A MOOC & The Functional Art

A MOOC and the Functional Art

What the heck, I hear you say, is a MOOC? I have to admit I didn’t know either, until I signed up late last year for Alberto Cairo’s experimental course at the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. Cairo is the professor of information graphics and visualization at the University of Miami’s school of communication and the author of the new book, The Functional Art. More about that later, first the MOOC…

The last time I studied formally was in 1992 back when they’d just invented the Internet. Email was the big new thing.  So a Massive, Online, Open Course was definitely going to be a new experience. Bottom line, it was great. Well worth the time investment, I have recommended it to others. There is in fact a second MOOC already filled up and underway. If it’s as good as the first, there will no doubt be a third.

I signed up for Alberto’s first MOOC along with 5000 others last year. Why? my interest in PowerPoint, Information Graphics, Data Visualization is at heart about people. How people learn, how people decide, what moves them. We don’t do any of those things in a vacuum, we do it because we’re  persuaded, influenced or informed. That’s why people communicate with other people. I’ve drawn from many different fields of study over the years from Advertising to Architecture, and have always found it useful to gain from different worldviews. Data journalism, and the work of Alberto Cairo seemed like a great fit.

But it wasn’t the fact it was Massive, Online, or Open* that made it great. It was the Course. Content was king, and Alberto Cairo did a fantastic job of taking an intricate and multi-disciplinary subject and threading it together. Over 6 weeks, Alberto led the cohort through 5 video lectures, covering the basics like headlines to the more arcane cloropleth maps. At the end of each, segment there was a small project to play with data and design various visualizations.

Here’s Alberto describing the course.

Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization from Knight Center on Vimeo.

I diligently made notes, but they weren’t as good as Javier Sandoval’s Visual Notes about the First Intro to Data Visualization and Infographics MOOC.

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*To be fair, if it hadn’t been online and open I wouldn’t have signed up for the course.

Buy the book:

Gavin_Animated-GifGavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.

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  1. Michael Schwartz | January 23, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    Hi Gavin,

    A couple of questions…

    1. How did you register for the course?
    2. Is it going to be offered again, or how might I find out?
    3. Did you find it useful for improving your PPT presentation design skills?



    • Gavin | January 23, 2013 at 3:48 pm


      I registered online at the Knight Center – link here http://knightcenter.utexas.edu/en/knightcenternews

      At the moment, I don’t see any open registration for a third course, but they have been so popular, I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be another. I found out about it because I follow Alberto on twitter – and he usually tweets about it when it’s open. (@albertocairo)

      Because it essentially covered information design, and journalism, I think there is a lot of transference and lessons that can be applied to presentation design, e-learning, etc.

      Hope that helps


  2. Waywardspirit | January 23, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    You are just what I need to read somethings.
    The description of the course and how you introduce it create a loop I want to be in for me. I come to know that I want to know this…. Appreciated!

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  4. indrasafhvannath | March 31, 2013 at 7:31 am

    Reblogged this on indrasafhvannath's Blog.

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