After Spring Break - Programming

We spent a lot of time before Spring Break laying the foundation. We needed to get a basic understanding of programming, form processing and data techniques that we could apply to later, more advanced topics. While we started talking about Fusion Tables before the break, we discussed the broader area of Google Charts after. This allows students to customize charts via the Google Charts API. But this is also a basic introduction.

At this point, we get into more advanced programming. I do a series of workshops that cover a vareity of languages and skills. We first did a simple scraping exercise in Python using ScraperWiki. The exercise builds so that students are shown how to scrape a site, then, as a group, we modify that code for another site. Then they are to modify the code themselves for a third site (that I selected). If I do this again, I will make an assignment that requires them to scrape a new site of their choosing.

We move on to PHP/MySQL at this point, where I show them how to make a simple discussion board. The exercise demonstrates form processing and queries. They use PHPMyAdmin to make the database and launch the board on their own servers. This exercise is a great way to show them how things like Wordpress work using PHP/MySQL.

I like the close the class with a discussion of Web Frameworks. I do a Ruby on Rails exercise that takes them from nothing, to a line of code (scaffold) to eventually a fully working interactive that takes form input and updates a table and a Google Chart. And, this year, we got everyone to launch their Rails exercise on Heroku!

I was impressed with the way that everyone rose to the challenge of each programming exercise. Students were focused on problem solving and trouble shooting. They helped each other. I am further encouraged that these are topics that all journalism students can handle and should be taught in our program. In fact, everyone did so well that I decided to add one last exercise to the semester. We covered HighCharts, a free data visualization site (free for non-commercial use). The charts use JQuery and are easily customized. Many are using this tool for their final project with is an in-depth multimedia site that incorporates data. I'm excited to see the presentations.


In addition to the exercises, students had readings and blog assignments each week. We read all of Post-Industrial Journalism in time to see Emily Bell and Chris Anderson at ISOJ. Most of the students in the class attended ISOJ, so I was happy that they got to see some of the people and projects we had talked about all semester. One student commented that she was proud that she was on top of all the symposium topics, as we had been covering them in all the new media classes in our curriculum.

You can see all assignments with links to handouts at My next blog post will feature the final projects! You can see students final impressions of the class on the last few posts at