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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Learning materials for popular online course on programming language R are now available



An online course on the complex programming language R recently ended with more than 3,300 registered students from 131 countries and all instructional materials for the course are now available. The materials are available to the general public and will act as an ongoing resource for those who are interested in learning more about R.

Intro to R for Journalists: How to Find Great Stories in Data,” a massive open online course (MOOC) from the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas, was taught by instructor Andrew Ba Tran, an investigative data reporter at The Washington Post.

Tran’s course, which was supported by the Knight Foundation, attracted journalists looking to improve their data reporting and even created devoted disciples of the programming language.

“I’ve had reporters from across the world and at publications like Axios and AJ+ reach out to me to tell me about how they’ve already figured out how to apply these new techniques to their stories and newsroom,” Tran said. “One journalist in Madrid tweeted that he was seriously considering abandoning Excel now that he knows how to use R, which I think is the ultimate compliment.”

Martin Olsson, reporter at Värmlands Folkblad newspaper in Sweden, hopes to continue using R and expanding his knowledge of the programming language, which is used by statisticians and data scientists.

“I knew very little about R before I started the course, but thanks to practical exercises adapted for journalists, I have already been able to use R to wrangle some data and make some simple visualizations that have been published in my newspaper,” Olsson explained.

Students succeeded in the course despite the challenges of learning a new programming language.

“Even as a beginner, it gave me so much information and so many tools in researching and data visualization as a journalist. The language is so versatile and it’s a critic’s pick for me!” said Kathleen Marie Reese, page designer at the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S.

In a highlight of the course, Tran co-hosted a Google Hangout with Hadley Wickham, chief scientist at RStudio and creator of many packages used in the MOOC. The discussion has garnered about 1,200 views.

Although the course has ended, students continue to participate in discussions and work out issues with colleagues on Facebook.

“I couldn’t have done this without such great support from the Knight Center,” Tran said. “We put together an ambitious course that spanned video, PDFs, web sites, Github, and code-evaluating servers. It reached thousands of journalists. I only hope the support and activity from the discussion boards continues out there on social media.”

Instructional materials for all Knight Center courses will now be available online after courses have officially closed. The resource page for Tran's course can be found here. It includes video classes, readings and many more resources for learning how to use R.



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