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The University of Sheffield

Making Sense of Data in the Media

The University of Sheffield via FutureLearn


Improve your data literacy and learn how to spot misleading statistics

“We are bombarded with media statistics every day, but how much of this data is reliable?

On this course, you’ll learn how to read and evaluate data in the media and how to stay alert to misleading statistics and fake news.

You’ll find out how data is created, and how survey formats can affect outcomes.

You’ll also learn the basic principles of data analysis, such as correlation and causation and margins of sampling error.

Ultimately, assessing data and looking for intentionally or unintentionally misleading statistics will help you become a better-informed citizen.

This course is suitable for anyone looking to improve their data literacy.

The course will also be useful to those studying or considering studying data-focused social science subjects.


  • What is a big number?
    • Welcome to the course
    • Is that a lot?
    • Change and differences
    • Making comparisons
    • Coming up with a research question
  • Where does data come from?
    • Welcome to Week 2
    • Studying the whole population
    • Studying a sample of the population
    • Collecting survey data
    • When do you need a survey?
  • How can we interpret data?
    • Welcome to Week 3
    • Reading the fine print
    • What are we really measuring?
    • Correlation is not causation
    • Final steps

Taught by

Todd Hartman, Aneta Piekut Educator and Mark Taylor


4.7 rating, based on 35 Class Central reviews

4.6 rating at FutureLearn based on 43 ratings

Start your review of Making Sense of Data in the Media

  • Anonymous
    I have always had an aversion to numbers and therefore quantitative research. This course is well structured and interactive. I found it enjoyable, challenging and informative. I'm not yet ready to take a full course in quantitative research, howeve…
  • Anonymous
    Interesting course. We are bombarded with polls and surveys. Daily the media present us with percentages, conclusions, results, rarely if ever with a clear explanation of where the data has come from, how and why it has been collected. This course really helps us to understand these aspects and how we can become better data citizens.
    People often have a skewed, negative view of the world today. Most believe things are worse than they are and often believe things are getting even worse. I think this is most unhelpful but it won't change until more people start to assess critically what they see, read or hear, this course really helps you to do that.
  • Anonymous
    Irrespective of what you take away from this course, it is one of the most important and essential courses FutureLearn puts out. We are smothered in data every day of our lives; if we cannot read that data correctly, we are at the mercy of so much 'fake' that we can be totally manipulated into believing what some faceless character wants us to believe. And the presence of social media makes it worse. The only way we can keep a clear head and an accurate understanding of the world around us is to be able to 'read' data correctly, and the FutureLearn course will enable us to do that.
  • Anonymous
    This is a really instructive, interesting and pertinent course for everyone. I went through it with comfortable ease. There was a good balance of reading, videos and not too much background information to take in. The examples were thought provoking and manageable. I feel confident to use this information in a project I am preparing for to help me produce sound evidence for my area of concern. Above all, anyone who reads, listens to or watches popular media will have their "fake news blinkers" removed. Many thanks to the team.
  • Anonymous
    It was very interesting. I learned a lot about census data and how to spot misleading information in the news. I think everyone should take this course.
  • Anonymous
    Enjoyed day 1 and day 3. Didn't think developing your own research question was really that relevant
  • Stacy Lynne
    Making Sense of Data in the Media provides valuable resources (links to reputable data gathering organizations) along with tools for dissecting headlines and content in all forms of media. This course is well-organized to maximize the dissemination of information. The instructors handle the problems in the media in a positive way -- through the use of facts and evidence. Thanks to the University of Sheffield for providing this meaningful opportunity!
  • Anonymous
    Interesting and well presented. However! it called for more than basic arithmetic skills. Possibly even use of a scientific calculator. Great pity. Could the course designers not show the working for the calculations eg 1% divided by 1.5% it's not an everyday problem. I dredged up some primary school maths on fractions and some O level physics to deal with powers of 10, but was never sure I was right. So overwhelmed with frustration I had to drop out.
  • Anonymous
    My thanks to Mark Taylor, Andy Bell, Aneta Piekut & Todd Hartman for producing a truly brilliant course around 'Making Sense of Data in the Media'. The course has helped me as a lay-person understand and query any figures produced as 'headline grabbing' by the media and question their validity and source.

    I will definitely recommend this course to my friends and even believe it should be taught in secondary schools as part of Maths or PSHE
  • Anonymous
    As a researcher I find many quantitative surveys used as evidence in studies as well as in the media. The course has helped me look at this data much more carefully and rather than seeing it as necessarily useless (especially US studies that only survey students), I can consider more carefully what the data tells us and what it doesn't. I enjoyed the presentations, articles and many of the posters comments.
  • Anonymous
    I exceeded my expectations of myself in not only completing this course but enjoying it which is mainly due in how it was presented. It has given me an insight in how data is collected, how it can be used and how to begin to assess whether it is accurate, the main reasons for doing the course in the first place. It was a new world to me, a bit of an eye opener and well worthwhile.
  • Anonymous
    The course is very thought provoking and now I am more sceptical of what I read in the media rather than assuming the data to be true.

    My only issue is that you have to pay for a certificate of completion, which I cannot afford but know it is necessary for most online courses. I have still learned a lot and can prove I have gained new skills without the certificate.
  • Anonymous
    This course was very easy to follow, yet one could take it more aggressively. It was great that there was a lot of discourse from both the educators and fellow students, from all walks of life. The course gave enough resources that one could learn to determine where the data was coming from and possibly why or why not it might be accurate.
  • Anonymous
    Really enjoyed this course - it was very interesting and presented in an informative - challenging but clear to follow way. The extent of input from different sources also made it very relevant and stimulating. I would highly recommend this to all A level students to make them think about the media we consume on a daily basis.
  • Anonymous
    One of the best of the FutureLearn courses I have done. Packed a lot into three weeks; really comprehensive; covered everything and made us both aware of problems and encouraged us to think. I treat every survey I now read about or see on TV with deep suspicion until I know where it comes from.
  • Anonymous
    Outstanding course. I found the content really interesting and it was pitched at exactly the right level. It has certainly openned my eyes to how data can be misrepresented. I think I have gained useful tools to be able to question the so called 'facts' I am presented with by various media.
  • Anonymous
    A really well thought-through course with great variety of content and loads of links worthy of exploration. Though I didn't take while "live" the input from the mentor was plentiful and engaging.
    I've worked in market research for many years and still found new nuggets - many thanks.
  • Anonymous
    Brilliant course; informative in a straightforward way. Real-world examples are used alongside theoretical concepts and large practical studies. This prevents the information from feeling overwhelming, and also makes the subject of data and how it's used feel important.
  • Anonymous
    This course is an eye-opener. You should take it. It will help you make sense of all the statistics you read in the news and give you the ability to see more clearly what all the numbers mean. It will also challenge you on your hidden biases and wrong perceptions.
  • Anonymous
    Great material to study and digest, thank you for your clear explanations and comments.
    It is interesting how to analyse surveys' sources, dataset, numbers, questions formulated ....especially now during lock-down .. #covid19 #data #crosscheckreferences

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