Should colleges give credit for commercial courses?

February 3, 2012 at 6:41 am 8 comments

This is a really interesting question, and an important one for building an economy around specially-built courses.  Can a college outsource its foreign language courses to the commercial company Rosetta Stone?  I was amazed at the anger at James Madison University’s plans to do just that.  This isn’t an issue of whether a for-profit can provide reasonable learning.  This is about a non-profit outsourcing single courses.  I like the idea — I’d like to see higher education control costs by creating a market for high-quality courses.  The faculty can serve as both a broker and as quality control, which it sounds like they are doing in the James Madison case.  Of course, the last question in this quote is the key one.

Feal, the MLA director, 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?”

via Educators question taking Rosetta Stone for credit | Inside Higher Ed.

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Colleges need to make sure students are actually learning – Fighting a reliance on computers, when it might be too soon for teachers

8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  February 3, 2012 at 7:01 am

    This issue highlights the broader question of what is the added value of an on campus education in the first place? All remote, live off campus, live on campus – all have different costs associated with them. When is the extra cost (usually) of living on campus worth more than living off campus and when is living off campus and coming to a physical place worth the extra cost over remote/online education? All of this may boil down to what is higher education about? Is it just the degree or is the learning important? And if the learning is important (as I believe it is) how much extra learning happens from being part of a geographical community? These are essential questions that the university has to answer to continue to justify its existence in its present state.

    • 2. Mike  |  February 3, 2012 at 4:44 pm

      Speaking of extra costs – if a college can purchase a course, staff it with teaching assistants / tutors (or not at all, perhaps given a Turingscraft-style auto-grader) then why hire teachers / professors at all?

      I suppose that research institutions might still hire researchers, possibly with some limited “teaching” responsibilities, but this seems like a ominous first step towards destroying colleges using off-shoring & computerization strategies like those that destroyed American manufacturing.

      • 3. Erik Engbrecht  |  February 4, 2012 at 9:08 am

        One can only wish that American education will be “destroyed” like American manufacturing.

  • 4. lsudol  |  February 3, 2012 at 9:30 am

    This adds even more weight to the MacArthur lifelong learning badge ideas. If you can earn badges from various online learning sources that are equivalent to the knowledge you need from a particular program, why not “go back to school” by completing the badges?

    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  February 3, 2012 at 10:12 am

      I read this as being the opposite of badges — this is about using commercial classes to support traditional degrees.

  • 6. Eugene Wallingford  |  February 3, 2012 at 4:10 pm

    I suspect that the ire is really about not hiring university faculty to teach these courses. At many universities, mine included, the faculty is often focused on maintaining and growing the faculty.

  • 7. Jake Seliger  |  February 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    “‘Why would a student need to go through a college for that experience?'”

    The real question that’s been growing in mind is orthogonal to this one: to what extent is college about learning and to what extent is it about signalling? Bryan Caplan has been blogging about this question (see here for an example) and is writing a book about it; he views college as primarily being about signalling. And, if it is, then it doesn’t particularly matter who teaches; what matters is that employers believe the signal.

    On a lesser, subsidiary point, I’m not sure that a student needs to go through college to take entry-level language courses that have little immediate relevance to intellectual or economic development and that are taught by unhappy grad students.

  • 8. Chris Mayfield  |  February 20, 2012 at 7:13 am

    One detail the article failed to mention is that Rosetta Stone’s main development office is in Harrisonburg, about 5 minutes from JMU. There have been many collaborations between the two organizations over the years. So issues of quality control and improvement of these courses are more likely to be addressed than if a random university A outsourced to a random company B.


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