Advanced Online Media Topics

The semester has flown by, but I wanted to check in with how things have shaped up over the course of the semester, with a first post on the topics we covered before Spring Break. Having moved out the SXTXState project into its own class, I was able to more fully dedicate this class to data and programming topics. I mostly ran it as a series of workshops. Students in this class already have a foundation in Web design. They have basic html/css and multimedia skills and some exposure to responsive design. So, when they hit this class, I really need to provide them with broad exposure to a variety of topics. It is up to them how they might use in a final project. They need to develop skills that allow them to use their own judgment in deciding which tools to use and how to learn and implement new tools.

Please view the course outline to see the handouts and readings associated with this topic.

After a basic review of responsive design, we started things out with Forms and Form Processing. I don't get into Forms in the intro online media class, because the form processing aspect gets into programming. We will use forms later in the semester, when we talk about PHP and Ruby on Rails, so they need this foundation. At this point, we discuss mailto actions (not preferable) and formmail processing scripts. Later, we talk about sending form input to a database.

I added an intro to Excel to this class. I found in past classes that many students didn't have strong spreadsheet skills. They were using it mostly as a word processor with columns and rows and had little exposure to functions and sorting. This was also a very important foundation to provide because quite often students need to work with the data before they put it in a database or visualize it.

At this point, an introduction to programming was necessary. I developed a lesson using JavaScript, but it was mostly used to outline specific aspects of programming. I wanted students to know the difference between numbers and strings, how math worked, concatenation, variables, functions, basic syntax, etc. This allowed us to move more efficiently to later coding exercises.

After they know a little JavaScript, JQuery is a good topic to apply. We do a variety of exercises that demonstrate the power of JQuery- things like changing html, interactive buttons, automatic table striping,  as well as the JQuery UI (accordion widget). This introduction helps when we get to the HighCharts exercise later in the class. Students get comfortable with attaching .js files to their pages.

We begin working with data by introducing the Firefox extension SQLiteManager. This gives students a chance to start using some SQL commands, like insert and query, and also introduces things like relational databases and joins.

I added a lesson on using some sites that create infographics, PiktoChart, and This is just a fun way to get moving with data. I gave students an assignment that required them to use SXSW panel data and showed them the Chrome Scraper extension so they could start culling some trends out of the data. Then I asked them to do an on their own topic. provides more interactivity with the data. I had them play around with, which pulls data from their social sites and makes comparisons.

For example, Megan Kilgore used PiktoChart to illustrate these SXSW trends:


Temple Carter used to plot tuition and fees at Texas State.

The last skill before spring break was to tackle Google Fusion tables. We covered the basic features, like importing, filtering and merging data, summarizing and creating charts. We also addressed mapping, by adding shape files and buckets to make meaningful geographic representations. This is a powerful tool that provides many interactive options for student data projects. It is also a good introduction to the Google Charts exercise we do after spring break and how we attach a Google Chart in our Rails exercise.

For each session, students have readings to do. During the first part of the course, we have focused on the Data Journalism Handbook. But I also curated a range of readings that discuss topics like responsive design, big data, interactive news and coding for journalists. Students had blog assignments most weeks, and you can read their impressions at Since this is a graduate class, I expect a level of intellectual consideration in conjunction with the skill execution, and these students had strong insights on the various topics I introduced.

After spring break, the focus was on more advanced programming, which I will pick up in the next post.