6 years ago, I cold called my way into a meeting with Lee Abrams, head of programming for XM Radio (Abrams in no longer there). I was trying to get an on air job, but in an effort to provide value to Lee, I provided him a list of 20 ideas for XM (this was pre merger); many of them were premium channels and one of the premium channels was a language channel based on a partnership with Rosetta Stone or Berlitz. For example, Spanish 101 would be on every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8 am – 9 am, 12 pm -1 pm, etc…Well, Rosetta Stone is now playing a role in the reconstruction of higher education. From
Depending on whom you ask, Rosetta Stone is either modernizing higher education or jeopardizing the quality of foreign language instruction by offering classes for transferrable college credit.
Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association and a Spanish professor, calls the idea “scandalous.”
David McAlpine, president of the board of directors for the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), said teaching a Spanish class completely online threatens educational standards and leaves students floundering behind their peers in traditional courses.
But James Madison University officials say the academic demands in an online class they offer through Rosetta Stone are the same ones that students face in their Harrisonburg, Va., lecture halls. Of course, the people making these statements aren’t Spanish professors – many language professors at the university don’t like the idea, but weren’t in a position to stop it. The university’s foreign language department chair is skeptical, arguing the software is best used as extra practice for students and not a course in itself.
In April, James Madison became the first college to partner with Rosetta Stone, an international company that creates instructional language software, to offer a for-credit course to the general public in which instruction is provided by the company’s software.
For $679 and a $20 James Madison application fee – of which the college keeps $380 – anyone who has finished their sophomore year of high school gains access to a 16-week class designed to line up with the regular JMU curriculum.
Groups such as the MLA find this appalling.
Feal, the MLA president, said James Madison’s program “sounds like buying college credit.”
“If a college is charging tuition and essentially turning their students over to Rosetta Stone with very little value added, that is scandalous,” said Feal. “Why would a student need to go through a college for that experience?”
Feal doubts students are getting an authentic cultural experience through Rosetta Stone, and said the program raises bigger questions about the role of professors. “It sounds like what our worst critics of higher education say. If we don’t value the role a highly educated faculty member brings to the student learning process,” she said, “then why should the public?”
While I am not going to outline the shallowness, arrogance, and ignorance of the above statement, I will say I am glad to see universities experimenting with models that are efficient and extend opportunity.
The JMU / Rosetta pilot has only attracted a handful of students, but interestingly none of them were full time JMU students. Is not the goal of higher education to educate students, regardless of their status, age, race, creed, etc….? I am sure Charles Van Hise would be very proud of JMU and Rosetta Stone.