Life of the mind now going online

University launches first MOOCs this quarter through Coursera.

By Carolyn Kang

Prospective scholars everywhere can now taste a slice of the life of the mind.

The University, in conjunction with Coursera, is now offering courses online for the first time starting this quarter, after faculty committees expressed their interest in making massive open online courses (MOOCs) last spring.

Coursera, an online education resource that allows anyone to take courses from top universities and organizations around the world for free, will offer two courses from the University this fall: Asset Pricing, taught by John Cochrane, a professor of finance at the Booth School of Business; and Global Warming: The Science of Climate Change, taught by David Archer, a professor of geophysical sciences in the College.

The structure of each online course is similar to that of a conventional college course, including weekly reading assignments, lecture videos, problem sets, and forum discussions with students taking the course at the University.

Cochrane sees his course, which focuses on the theory of academic asset pricing and its mathematical structure, as a complement to his Ph.D. class at Booth.

“There is this big question: Does it [the MOOC] just substitute for the class?” he said. “I think it makes the in-class experience better. The online is the appetizer and the in-class is the main course.”

Plans for future openings of more UChicago Coursera courses are currently being discussed by the Provost Oversight Committee, according to Roy Weiss, Deputy Provost for Research, who chaired a faculty committee that looked into not-for-credit course offerings.

“We view this initial foray into online education as an experiment,” he said. “We will assess and see whether it meets the objectives we set out to achieve in terms of student and faculty satisfaction and improvement in learning.”

Cochrane sees this new development as a great way for the University to extend its global reach and spread its education farther than ever before. “We put what is distinctively University of Chicago online, we make it accessible to people around the world, and they see what great things we have here.”

Coursera, which has attracted more than five million users from all over the world, also partners with Stanford University, Columbia University, and Northwestern University.