Schoknecht said Rollins College will offer its first MOOC-style course this summer, but on its own terms. Rather than partnering with a MOOC company or consortium, Rollins plans to host the course on Blackboard, without quite the same emphasis on the "massive" part. Based in Winter Park, Fla., Rollins is a liberal arts college much like Amherst and wanted to operate under its own brand, she said. "We're going to advertise this first to our students, our parents, and our alumni," Schoknecht said.
Although the course will be open to anyone who wants to register, Rollins will promote it primarily through the Associated Colleges of the South, a consortium of 16 institutions whose members will also be encouraged to make it available to their students, parents and alumni.
Most of the other schools represented in the room were still evaluating what, if anything, they will do with MOOCs. On the other hand, Rice University is working with both Coursera and edX, largely because of strong faculty interest in innovating with online education. Rice is also a hotbed of activity in the open educational resources movement, with its OpenStax textbook initiative and other projects.
Because both Coursera and edX have branded themselves as offering access to courses from elite universities, not everyone has even been invited to join.
Many of the university technology leaders mentioned 2U as the company most aggressively beating down their doors, offering a platform that would allow them to charge tuition for online courses -- although some CIOs who had investigated it as an option complained that it takes too big a cut of the profits. 2U has mostly focused on supporting graduate school programs, although just this week it opened registration on a semester online program it is offering in partnership with Boston College, Brandeis University, Emory University, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis. Modeled on semester-abroad programs, it allows students to take a semester away from the on-campus experience, but not for free.
Justin Sipher, VP of libraries and information technology at St. Lawrence University, said the liberal arts colleges who have so far been lukewarm to the MOOC phenomenon might be making a mistake by "sheltering students from an experience of lifelong learning" that they ought to be exposed to. Even if an institution is concerned about diluting its brand with online offerings, students probably ought to be required to learn how to learn in an online course "just like you must learn a lot of other things as part of a liberal arts education," he said.
At the same time, Sipher said the MOOCs getting all the press now are probably "at the peak of inflated expectations" -- a term from the technology advisor firm Gartner's "hype cycle" model of the technology boom-and-bust cycle. Some of these enthusiasms turn out to be fads, he noted, like the idea of creating learning experiences in the virtual world Second Life, which was popular a few years ago.
Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology CIO Marilyn Smith said there is a bigger issue of meeting the expectations of "students who have been brought up in a different world," accustomed to highly interactive experiences such as gaming that have their own learning value. Universities should embrace the opportunity to discover new ways of learning and measuring learning, both online and off, she said.
"This is also about blended learning and how to enhance the residential experience, not so much just the MOOCs. Capturing data we've never captured before through assessment is a really critical part of this," Smith said. One way or the other, "the undergraduate experience is going to change."