According to Wikipedia, Friedman has an undergraduate degree from Brandeis University (Boston, USA) and a Master's degree from Oxford (UK). He taught a class at Brandeis in 2006 but as far as I can tell that's his only experience with university outside of being a student. He does not appear to be an educator and he doesn't appear to have any expertise in pedagogy.
That hasn't prevented him from writing three opinion pieces on the imminent demise of universities and the glorious future of online courses—especially MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).
Come the Revolution May 15, 20012
Revolution Hits the Universities January 26, 2003
The Professors’ Big Stage: March 5, 2013
I've written before about the hype over online courses but that was mostly an attempt to refute several myths that have clouded the debate [On the Quality of Online Courses]. It's simply not true that because a professor is famous, the course must be good. Lot's of famous professors teach crap [see Is Canada Lagging Behind in Online Education? for a biochemistry example]. It also not true that just because an online course comes from a "prestigious" university (e.g. Harvard, MIT, Stanford) that the course is good (see previous example).
There are other objections to online courses and several bloggers have specifically written about Friedman's articles. As it turns out, rumors of the death of universities are exaggerated—but not totally unwarranted.
The best blog article is by Mathew Pratt Guterl, a professor of African and American studies at Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island, USA). I completely agree with his post from March 7, 2013: Why Tom Friedman is Wrong. Here's an excerpt ...
I will simply say this, earnestly: most of our students do not know how to read a film, or dissect a book, or think critically about a lecture, or an idea. If you ask them to analyze an object, they can't do this intuitively. They do not know how to watch a lecture online and take notes on it. With the exception of the most privileged, they come from a primary and secondary education landscape denuded of funded, pruned of intellectual ambition, and yoked to poorly-thought-out standards. They have parents who have made every decision for them, and who still oversee much of what they do. They do not understand that the frantic pace of the semester is a part of the lesson, that what they are doing can't be slowed down, or consumed at their own leisure.That's the way we should be teaching. If we did, then MOOCs would be clearly recognized for what they are—low quality education.
And even the best and the brightest - all shiny and fancy - aren't prepared to think, aren't taught, really, to do the hard, close, dirty work of learning enough about one thing to teach it thoroughly to someone else. That, after all, is the true measure of competency. They flit, like so many others, on the surface. Just like Friedman himself. The world always looks flat from the penthouse, but it isn't.
In short, our students arrive not knowing how to learn. This is why they go to college. And it takes time for them to figure it out. This is why they stay for four years. Or more. We aren't just giving them information and competency; we are making it possible for them to recognize both. That is much more difficult. And it can't be delivered by youtube.
We all know that Mathew Pratt Guterl's (and my) ideal university doesn't exist. Many of the courses we teach are simply memorize and regurgitate exercises with silly multiple choice exams.
That leads me to the second blog posting that I'd like you to read. It's by Cathy Davidson and she posted it in January, 2013 [If We Profs Don't Reform Higher Ed, We'll Be Re-Formed (and we won't like it)]. Her point is that university education is in bad shape and that's partly what makes MOOCs look attractive. The take-home lesson for all professors is that if you can be replaced by an online course then you should be.
I don't agree with Cathy Davidson's philosophy of teaching and neither will Mathew Pratt Guterl, but she does make some cogent points about the problems with online courses. What I'm mostly interested in is promoting the idea that if a professor's course can be converted to an online course without any loss in quality then this says more about the quality of the course than the advantages of online courses.