As John has already mentioned, a couple of weeks ago I worked with him and Doug on a kind of online reading club experiment. This came out of some research money our Centre for Professional Development obtained for examining different ways in which higher education could support professional development.
At the OU we have an occasional book club group, where influential books are taken by an academic and in an extended session we explore these. John has done Benkler's Wealth of Networks, Zittrain's The Future of the Internet and I've done Everything is Miscellaneous. So the idea was to attempt this online, a sort of 'extended reading club' where we take difficult, and significant works, and both explain them and add to the discussion.
There were three sessions which were run in Elluminate with a small group of attendees. Because it was part of a project, they weren't open, but it strikes me this is a possible model that can combine some of a university's need to actually take fees, and also fulfill on its openness remit: The actual, live sessions are small, with fee paying students who get to interact, have support, certificate of attendance etc. The sessions are then recorded and made open to everyone. I wonder if this 'book club' model would work on a larger scale as an alternative to the conventional course?
The sessions worked well I think (I'm not evaluating them, so only going on my perspective as the presenter for one session). We had good discussions, plenty of questions and the 'students' ('readers?') went away I think with a deeper understanding of the book in question and the issues around the internet structure, privacy, security, control, etc. You could imagine augmenting the book club model with a wide range of university and other resources on these topics also, so you have the book at the hub of a range of topics which people can explore as they see fit.
I'll put some thoughts about the book in another post.