The University of Colorado is weighing a contract with Coursera, an online provider that allows top-tier universities to make a select few of their courses available for free to hundreds of thousands of students worldwide.

CU system Ken McConnellogue expects CU to make a decision some time in February regarding a partnership with Coursera which offers massive open online courses, or MOOCs. The classes made available would be produced by professors on the flagship Boulder campus.

"We're in contract negotiations with Coursera, but nowhere near being able to talk about the details," McConnellogue said.

About 35 universities from the United States and internationally are now using Coursera and the site has reached more than 2 million students across the globe. (Though some students sign up and don't completely follow through with the courses).

Courses offered on the platform range from the "fundamentals of human nutrition" taught by a University of Florida professor to "introduction to finance" taught by a University of Michigan professor to "control of mobile robots" offered by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Other universities using Coursera include Duke, Stanford, University of Washington, and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Separately, the American Council on Education announced earlier this month that it will evaluate MOOCs for possible college credit and explore how this new learning mode can benefit students. The council will evaluate potential credit for four courses offered by Udacity.

CU physics Professor Jerry Peterson, chairman of the Boulder Faculty Assembly, said faculty members are in the early stages of exploring the university's involvement with Coursera and MOOCs.

"All minds are working," he said. "All ears and eyes are open and there's a lot of thinking going on. We're at the very early stage of thinking about this."

Coursera has raised more than $22 million in venture capital -- though detractors question whether it's a profitable business model and some within higher education, including leaders at CU, have questioned whether universities should give away their material for free.

Emory University in Atlanta will debut its first class later this week, with one of the school's professors teaching on digital music. Already, 30,000 people are signed up for the class, said Lynn Zimmerman, senior vice provost for undergraduate and continuing education at Emory.

"It's a no-brainer that this is a tremendous way to show the world the expertise and the interesting things going on at our university," she said.

The classes, Zimmerman said, provide a sample of Emory education to a worldwide market. She said Emory's new partnership with Coursera is an experiment.

"You have to have some pioneers who are willing to go with the flow," she said.

Zimmerman said that Emory professors are designing content geared for Coursera, though it can double as supplemental course material for their students.

Other classes that Emory will be putting up on Coursera include a public health course on AIDS and another on immigration and citizenship taught by a law professor.

Andrew Ng, Coursera co-founder, said putting high-quality courses online has tremendous value for students, professors and universities.

"Students have greater access than ever before to the world's foremost subject matter experts," Ng said in a statement. "Professors can reach more students in one course than they could have hoped to in a lifetime. This is truly the future of higher education."

Contact Camera Staff Writer Brittany Anas at 303-473-1132 or anasb@dailycamera.com.