to go to what we can accomplish most effectively.
Will people be able to start a course whenever they want, or only at set times?
It’s primarily a self-paced experience that you can join whenever you want. We have some cool ideas about how we could allow people who don’t even know each other to join on the fly and make study groups, but I don’t want to give away all that yet until the funding is secure. But if we do get our initial funding goal, we’re going to have some features to allow people that are in newsrooms or on teams together to work through the courses together.
What kind of prerequisites are you assuming? Any foundational stats or HTML or math required?
We are assuming almost no foundational knowledge. There will be a bit of a suggested flow between the courses that will aid student success. Our initial batch of courses is for that semester-long scope, and we’re going to add some other remedial and short form courses for bringing people up to speed who might not have the math or the stats or any experience with code before.
So for colleges and universities, would these materials be incorporated into existing curricula, or would you expect to see new courses formed around them?
Getting to the Finish Line
What are the steps involved in rolling out the courses in August? What are you working on first?
Assuming we’re successful with funding, our first step is to get the crew together and decide what practical projects we want to have as the endpoint of each course. Then we’ll break for a couple of months, create the initial material, and do some small private testing. Then we’ll all get back together in one place to record the final materials in pseudo-workshop format over a weekend. We will break again to do the final production of screencasts and code samples and set up the forums, and then we’ll roll out the first courses at the end of August.
What else should we know?
We’d love to see more newsrooms get involved. We’re very grateful to NBC news for chipping in at the newsroom level. It would be awesome if we could have that from several other newsrooms. We’d also like to see some teams sign up so that up to 10 people on the team can have access to all the materials. I’m working hard over the next several weeks to talk with universities about how they can provide For Journalism materials to all of their students. We set up the reward levels to really help groups sign up and work together.
Message or tweet me if you have any questions about how you can help pitch this to your boss.
Dave Stanton is a software architect and technical coach. Currently he works with teams to integrate quality, scalability, security, and accessibility into enterprise mobile and cloud projects. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Florida by researching the behavioral and cognitive effects of interface design.