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In New Partnership, James Madison U. Offers Credit for Online Rosetta Stone Course

One of the most buzzed-about experiments in higher education lately is StraighterLine, a company that offers online versions of introductory courses and works in partnership with universities that award credit to students for completing them.

That idea is spreading.

With less fanfare, a similar deal was recently signed between James Madison University and the language-learning company Rosetta Stone. The public university in Virginia will grant credit to online-only students who complete a 16-week introductory conversational Spanish course produced and largely managed by Rosetta Stone, which sells one of the world’s most popular language-learning programs.

Hundreds of universities already use Rosetta Stone software in their language courses. But this goes further. The partnership marks the first time a university in the United States has offered credit to students who complete a Rosetta Stone program, according to Cathy Quenzer, the company’s senior director of education.

The customized course follows a syllabus approved by both the company and the university, and James Madison officials say their faculty worked with Rosetta Stone to modify the program to meet learning outcomes that are required of campus-based students. In the class, though, the role of the university’s faculty is limited to “spot-checking” to ensure that the course is progressing smoothly, and to entering grades for students at the end of the semester.

Those students learn largely by interacting with the Rosetta Stone software. Lessons take place in an online environment heavy on images. Students are prompted to speak while engaging in simulated virtual activities like hiking, for example. Voice-recognition features compare their pronunciation to that of native speakers. Students also converse live with native Spanish speakers employed by Rosetta Stone and play educational games developed by the company. And a Rosetta Stone “success team” monitors each student’s progress.

The whole package—software, tuition, and application fee—costs $679. Students pay Rosetta Stone directly, and James Madison gets $380 per student.

The partnership grows from a longstanding relationship between the university and the company, which was co-founded by a former James Madison computer-science professor, John Fairfield. Both are rooted in the Shenandoah Valley city of Harrisonburg, Va.: The university is the largest employer in town, and Rosetta Stone is the second largest.

But the deal does not extend to traditional James Madison students who might want to take the online course. The new Rosetta Stone course, which has enrolled just a dozen students so far, is offered through a continuing-education-style department that serves nontraditional students. Those classes are off-limits to on-campus students, says Carol Fleming, James Madison’s director of outreach and engagement.

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