TOM FRIEDMAN KISS OF DEATH WATCH: ELITE ONLINE HIGHER EDUCATION

Like many aging baby boomers who still like their music to come in “albums” and literature in “books,” I am often overwhelmed by the pace of technological change. But I remain determined not to become as dated as my grandparents and parents seemed when they reached the other side of middle age, still referring in the present tense to  the “Victrola.”  Sometimes I wish I had a personal assistant who could guide me through the shoals of rapdily changing trends and memes, keeping me focused on those that indeed will matter.  Fortunately, I have found a reasonable, if contrarian, proxy in New York Times columnist Tom Friedman.  His most emphatic exhortations to pay attention have proven to be an almost infallible guide to what can safely be ignored.


Just in recent days, as the vaunted and well-funded “Americans Elect” project to nominate a third-party presidential candidate through internet voting has died from lack of interest, we have had reminders that Friedman told us just last July:

Write it down: Americans Elect. What Amazon.com did to books, what the blogosphere did to newspapers, what the iPod did to music, what drugstore.com did to pharmacies, Americans Elect plans to do to the two-party duopoly that has dominated American political life — remove the barriers to real competition, flatten the incumbents and let the people in. Watch out.

This morning Friedman devoted his column not to a mea culpa on Americans Elect, but to Stanford Professor Andrew Ng’s online education company, Coursera, “an interactive platform that will allow the best schools in the world to not only offer a wide range of free course lectures online, but also a system of testing, grading, student-to-student help and awarding certificates of completion of a course for under $100.”  Friedman, beginning his sentence with a “W” verb, which ought to set off alarm bells by now, tells us: “Welcome to the college education revolution. Big breakthroughs happen when what is suddenly possible meets what is desperately necessary.”  Unfortunately, there does not appear to be anyway to accumulate a short position in Coursera.  Didn’t anyone warn Professor Ng not to take Friedman’s call?

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