I would actually prefer that UChicago stay out of MOOC, unless it wishes to contribute something that other universities haven't already contributed. I feel like the market for these kinds of courses is going to saturate pretty soon, if it hasn't already.
In the real world, no one is going to respect a "MITX/HarvardX course certificate," since the courses offered are introductory, not at a particularly advanced level, and inherently non-exclusive. Admittedly, MIT and Harvard are increasing their brand names among high schoolers by offering these types of courses, but they also risk diluting their brands among employers, etc. if too many students start using such certificates in their resumes.
Also, to be frank, when I tried to use MIT's OpenCourseware as a high schooler, I felt that it was greatly lacking. For good students, I feel that just going to your closest university library and checking out a college-level physics or computer science book is more useful than such courses. The recent addition of a community for online courses is certainly a plus, though.
To summarize, I think this is a niche market that UChicago doesn't need to enter. It requires too much effort to get involved, and really at a minimal benefit for all parties. The demographics interested in such courses are usually CS/engineering people who Chicago really isn't looking to target, anyway.
I'm sure UoC could figure out a way not to give certificates. That way it could still boost the brand name (and cheaply, too) while retaining its respect.
I guess what I'm most concerned with is UoC falling behind (again) in this regard, as it has done so in the past. I agree that MOOCs right now still have unknown potential and no one really knows where they are going to go (kind of like the 3D printing craze) but wouldn't it be better to be safe than sorry?
I actually love the idea of a university posting it's lectures, course syllabus, assignments and solutions online, for there are many many many courses I would love to take in college but would never get to. These online platforms would one self study something at great convenience out of their own interest, which I definitely plan to sometime. Of course, simply reading great books and joining a discussion group with dedicated friends is another maybe easier way, but such open platforms provide more structure and rigor. Learning is not something that ends at college, and continues throughout one's life and does not necessarily have to be in the form of graded coursework towards an academic degree.
If Uchicago does something like that, I think that would be wonderful. They don't really need to offer certificates, and simply be like what Yale does and run on donations that benefit all. Most of the benefit of going to a actual college is getting an actual grade and transcript and degree anyway, so these courses won't at all discourage people from demanding college educations, and it will only benefit those who simply want knowledge. Doing so would only show off what great professors and education Uchicago has and increase recognition.
@Phuriku I have browsed MIT's open course ware for some humanities classes, and the issue I have found is convenience and accessibly. Yale's open course ware is based on you tube and iTunes, with downloadable packets containing readings and assignments. This model seems much better and cheaper. And I guess we may be talking about different types of online course ware when you mentioned CS people and maybe it's just me, but humanities online lectures seem enticing as well. For someone interested in exploring Dante's divine comedy or various ways philosophers deal with Death, such lectures have great potential for anyone to receive the most benefit out of reading these great books.
zhangvict: From my personal perspective, the economic and overall benefits would be very limited. Note that I said before that I wouldn't like to see Chicago participate IF they can't contribute something that other universities haven't already contributed. This is a very small market (and, from my point of view, probably will remain a very small market). It is primarily targeted to people who love learning, have a lot of time on their hands, and don't want to spend much money. So the demographic is tiny, and very little economic benefit is to be had. The only benefit would be an increase in name-brand. But if UChicago can't contribute anything that other universities haven't already contributed, then it wouldn't be able to get much market share in this very small market, and there would consequently be little increase in name-brand.
Now, IF UChicago could actually significantly and uniquely contribute to online learning, then I would be in support of such a project. As one idea, I like Khan Academy's format: 10 minute mini-lectures introducing important concepts with very little bullsh-t. Most college lectures, on the other hand, introduce an important concept, and then proceed to give 4-5 examples to hammer in the point. For online education, I think Khan Academy's format is much more potent. I like having the ability to spend 5-10 minutes learning a single concept without having to go through a ton of examples, many of which are created solely for test preparation.
For instance, let's take Gauss's Theorem in physics. If you know calculus, then Gauss's Theorem is simple enough to understand, and can be explained well in an 8-10 minute video with maybe 1 or 2 simple examples. Most college courses, however, take a whole 50-80 minutes explaining Gauss's Theorem and then working through a bunch of test problems. The latter is something I would be unwilling to do in my own spare time.
If UChicago really wanted to, it could go along with this idea to create a Khan Academy-format website for online learning. Since Khan Academy is primarily made for high schoolers, UChicago's website could focus on college-level concepts, and gain popularity among high school over-achievers and educated adults looking for further education. BUT THE PROBLEM IS: This requires a whole lot more work than what MIT/Harvard are currently doing. You need to work out 5-10 minute lesson plans that Profs aren't used to working with, and you also wouldn't be able to use videos of class lectures, since class lectures are 50-80 minutes long. Ultimately, I think it would cost too much time and money for UChicago to be serious about. I don't even think MIT/Harvard would commit to such an idea with such a small market, to be honest. This is why I'm so lukewarm about UChicago jumping into online learning.
I think a lot of the differences in our positions come from the perspective we are viewing online courses. I am mainly looking at them from the perspective of the humanities, and see online posting of video taped class lectures as a chance to watch an expert lecture about some interesting concept and value the experience partly for its own sake than to know gauss law or something.
For something like what Yale is doing, simply videoing lectures and putting them on youtube - a free open platform, and making assignments downloadable seems an extremely small cost to not seriously consider doing, even is the economic benefit is supposedly small.
Courses in the sciences and math may be more homogenized and benefit more from short videos thus it would seem like Uchicago could contribute less, but in the case of humanities lectures I don't seem to be able to find much variety in the current course selection and any alternatives apart from personally attending some talk, debate or lecture given by a artist, philospher at a meuseum or special event. I really don't see why would it be such a horrible cost or inconvenience to just tape some lectures and post them on youtube.
MOOCS are (or should be) different from just putting videos of a typical college lecture on line. There are a lot of unanswered questions, from a sustainable business model, to the mechanics of actually running the courses, to how to let students who successfully complete the course to get some sort of certification. And yes, it is a lot of work to develope a course, but some people claim that breaking a lecture up into 10 minute segments, as one would do for a MOOC, improves classroom learning as well. The idea is the prof spends 10 minutes explaining a new concept then poses a problem involving the concept to the class, students spend a few minutes together with a neighbor trying to solve it, prof discusses the answer... rinse, repeat.
Most top universities are offering a few MOOCs now as a learning experience for the university in how these courses can work and to avoid being left behind. IMO UChicago should too. The economics department might be a good place to start.