Just a few days before the start of a new semester, a few professors from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism came to us to help them quickly plan and implement a new, online course for their students. The COVID-19 analyzer provides multi-dimensional coverage of the pandemic, shedding light on stories that receive little coverage elsewhere.
The responsive, WordPress-based website features a state-by-state election tracker, news blog, podcast, and fact-check data visualization tool. The bulk of the website was built within three weeks to allow the class to jump right in and maximize their semester.
What do you do when you have to scrape your entire lesson plan for a spring semester? And how do you provide your young journalism students with an experience that will translate to a real-world experience?
That’s the challenge that Peter Eisner and Matthew Orr faced just weeks before the start of their 2020 spring semester. With concerns about rising COVID-19 cases and little information about how to best keep students safe, Northwestern shifted from in-person classes to online learning. This shift meant that journalism students could not go out in their communities to find stories, conduct interviews, and write a traditional news piece.
This is where we stepped in. Our team at Made by Munsters worked with Peter and Matthew to create a strategy around collecting online content such as news posts, press conferences, social media posts, YouTube/Vimeo videos, and more which could be turned into data points for a larger analysis tool.
We called it the COVID-19 Analyzer and it took us just 3 weeks to conceptualize, design, and develop.
After the initial discovery workshop, our team started with a two-day design sprint. During this timeframe, we worked with Peter and Matthew as well as several of their students to build a clean, bold, and web-accessible component library. We tested different fonts and font sizes as well as color variations and patterns until we found just the right combination. All of which originated from Northwestern’s robust design library.
Our first task was to define the data visualization tool we would be building. After some back and forth we settled on the idea of a fact-checker. Ranking content based on whether it was truthful, some-what truthful, or not truthful at all. This simple ranking system helped the class build a database of records to track how messages from celebrities, government officials, and media outlets affected the public’s perception of COVID.
In addition to the fact-checking tool, we built a robust landing page and content archive system to help promote the work these students were doing.
After the initial release, the students found that the data they were collecting suggested that the upcoming 2020 election might be impacted. With this new information, we got to work, again, helping them build out a state-by-state election tracking tool. This way they could provide their audience with the most up-to-date information on voting regulations in their state.
- 1.76 Avg. Page Load Time
- 0.94s Avg. Contentful Load Time
- AA WCAG Compliance
- 3 Week Project Timeline
While the class has ended and the students are no longer maintaining the fact-checking database, Northwestern has partnered with The Fulcrum, a media company, to continue to track the spread of information surrounding COVID-19.
We plan to continue to work with Northwestern on future projects and explore new ways of using data to inform the public.