Traditionally universities are increasingly becoming institutions of “blended learning” as they make strides in implementing an increasing amount of technology-based courses.

Virginia’s public James Madison University (JMU), for example, is now the first university to partner with language-learning software company Rosetta Stone to offer a technology-based language learning course for students.

Starting with a pilot course offered exclusively to adults who want to complete a degree for teaching and non-degree seeking students, the university will offer a two-part program for Conversational Spanish I.

Though language-learning programs particularly require assistance and vocal interaction, the pilot course will overcome these obstacles with speech recognition software that will correct mispronounced words when students speak into a microphone. The basis of the course will teach through a series of images matched with vocabulary words, said Rosetta Stone’s director of public relations Relly Brennan.

But the program’s interactivity doesn’t stop there — Brennan said Rosetta Stone allows students to collaborate with native-speaking tutors, compete against other students learning the same language, play games and chat with other students.

Still, the basic course has undergone some tweaks to fit the requirements of the university’s Spanish I curriculum: Rosetta Stone added two levels to its original four-level course.

Some members of JMU’s faculty have reservations about the course, for reasons other than the online aspect of the learning process. Spanish professor and Rosetta Stone liason John Tkac, for instance, said he is concerned about the lack of grammar-related lessons in the program.

“I am interested to see how students will perform,” Tkac said in an article on JMU’s news Web site. “I would like it to be successful, but I am more worried about the pedagogic perspective.”

But Rosetta Stone public relations director Relly Brennan is confident that the course’s flexibility will help improve students’ language skills and has great potential to expand in languages and levels. He said he was optimistic about the collaboration with JMU and believes that the online aspect will appeal to people who may not have time to take the course in a traditional setting.

The JMU language-learning course will not be offered to undergraduate students any time in the near future, but still has a goal of attracting at least 500 students for the pilot, said JMU’s Office of Outreach and Engagement director Carol Fleming.

The Outreach and Engagement Department negotiated with the foreign language department over a seven-week period to discuss the process of offering the program at JMU, and Fleming said she was impressed by the collaboration of the two institutions.

Depending on the success of the pilot, JMU may decide to sign a three-year contract by Rosetta Stone to continue accrediting the Conversational Spanish I course, with the possibility for further expansion in the future, Fleming said.

The Conversational Spanish I course will be available April 19-July 31, through Rosetta Stone‘s Web site. Students are required to buy the three-credit course for $679, which includes fees for the software and course credits.

The grading system for the course will not be grade-based, but will award students credit for taking the course.

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