UChicago signs with Coursera, begins online education experiment

The University of Chicago will begin offering free, not-for-credit, online courses later this year in partnership with education company Coursera.

On the recommendation of two provost-appointed faculty committees, chaired by Prof. Roy E. Weiss, Deputy Provost for Research, and Michael Schill, dean of the Law School, and charged to deliberate on the University’s posture towards online course offerings for credit and not-for-credit, University leaders have decided to proceed on a path that will allow faculty to experiment, on a voluntary basis, with different online venues that might provide additional reach for their teaching and research.

“The committees’ very University of Chicago recommendations—emphasizing experimentation, rigorous evaluation and faculty oversight—should permit us to address student, faculty and alumni needs while preserving flexibility in rapidly developing terrain,” said Provost Thomas F. Rosenbaum.

“We’re delighted to welcome the University of Chicago, with its tremendous strengths in a broad range of disciplines, into the Coursera network. We look forward to working with the University as its faculty members explore the benefits of online education within their own classrooms, and share their knowledge with the world beyond,” said Daphne Koller, co-founder of Coursera.

In recommending exploration of online education options, some faculty have cited the opportunity to expand their skills in ways that also might benefit students in the classroom.

“There is growing interest among University of Chicago faculty members in using the tools and technologies of online learning to enrich their residential classes,” said Paul Bergen, UChicago’s senior director of academic and scholarly technology services. These tools include video, audio, online simulations, discussion lists, blogs and wikis.

“As a result, my group within Technology Services has developed a great deal of experience helping faculty make effective use of these tools. There are several among us who have been enrolled in multiple Coursera offerings. We look forward to helping faculty design their courses for delivery as massively open online courses,” he said.

The first Chicago MOOCs will be taught by two faculty members who plan to offer online courses via Coursera. David Archer, professor in geophysical sciences, will offer a course on global warming. John Cochrane, the AQR Capital Management Distinguished Service Professor of Finance at the Booth School of Business, will offer a course on asset pricing. These offerings will complement similar residential courses.

Archer, a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, teaches Global Warming twice annually. The course is one of the University’s most popular, attracting 200 or more students at each offering. He is co-editor of The Warming Papers (2011), which contains 32 classic scientific papers that laid the foundations of global-warming science. Archer also is the author of Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast (2006 and 2011), an undergraduate textbook for non-science majors that will be used as the text for the Coursera offering; of The Long Thaw: How Humans are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate (2009), which earned the Walter P. Kistler Book Award; and of The Climate Crisis: An Introductory Guide to Climate Change (2009); and co-author of The Global Carbon Cycle (2010).

Archer’s online Global Warming course will conceptually follow his for-credit version. He already offers a stand-alone version of the online course via his website, called Open Climate 101. Several thousand people have registered for the course over the last couple of years, and a few percent have worked it through to completion, but Archer but anticipates reaching a much wider audience via an enhanced version of the course offered through Coursera.

“It’s a question of outreach. I’m very motivated by the issue of climate change,” he said. “I’ve done whatever I can to meet the demand for the class here on campus.”

Archer has designed Global Warming “to hook people in by their nerdy scientific curiosity, illuminating fundamental scientific issues and how the world works,” he said. “By looking at this one fairly narrow question you get to see the universe of the scientific enterprise in a grain of sand of this little question.”

Cochrane’s offering will be an introductory course in asset pricing theory. He originally designed the course for doctoral students with some background in micro- and macroeconomics and time series econometrics. He anticipates that an online version will be attractive to doctoral students in economics or finance; students pursuing master of finance, financial engineering or master of business administration degrees; and people working in quantative sectors of the finance industry, including hedge funds, or people thinking about entering graduate-level studies in finance.

In addition to his University role, Cochrane is a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a past director of its asset pricing program. He also is a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute, past president and fellow of the American Finance Association, and a fellow of the Econometric society. His awards include the TIAA-CREF Institute Paul A. Samuelson Award for his book Asset Pricing, the Chookaszian Endowed Risk Management Prize, the Faculty Excellence Award for MBA Teaching and the McKinsey Award for Outstanding Teaching. He also writes a blog as “The Grumpy Economist.”

Cochrane will base the course on his Asset Pricing book, lecture notes, problem sets and some readings. “I hope to use the online technology to improve the instructional value of my on campus course, as well as to provide a unique resource for people who want an exposure to academic finance,” he said.

“Unlike many ‘introductory’ courses offered online that go through standard material in a standard way, this class is a unique, high-level class, offering a view and integration of the material that you can’t easily get anywhere else. I hope it will thus advertise the university’s special strengths as well as be a useful resource in itself.”

Eventually, Cochrane also plans to make his MBA course on Advanced Investments available online.

Rosenbaum has appointed a university-wide Provost Oversight Committee on Online Learning to consider faculty proposals for additional courses to be offered on line. In particular, this committee will work to identify a broad range of subject areas to present, facilitate faculty engagement, and determine the best means to assess whether this initiative is achieving the goals and aspirations of the university’s experimental online offerings.

Committee members are Roy E. Weiss, Deputy Provost for Research and the Rabbi Esformes Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, who is committee chairman; Sian Beilock, professor in psychology; Paul Bergen, senior director of academic technology services; Reid Hastie, the Robert S. Hamada Professor of Behavioral Science; Klara Jelinkova, associate vice president and chief information technology officer; Judith Nadler, director and University Librarian; Randal Picker, the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor in Law and senior fellow of the Computation Institute; Stefan Quick, assistant general counsel; Kristen Schilt, assistant professor in sociology; Norbert Scherer, professor in chemistry; David Schloen, associate professor in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; Scott Stern; professor of medicine and assistant dean for technology and innovation at the Pritzker School of Medicine; and Sara Ray Stoelinga, senior director at the Urban Education Institute.