On Digital Learning Day, We Ask What’s Its Proper Place?

February 1, 2012 marked the first national Digital Learning Day, and teachers all over the U.S. shared the innovative ways that they are integrating technology into their classrooms to enhance their students’ learning experience. Meanwhile, other educators and school administrators are mulling over the role that digital learning told should play in education. Should they complement coursework in a classroom, or replace the classroom altogether? Can digital technology undermine the quality of education?

Rosetta Stone language learning software is at the center of a debate over its partnership with James Madison University in Harrison, VA though which a student could take a 16-week Spanish 1 course entirely on Rosetta Stone and receive three college units. Professors from JMU collaborated with software designers to tailor the content so that the Rosetta Stone course could be worth the same as a traditional on-campus Spanish course.

JMU reports that the 24 online Spanish 1 students are not full-time JMU students, suggesting that the program makes Spanish classes more accessible to students that work full-time or couldn’t otherwise make it to an on-campus course.

Critics, like the MLA’s Rosemary Feal, are incredulous of the program’s effectiveness and calls using the software instead of studying with a professor “scandalous.”

“It sounds like what our worst critics of higher education say,” Feal said. “If we don’t value the role a highly educated faculty member brings to the student learning process, then why should the public?”

As digital learning becomes a more integral part of our education system, school administrators and instructors will need to define the role that technology should play in the classroom. Is it an added value, or will the university classrooms eventually be made obsolete by virtual classrooms and what will be the consequences?